Reviews

Various Artists, Death Season 5 (Darker Days Ahead, 2015)

Released on Halloween, Death Season 5 marks the fifth annual installment of this compilation series from Minneapolis, MN experimental noise imprint Darker Days Ahead. This edition puts forth a little over 45 minutes of material from an international roster of artists—some of which have been active since the '90s, while others seem to have built momentum over the past two to five years.

Fensch Industrial Orkestra + Flutwacht (Germany) get the ball rolling with "Perfekt/Defekt," which combines clanging, machinated percussive textures and fits of aggressive distortion and feedback with dense rumbles and some obfuscated spoken samples for a demonstration of harsh noise done right—possessing just enough variety and intrigue to create a sense of atmosphere. Longstanding Czech project Napalmed follows with "111104_RK2," another harsh track—more chaotic/less structured—utilizing lots of quick shifts between varying levels of heavy-duty effects that occasionally drop out to metallic scraping sounds. It kind of creates this vision of the artist scraping dense metal into a mic that's running through a series of pedals as he stomps on and off the effects at random. It has its moments, even if it doesn't align with my personal tastes.

Up next is "Geiger Scream," from Darker Days Ahead label honcho Cory Schumacher, where an air raid siren over rugged ambient drones alongside resonant bangs and thuds feels like frantically scurrying through a murky tunnel. I wrote about Praying for Oblivion a few times in the early- to mid-'00s, but "Panzerrohr" is the first I've heard from the project in years. The shortest track at less than two minutes, it kicks in and cuts out quickly with dense, heavily distorted sounds fighting to be heard as they break down into piercing stabs of feedback. Never Presence Forever's "Cognitive Extrication" is my composition, so I won't comment other than to say it's there, so check it out (and let me know what you think, if you're so inclined).

Another of Cory Schumacher's projects, Isolated Existence signals a shift in tone with the beautifully lush dark ambient drones of "Bittersweet Peace," where the subtle layers cascade back and forth, creating a ringing hum at their farthest edges. Simple, effective, awesome. "Massemic Gabrage," from Ichtyor Tides (France) opens similarly, but its thinner, murkier low-end boasts a smidge of wispy distortion as the layers wash over one another while deep, indecipherably pitch-shifted vocals become barely noticeable beneath the surface. Fitting of its title, Ukrainian outfit SiJ opens "Few Sounds From the House Near the Sea" with the sounds of a boat slowly making its way through water—interspersing bells, a few almost animalistic types of noises, and bright ambient tones in the distance. This piece has more of a cinematic feel, almost as if you're hearing an audio track that's missing its accompanying film.

Also from the Ukraine, and also in keeping with its title, Ravcan's "Fire of Åmphigúeis" begins with the crackling of fire and a pulsing throb over some of the most sinister dark ambient vibes herein—sort of a slow, ominous death march. Originally released on the Echoes of the Past full-length in 2013, I believe this is one of the few non-exclusive tracks herein, but a definite highlight nonetheless. And finally, NORV (Italy) caps everything off with "Postuma #1"—very akin to Isolated Existence: just a great, stripped down dark ambient piece.

The jet-black CD-R (with a slight red tint reflecting off the bottom) is housed in a two-panel booklet that includes the tracklist and whatever credits/contact information the artists have chosen to present—and, perfect for the season, the added touch of a small bag of dead leaves.

I'd have to pessimistically assume this collection won't get as much attention as it should, but maybe I'll be proved wrong. Well sequenced (though the second half is especially impressive) and presenting a lot of interesting work as a whole, it's up for grabs as a name your price download or a mere $5 for the physical CD-R, so... this one's certainly worth a spin.

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