A two-fer-one package from Relapse that bundles two of their more obscure releases from the 90's; both of these albums are pretty terrific, and if you're a fan of avant-garde post-industrial heaviness and experimental guitar-based ambience, highly recommended. Each disc comes in it's own complete packaging, but the two cds are housed in a printed slipsleeve.
First, Flux's art-industro-pop album Protoplasmic:
Um, it's sorta hard to believe that this far-out guitar pop is from the bassist from doomlords Khanate, especially if you weren't familiar with all of James Plotkin's earlier projects. But this was one of the avant-guitarist's primary projects in the 90's after the demise of experimental goof-grinders Old Lady Drivers, recorded around the same time that he was collaborating with Mick Harris from Scorn, who actually produced this album. That produced a cross-pollination of ideas that take shape on Flux's one and only album Protoplasmic from 1997, which sounds like a mix of futuristic trip-hop and heavy dreamy roboto mecha-pop filtered through Plotkin's mutant guitar. More than ten years later, Flux still sounds totally unique. The rhythms are weird and angular, broken jagged beats and fractured breaks that alternate with more rigid percussion that comes close to Scorn or Godflesh's heavy drum programming, but the guitars are crafted into lush, dreamy abstract textures and jagged melodic lines that give this a weird post-punk feel. Plotkin enlisted vocalist Ruth Collins to recite a combination of spoken word poetry and ethereal fx-soaked harmonies, and he himself delivers some neat robotic vocoder crooning in a couple of tracks. At times, I'm reminded of the angular anti-funk of Wire, but combined with dark, spacey beatscapes. However, once you get to the last half of the album, things get decidedly darker and more ominous. The song "Stretched Out" moves into shadowy regions, evoking the creepy darkhop/industrial dub of Scorn with distorted vocals over heavy programmed break beats and throbbing basslines, dark electronic drones and electronic fx.
"Airtrap" has Collins delivering another spoken word piece over dark rising drones and distorted synth sounds and chittering insectile noise a la Throbbing Gristle. But then the last track "Immanence" returns the big jagged drum machine beats and synth guitar sounds from earlier, almost jazzy and ecstatic, with glorious buzzing drones and huge looping bass locked into the propulsive grooves, sounding vaguely like Italian prog blasted through a wall of sci-fi synth.
The second disc in the package, Slab!'s dark industrial funk/sludge opus Descension:
Featuring members of esteemed UK avant/rock/noise bands like Sweet Tooth, Ice and God, Slab! were a similar sort of post-industrial crushsquad who went for a unique avant sound that tapped into both the industrial sludge of Godflesh and the nihilistic pummel of Swans, as well as a heavy post-punk and free jazz vibe, with a bit of Foetus thrown in. It's interesting that I got this disc in the same week that I picked up that Bodychoke reissue on Relapse, as both bands come from a similar sound, although Slab! were much more eclectic and weird. This Relapse reissue from the late 90's collects both the Descension Lp and the tracks from the People Pie 12", both of which came out on Ink Records back in 1987-88. This is pretty crucial stuff for fans of the UK noise rock scene of the late 80's; Slab! were a seriously heavy band that back in the day were compared to everything from Swans to Big Black to Material and The Birthday Party, which gives you an idea of how far-ranging their sound could be.
The first two songs set the trajectory for where Slab! are headed: menacing, near-whispered vocals and bleak oppressive ambience creeping over a massive hypnotic industrial sludge groove of "Tunnel Of Love"'s grinding robotic drums, electronic noise and crushing bass, then followed by sheets of dissonance,
gothy Depeche Mode-ish crooning, oil drum percussion, rumbling bass and pummeling mechanical grind of "Undriven Snow", which sort of sounds to me like a new wavey Godflesh.
"Dr Bombay" begins with heavy guitar noise and softly bleating horns, dark and jazzy, before launching into an unexpectedly funky industrial jam, multiple drummers playing in tandem, massive rumbling bass, the band launching into a sort of industrial strength no wave funk with free jazz horns. Reminds me of
16-17 a bit, but less abrasive, more heavy and hypnotic and, er, danceable. It all drifts off into pure free jazz territory for a minute, before dropping back into that propulsive groove, and then after another bout of skronky, splattery free jazz towards the end, the song shifts into a pounding industrial dirge, total Godflesh-like heaviness.
The next song "Dolores" features piano, shuffling electro rhythms, break beats, and deep dramatic vocals in a nightmarish electro jam, the vocals a Gira/Danzig-like baritone croon, big rocking basslines, trancey rhythmic beats, surges of strings and horns, like Godflesh mixed with orchestral samples and dark post-punk.
"The Animals" is a slow fragmented dirge with backwards tape noise and demonic pitch shifted vocals, simple plodding bass, creepy samples, simple pounding percussion, drifting off halfway in into minimal dark ambience, then returning to a free jazz-damaged version of the original dirge, subtle squawking horns bleating and echoing at the edges of the music, the drums building into a dense echoing wall of tribal pummel, the track becoming more hallucinatory, the guitar skronkier and more abstract and Sharrock-like.
"Gutter Busting" is another pounding industrial post-punk funk dirge with fiery horns and stuttering industrial breakbeats, crushing and Scorn-esque, with weird clean backing vox. The Swans vibe returns with "Flirt" (especially in the vocals), and "Mooseland" begins with improv drumming and guitar noise, bits of abstract piano, very free jazz, then blasts off with distorted bass guitar churning against the skittery jazzy rhythms. Both "Loose Connection Somewhere" and "Big Sleeper" also mix free jazz clatter and Swans'style pummel, and "People Pie" at first seems like another industrial sludge assault, but then pulls out exuberant R&B backing vocals on the chorus (!). The last track "Railroad" is a haunting jazz-sludge quake, all plodding bone-rattling bass , distorted heaviness, druggy chanting, a mechanical monstrous groove stumbling through psychedelic looped samples and narcotized horns.
Fucking awesome stuff, I dunno why more people didn't get into this band and album when Relapse reissued it, but it's remained one of the more overlooked and obscure reissues that Relapse ever put out. If you are into bands like Godflesh, Head Of David, God, Splintered, Cosmonauts Hail Satan, Bodychoke, Terminal Cheesecake and the like, though, you need to hear this. The disc includes an eight page booklet that has liner notes, band bio, discography info, lyrics and more.