The whole 1980's Broken Flag/UK Industrial scene has always fascinated me. I started exploring the label's artists and discography a couple of years ago when I started to really hunt down Skullflower records in earnest, and discovered the label's history online primarily through websites like Monotremata. For those that are unfamiliar with this chapter of underground UK music, Broken Flag was a label established in the early 1980's by Gary Mundy, a longtime guitarist in legendary improv-noise outfit Ramleh and a key figure in the early years of Skullflower. Broken Flag released several seminal LPs from bands like Skullflower and Ramleh, as well as a ton of cassettes from Ramleh, Controlled Bleeding, Total, Con-Dom, and many others. One of these Broken Flag cassettes was the "Christ Knows" tape from a band called Toll, a sort-of Ramleh side-project that featured Mundy, Matthew Frith, and Tim Soar. The cassette would eventually also be released on LP through the label in 1986, and part of it's word of mouth mystery over the years is due to the additional players on these recordings: two of the tracks feature a pre-Stereolab Tim Gane on electronic percussion, and avant/industrial legend Paul Lemos (of Controlled Bleeding, Skin Chamber, and freakout-prog unit Breast Fed Yak) contributed electronics to some of this material as well.
Toll's music stood out from the largely free-skronk/destroyed electronics of the Broken Flag roster, blending weird, post-punk style hooks and wiry guitars with washes of psychedelic electronics, heavily affected layered downer singing and haunting chant-vocals, eerie industrial drones, heavy low-frequency ambience, caustic fried electronic noise, pretty, minimalist casio melodies and basslines that remind me of old Cure songs, grinding machine rhythms banged out of thunderous sheet metal, guitar drones, violin, heavy spacey dark dirge riffs, and a dark and weird sense of humour mixed together into an eerie twilight dream fog. Their sound evokes a similiar sort of hallucinogenic, urban paranoia that is found in 80's UK power electronics/noise/skum, but Toll's approach is more surreal and subdued, like Nurse With Wound mixed with dark 80's post-punk and grim, grinding Industrial fear. There are parts of this album that even sound almost like an instrumental early singles-era The Cure jamming with the ripping early power electronics of Ramleh. This is a pretty strange, amazing album, the original LP has been out of print for years, but Cold Spring recently re-issued this legendary album, along with three additional unreleased tracks. Kudos to them for resurrecting this creepy dose of 80's post-Industrial gloom and sparing me the wallet demolition of trying to obtain the original LP!