Definitely one of the most looked-forward-to reissue campaigns I've been anticipatin' this year, the Kino series of early Skullflower reissues is long-awaited and much needed, as the majority of this stuff has been near impossible to track down in recent years without having to shell out ungodly sums of cash. Indeed, much of this material that is now surfacing as part of the series was long thought to have been completely lost, so needless to say, if you're a Skullflower fanatic like myself, you'll be falling over yourself to get your hands on all four of these new discs. Not only do they feature re-mastered audio for the band's pre-1990 12" and album material, but these discs are also packed to the hilt with rare demo, 7" EP and compilation tracks, much of which has never before been heard.
The first installment in this reissue series, naturally, is the Birthdeath disc, which features the band's seminal 1988 12" of the same name, originally released on Broken Flag. But before you even get to the Birthdeath tracks, the disc opens with five tracks of previously unreleased material. For more than fifteen minutes, the low-fi shambling monstrosity "Anaphora" spurts some seriously harsh needlepoint slide-guitar skree and other more hideous axe-generated dissonance, as Skullflower's Matthew Bower drools and moans incomprehensibly over the monotonous clack of the drum machine. Pure primitive skronk rock that feels like its drawing equally from the brain-damaged slop-punk sludge of Flipper and the repetitive, trance inducing slow-motion pummel of early Swans. "Like A Disease" has a demented, Stooges-esque lurch to it while maintaining that same repetitive head-banging-against-the-wall repetition, the sound hypnotic and beautifully ugly, a mutated garage rock stomp crafted out of broken-down machinery and barbiturate crooning and bursts of painful no-wave guitar skree. The track "Slaves I" is, according to the liner notes, the earliest Skullflower recording that the band was able to find, a crossover from Bower and Alex Binnie's Pure project, a short slithering mass of echo-drenched howls, sinister guitar noise and pounding drums heard through the haze of a shitty Walkman recording, oozing slowly through a fog of reverb and feedback. Coil member / Nightmare USA Steven Thrower appears on bass guitar on "Shit Strasse" from 1988, and it's one of the faster tracks included in this collection, a surging wall of tribal rhythms and droning guitar notes, fluttering feedback and high-end drill tones, burly and blown-out and too damn short. And "Marilyn Burns" is another early Skullflower song that was never given a proper recording, captured here in it's shambling feedback-trance glory, hinting at the heavier, more psychedelic sound that the band would dig into deeper on the Birthdeath 12".
And those four songs from that 12" are indeed classic Skullflower, the opening title track laying down a pummeling slow-motion dirge, thick guitar gristle draped over the pounding, borderline tribal drumming, the howling vocals coming in from different directions, slathered in delay and other effects, the lead guitars spitting out shards of sinister melody as they meander through the thick black fog of layered noises and broken electronics. Then there's "Grub", a perfect dose of the band's weird fusion of gothy reverb, pounding motorik rhythms and wailing, go-nowhere acid-guitar leads that they had pretty much perfected by this point. Weird flute-like sounds emerge out of "Timebomb"'s dubby, mesmerizing psychedelic chug, and the band slows down substantially for the drugged-out skyburning haze of "Blood Harvest", as waves of droning tremolo riffage crashes over the drawn out tribal pounding and random, wah-drenched string noise that come swarming up off of the guitar necks. Beautiful, crushing stuff.
The disc closes with one other previously unreleased recording, "Language + Trance", and it's actually one of my favorite songs on the disc. Waves of dark distorted guitar drone wash over bursts of improvisational drumming, forming into a rather epic sounding slab of apocalyptic ambience, swirling black thunderclouds of amplifier hum and speaker-buzz drifting across a simple, super dramatic riff that would be right at home on a Neurosis record, proving again just how much Skullflower foreshadowed the more experimental sounds that underground metal would explore more in the following decade.
Absolutely crucial listening for anyone into the industrial/psych/noise rock underground that surrounded the Shock, HeadDirt and Broken Flag labels, as well as anyone into the dronemetal and experimental metal that would follow in the 90's, almost all of which owed a considerable debt to the monstrous noise-damaged heaviness that Skullflower helped pioneer with these recordings. As with the other Kino reissues, this comes in a glossy gatefold jacket with a printed inner sleeve and booklet filled with new liner notes from the band, reviews, and other ephemera excavated from the band's archives.