Photos from Friday’s show…

Courtesy of Sophie Haines

A track from the show will be available for download in the next day or two…

Numbers Station – new Kowa Axis live album.

Long time no blog.

Life’s been very busy of late. Real life, work, slowly becoming a freelancer, appearances on ITV’s ‘This Morning’ (yep, really, on the sofa), but not much new material.

I’ve been recording the odd idea here-and-there, but nothing along the lines of what I’ve released before.

I want Kowa Axis to be flexible enough to take on different formats. It could have phases where other musicians are involved, where the music can take on a more ‘song-based’ structure. I might do it, I might not. My decision.

In the meantime, a few people have been badgering me to release a live recording, so I have.

Recorded in London in mid-June 2011, in front of a very patient audience, I give you; Numbers Station. Unlike ‘Live & Dangerous’, and probably every other official live album ever, this one contains no overdubs. There are a couple of edits, that I’ll admit. At one point between…er… ‘pieces’, someone seemed to use a fire door right by a microphone. It kept freaking me out when I was listening back on headphones, as it sounded like someone was walking round my house, so I’ve removed it, lest you suffer the same terrible fear. I probably should have left it in to be all Judas Priest subversive, but it’s too late now.

The only other cut was a tiny section where I laid down possibly the worst ever performance of the verse riff from Van Halen’s ‘Hot For Teacher’, following a request from the audience…*sigh*. I removed this more for reasons of vanity really. I’ve been really enjoying the ‘Best Of Both Worlds’ guitar tab book of late, if only they’d shouted ‘Jamie’s Cryin’ or ‘Why Can’t This Be Love’.

You can stream it using the link above or go to the Bandcamp page to download it FOR FREE! Obviously I would be a millionaire by now if I was charging for these songs, such is the universal appeal of my music. Music, that brings nations together and could possibly end wars. But I do this for you, not for material gain.

There are technically three songs on the album, but in all honesty, I felt it was more pretentious to try to come up with three track titles months after the tracks were improvised than it was to put out a single 24 minute long track.

The album title refers to something that is equal parts intriguing and terrifying.

Get Googling and find out more.

Album Review: The Book of Knots – Garden Of Fainting Stars

Note: I wrote this review for Freqzine.net, check them out.

This is an odd record. The Book Of Knotsis an invitation-only collective based in New York around a core quartet and supplemented by peripheral musicians in various capacities. On this, their third LP, they explore everything from enormous metallic pounding to expansive forays into the gentle and sublime. They also manage to dig up a few top-notch guests along the way.

Opener “Microgravity” brings a female-fronted version of Page Hamilton’s short-lived Gandhi project to mind with its dense, textural guitars and inorganic bass.

Blixa Bargeld pops up on “Drosophilia Melanogaster” with another one of his occasional reports documenting the amount of time he spends waiting around in airports, “I cover the glass with my passport, which at that time is green with a golden eagle on it,” before exercising his signature screeching vocals to incredible effect.

“Lissajous Orbit” seems to recruit Soundwave from The Transformers to provide a list of negative statements over detuned pianos, which is actually somewhat more unsettling than it should be.

Mid-way the album sags into slightly weaker ambient areas for a few tracks before Mike Patton adds his best vocalizing to one of the album’s strongest moments, “Planemo.” Patton is one of those people who is so prolific and respected that he can get away with singing in this histrionic style; and it still sounds cool. His wail of “we’re finally losing gravity” over mournful strings creates a truly space-age gothic experience.

Closer “Obituary For The Future” starts with a solitary radio broadcast by a lonely mountain-dwelling psychopath before dealing out the album’s heaviest riffage yet – like a modernised Cop-era Swans, iced with almost Björk-esque vocals that stay just the right side of overwrought. The final minutes are entrusted back to the Tourettes-afflicted mountain dweller.

Which is just as it should be.

Album Review: All Pigs Must Die – God Is War

Note:  I wrote this review for Freqzine.net, check them out.

It’s time someone finally said it; Ben Koller is quite possibly the Dave Lombardo of his generation. Now, Lombardo’s technicality may be outclassed by modern day metal standards, but what few drummers can match stillis his propulsive feel.

Koller is one of the special few. When he flies into an up-tempo 4/4 beat, you know it’s going down. And he absolutely tears it up on God Is War; a record that simply refuses to calm down from start to finish. Koller’s playing, and Converge band mate Kurt Ballou’s typically ripping production on this first full-length from All Pigs Must Die, mean comparisons to Converge are inevitable. But there’s something more macho going on here. Whereas lyrically Converge deal mostly in bitterness and heartbreak, APMD have more global matters on their minds. As the album title hints, themes on war and destruction are in no short supply.

The vocals, provided by The Hope Conspiracy’s Kevin Baker are suitably livid and the guitar and bass much more frantic than the stoner musings of Adam Wentworth and Matt Woods’ other band, Bloodhorse. Opener “Death Dealer” spends its first minute pretending to be quite melodic before switching to frenzied blast beats. “Third World Genocide” (which nods to the riff from Napalm Death’s “Cock Rock Alienation”) is a proper fight to the death; all ‘bayonets through the eye’ and Geneva Convention ignorance. Closer “Sadistic Vindicator” is a chameleonic eight-and-a-half minute epic that lets APMD slow down a touch, focus their brawn, and find something genuinely approaching subtlety.

Whether we’ll see another album is anyone’s guess, but for something that isn’t really any members’ main project, it’s a surprisingly consistent whole. There are thousands of bands out there trying to impress the importance of their rage upon you, but not many of them do it with this much violent pizazz.

Caspar Brotzmann & Page Hamilton – Subsonic 4: Zulutime

Zulutime @ Greenwich Meantime.

Look at that album cover on the right >>

It features a photo of a huge lump of wood. Well, it’s actually a sculpture by Bernd Lohaus, but there’s no getting away from the fact that it is a giant, solid, rectangular prism of wood. I like to think of it as a clue as to what you’ll find on the CD; solid slabs of sound.

As I‘ve alluded to in previous entries, Page Hamilton & Caspar Brotzmann’s Zulutime is one of the most important records of my life. It’s up there with Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’, Helmet’s ‘Betty’, The Manic’s ‘Generation Terrorists’, Killing Joke’s ‘Revelations’, Wu-Tang Clan’s ’36 Chambers’, Cable’s When Animals Attack and…yes…Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet. Look, it was the first album I ever bought, aged eight! It was quite the stepping stone.

Some records only feature in a short part of your life, others drift in and out of favour over the years; repeatedly being rediscovered. But then there are the special few that you stick with. Like any good long-term relationship there are peaks and troughs but the love is always there.

Zulutime is one of those albums.

I’m almost certain that there hasn’t been a month in the last eleven years in which I haven’t dug out the CD, and it’s certainly never left my iPod in the five years I’ve had one. It often has different neighbours either side, but like the TV News it’s always there…standing firm.

Why though? What is it about this particular album, one that horrifies most people who hear it, that pulls so hard on my heartstrings? This is not party music, it’s not club music – and if any radio DJ has ever played a track from it on air then well, frankly, I owe them a drink. Strictly speaking, it’s not even rock music. Yes, the electric guitar is the primary instrument, but the drums, bass, vocals and restrictive rhythms and repetition expected of that genre are nowhere to be heard.

I think the answer may lie in the respective talents of the two players involved. Helmet’s Page Hamilton and Massaker’s Caspar Brotzmann are nothing less than masters at this sort of thing. Although their two bands are wildly different, they both employ economy and space to create powerful, dense music.

At the point Zulutime was recorded Helmet were known for groovy stop/start riffs fused with totally whacked-out, but technically amazing, guitar anti-solos. They were also blessed with one of the most funky rhythm sections never to play funk (including drummer John Stanier now playing with the much touted Battles) . Helmet sold a million records and had a few hit singles along the way.

Caspar Brotzmann Massaker has always been a decidedly more challenging listen. The songs are much longer (albums generally have five or so tracks but clock in at an hour) and whereas you can dance to Helmet if you’re drunk enough, Massaker really pushes the repetition and jarring rhythm to hypnotic levels. They are sort of like the musical equivalent of Stewart Lee.

Caspar Brotzmann

Where Helmet took the minimal blueprint laid down by bands like Killing Joke and Wire then heavied it up, Massaker always came across more like a tall, white, goth, German Jimi Hendrix Experience…with no tunes whatsoever. It’s often noted that Caspar plays a left-handed Strat upside down, mirroring Hendrix. He (rightly) states that this arrangement lets him make more sounds – there are few guitarists out there who use as much of the instrument as he does – but I’m sure Hendrix must have had some influence on the young Caspar.

Helmet and Massaker toured together around 93/94 (what a tour!) and it may have been when Caspar joined Helmet on stage for their closing track each night that the potential for this project was noticed. Nevertheless, when I met Page Hamilton last year he mentioned that the whole thing came together really quickly and was recorded in just a few hours.

My signed copy...

In fact, I’ve had the immense privilege of meeting both Brotzmann and Hamilton; albeit some years apart. Although I was dying to ask Caspar about Zulutime I was a little too starstruck and blown away that he was being so warm and open, telling me about his young son, to crowbar in a few questions about a noise guitar record. When I met Page I was a little older and a bit more confident. I also had a copy of Zulutime in my bag to use as a handy prompt. Incidentally, Page was incredibly warm too and amongst the Helmet/Zulutime chat told me how awestruck he’d been when he first met David Bowie whom he went on to play guitar for after Helmet split. His advice – never be scared to approach the people who’ve influenced you, just get up there and do it.

L-R: Page Hamilton, a very drunk Kowa Axis.

But anyway, on to the record…

I may as well lay my cards on the table right now. Zulutime is the yardstick by which I judge all other records of this type. Not only is it the first noise/improv guitar record I ever got, it is also still the best. Everything is right.

[Ok, non-guitar geeks may wish to skip the next two paragraphs]

The guitars, recorded by longtime Brotzmann studio cohort Bruno Gephard and longtime Hamilton studio cohort Wharton Tiers, just sound incredible. Brotzmann has always kept it simple with a pedal setup of Wah, RAT distortion and an ancient Roland Phaser or Chorus running into some battered Marshall stacks. When this album was recorded, Hamilton was probably at the peak of his effects experimentation. Photos of his rig at this time are mind-boggling. He also changed stuff so frequently that it’s difficult to pin down much of what he uses, but it’s likely that a his magenta ESP Horizon and Harry Kolbe GP-1 preamp are responsible for most of the basic sounds here.

Like Brotzmann, Hamilton relies heavily on a wah (in fact he credits Brotzmann with teaching him to use a wah as a device to control feedback pitch and tone rather than a do things with it that someone like Slash might). But amongst the noise I can definitely pick out a harmonizer and the unmistakable octave-up sound of a Prescription Electronics Outbox; a device I once read that Hamilton uses solely for ‘white noise’. Needless to say, this record is textural heaven.

[OK, welcome back. Thanks for sticking around]

The opening title track simply explodes out of the speakers. I talked about the first time I ever heard Zulutime before, so I won’t go into it again, but needless to say the mission statement is clear from the outset. There’s no fade-in to lull you into a false sense of security, you are thrown straight into the maelstrom. It takes half a minute until the first discernable note even crops up.

But this isn’t just pointless thrashing at guitars. Despite the aural violence on display here the playing is actually surprisingly dynamic and focused. Caspar is clearly taking the lead, his guitar steams along whereas Page’s parts are slightly more subdued, as if he’s teasing you, holding back the goods. It roars at you for a good few minutes until at 6 min 12 sec they pull together one of the most eerie things ever put to tape. Somehow they suddenly hit the same harmonic of wailing feedback before they start weaving around it. The melancholic effect is simply sublime.

The next track ‘Head Hunter’ takes a slightly more tactical approach. Beginning with choppy guitars, it grandually builds up into an absolute noise monster. Caspar’s divebombs weave in and out of Page’s more metronomic pulse before he moves on to attacking the springs of his guitar vibrato. This isn’t the sound of guitar strings, it’s the sound that the guts of a guitar make.  Guitars were never meant to sound like this.

‘Hit Single’, yes ‘Hit Single’, follows a similar path but stretches the method out to nearly twelve minutes before the album’s ‘ballad'; ‘Dream Date’.  This is actually quite pretty to begin with, and when the guitars do start to go off the rails again, they’re expertly reigned in. The pair never let the song run away despite repeated attempts at self sufficiency.

Penultimate track ‘Suburban Blight’ is a study in bottom end frequencies that also has the dubious honour of being my favourite song title ever. Think about it; Suburban Blight. Amazing. The sound is all derelict factories and detuned radios.

The closing track ‘Imbiss’ (a German term describing the small snack huts that dot the country’s city streets) veers dangerously close to a verse/chorus/verse structure. Oddly, it’s the also most representative of both artists other bands. Caspar’s howling high-up-the-neck playing could have easily come from his 1992 ‘Der Abend Der Schwartzen Folklore’ record, whereas Page stays within the lower register so familiar to Helmet fans. Sure, it’s still noisy as anything, and Page’s Tesla Coil guitar stabs are deeper and more fluid, but the space created in the gaps help to accent and punctuate the blasts of fuzz.

The debt I owe this record will probably be clear to anyone who listens to any of the heavier Kowa Axis tracks. It taught me that the guitar could be used as a means of pure expression and through that, I learned to do the same.

This is an album at will please very few. It’s about as un-listener friendly as it gets. But it’s also a masterpiece. On the train, at home working, at home not working, it seems to soundtrack so much of my life.

In fact, the album became so much of an obsession I even managed to track down a promo poster for it which hangs in my home office/music room.

It features the very Burroughs-esque text printed inside the sleeve that’s split either side of the page, making it very hard to read.

The writing is surreal, urban, confusing, difficult, but ultimately rewarding.

Just like the music…

Buy Zulutime here.

FREQzine & some reviews I’ve written.

Just a quick post to let you know I’ve been writing some reviews for http://www.freqzine.net. Yes, they’ve been crazy enough to actually let me write for them.

You can check out the reviews so far here:

Planks – The Darkest Of Grays/Solicit To Fall

Urthona – Super-Heavy Hamoazian Reverie

Xibalba – Madre Mia Por Los Dias

Enjoy…

Justin Broadrick & Andy Hawkins:Azonic – Subsonic 3: Skinner’s Black Laboratories

It would be easy to write a biography of Justin Broadrick here. That’s not really my aim, so perhaps the best thing I can do is send you here to check out the insanely long list of records he’s put out since the early eighties and let you dig around the internet to your heart’s content in search of more info.

What this is about is Subsonic 3: Skinner’s Black Laboratories. [Note: I covered how I came across this record in the last entry.]

This album brings together Broadrick and Andy Hawkins from Blind Idiot God‘s ‘Azonic‘ project.  As on the majority of Subsonic albums the two don’t collaborate. In this case however, this probably for the best. Both guitarists have very different styles and Broadrick’s sparser playing on this record might not blend well with Hawkins’ huge washes of sound. This incidental segregation of the two artists also makes this record one of the most diverse and exciting of the series.

Skinner’s Black Laboratories was recorded in 1995 at the mid-point of the career of Godflesh, Broadrick’s uncompromisingly heavy and bleak project that may still be what he’s best known for. Since then he’s done an awful lot more (go back up to the top and look at that discography) including Jesu, the band where he’d finally master blending his pop influences with the crushing riffs that he’s so adept at churning out.

But it’s the essence of Final, yet another Broadrick project (and possibly his longest running) that is most evident on this CD. This is by no means as uncompromising and drone-based, but the spirit is very similar – lengthy solo tracks where the only accompaniment is the loops he creates himself. The track titles are a dead giveaway too; Guitar One, Two, Three and, most tellingly, Four/Infinite. The lack of more creative song titles totally fits the minimal Final aesthetic.

The music on display here is really varied. ‘One’ fades in incredibly slowly until that famous Broadrick guitar tone comes to the fore. It’s perhaps less distorted and aggressive than usual, but you can still tell that the inorganic, curiously boxy, sound is him. He builds up more and more rhythm but never loses the space in the music.

‘Two’ is simply one of the prettiest songs I’ve ever heard, the naked guitar chimes and it builds into one of the most hopeful pieces Broadrick has ever put out.  Years ago I played this to a friend whose room I was crashing in for the night. We lay in our beds, somewhat wasted, talking nonsense. Five minutes into the song he broke the long gap in conversation that had developed without either of us noticing with a simple ‘this is beautiful’, and it is.

‘Three’ fares less well. It’s a scratchy, broken affair that brings to mind the old dial-up tone that nobody in the developed world hears any more. Proceedings are saved by the lovely final track that brings back the bell-like tones from ‘Two’. The song feels a lot more shy. There’s real discipline on show here. The use of space and cathedral-style reverb is perfect. Many lesser musicians (myself included) would have just let the song turn into an over-the-top mess.

It leads wonderfully into ‘River Blindness’ – not only the first song on the record to be dignified with a real title – but also the first track from Andy Hawkins the guitarist with odd noise rock/dub band Blind Idiot God. There are definite hints of that band in his playing here, but the rhythm section has been dispensed with and replaced by more and more guitar. Hawkins only released one other recording as Azonic and although they were put to tape a year apart, the sound is near enough identical.

Hawkins has a HUGE sound. It’s smothered in stereo effects run into at least two amps. The most remarkable thing is the lack of attack, it’s almost as if the chords blend between each other, he must be using some sort of sustainer pickup as I can’t for the life of me replicate it.

On ‘River Blindness’ his guitar screams, roars, throbs, shreds (if only for a moment) and sometimes it just rumbles. Fans of rhythm needn’t cry though as tablas emerge from within the dirge too.

His other track ‘Nine Tails’ follows a similar vein. The guitar’s whammy bar gets a proper shoeing here, the already detuned strings rattle against the fretboard before being yanked back up to pitch time and time again.

Hawkins really throws down the heaviness gauntlet on these tracks. Enough to claim the ‘Heaviest of the Entire Subsonic Series’ title?

Maybe…

This is a stunning record, one which fans of experimental guitar should definitely seek out. There’s so much depth and range. Of course, you can listen to all of the songs on YouTube, but it really benefits from a full, uninterrupted, listen.

Thanks for reading.