Welcome again to The Pitch, wherein one of our senior staff members tries to sell the other on an album they haven’t heard. This week’s record is an odd one-off concept record dealing with…well, it’s best to let Alex explain.
Alex says: The year was 1999, and like so many other young men living isolated existences in the far-flung reaches of Canada, my mainline for information about industrial music was rec.music.industrial, which at the time was in the throes of an obsession with second wave power noise. As a relative naif (okay, more of a complete naif) to the genre, I had requisitioned a gross of CDs from some forgotten mailorder or other to shore up my ignorance before someone called me out on it on the group, because when you’re barely out of your teens and not having sex, you give a shit what anonymous people on newsgroups think. Amongst them was the Exoskeleton 2 comp from Possessive Blindfold. That comp is pretty stacked in retrospect (who could forget Horse Penis Pants’ “Whitenoise Druckspruer”?) but the thing that stood out most to me on it was NKVD’s “Mikrometrik”. It sounded like Gridlock to me at the time, although not so much now with the benefit of a few years experience, all weird stereo sweeps and tweaky sequences and distorted percussion. I promptly placed an order for the LP, which unless I recall incorrectly would also have been the first thing I ever acquired from the mighty Hands.
Truth be told I haven’t listened to the album in over a decade, but I’ve always held it in fond regard: the whole idea of the Mlada Fronta guys doing a concept record about the war-songs of space barbarians who fly across the galaxy in a nuclear wessel laying waste to every planet they encounter appeals to 33 year old me as much as it did to 20 year old me. What can I say, some premises are so batshit-wackadoo they transcend time and space in my affections. I’m almost a little afraid to listen to it in 2012 for fear that it won’t be as good as I remember, although I think there’s a strong possibility you could draw a line between it and, say, ESA, who is currently doing the distorted beat and vein-popping screaming thing. I mean, Jamie Blacker hasn’t made up his own language like the NKVD guys did, but you get the idea.
At any rate, here’s the pitch: I think Bruce will enjoy the record as an enormous science fiction nerd (he prefers the term “academic”) with an interest in the early iterations of power noise. Come to think of it, I can’t think of any other power noise concept albums (maybe The Andronechron Incident although that’s only peripherally related to rhythmic noise), so it’s quite possible this largely forgotten slice of late 90s rivet-a-bilia has a more special place in history than just the one it holds in my heart. ‘Shyeah, as if that were possible.
Bruce says: Alex forgot to tell me that one of the dudes from Corpus Delicti (whom I love enough to slave away on pieces like this) was also in NKVD; it was purely the “battle hymns of intergalactic berserkers” hook which got me to give this a spin. That’s probably for the best, as there ain’t a hint of goth rock to be found on this oddity. What there is, before getting to the music, is a pretty awesome description of the Barbarians whose music is featured on Prolog in the liner notes. They’re 3.20 meters in height (you gotta admire the precision), weigh 400 kilos, and tool around in a nuclear ship (150 klicks long and 3000 meters tall) called the NKVD. Gee, after admittedly naming the project after a Stalinist secret police corps, Rémy Pelleschi and Jérôme Schmitt must’ve been super-relieved to learn that the space vikings they’d chosen to document used a similar moniker. What a fun coincidence! (Also, can we all agree that Hands’ packaging did and continues to rule, even though removing a CD more than ten times without damaging the little cardboard bit in the top right corner is impossible? You know what I’m talking about.)
Anyway, things get punchy right off the bat with the instrumental “Timescape”. The beats are dense, muffled and distorted and follow many of the same rhythms anyone picking up a Hands record in 1999 might expect, but much of the cloudy, smoggy atmosphere which I often associate with power noise is absent (keep in mind I don’t leave my porch light on in case Scott Sturgis suddenly returns the way my comrade does, but I know my way around Signum and Nord). Instead, there are cold, clean squeals and tweaks which point towards a technoid direction, which perhaps matches the science fiction trappings (speaking of which, thanks to the liner notes, I’m stuck imagining these tunes being played by beings who are a cross between Firefly‘s Reavers and Battlefield Earth‘s Psychlos). I’m sure there is other power noise stuff which falls more in line with this, but I’m not sure that I’m the one to draw that connection.
Business picks up when Pelleschi’s vocals come in on “Barbarians” and “Destruktion”. While it’d be nice to try to pick out the subtleties of the Barbarians’ glottal stops and verb conjugation (believe it or not, dear reader, I once owned [and probably still do] the Klingon Dictionary and companion cassette tapes), but given the tight and noisy barking with which most of the vocals are delivered, that’s just not happening. Even though the vocals could be being screamed in any human language, I do think the conceit of characterizing them as alien battle hymns still holds some merit: absolutely none of the vocals or tracks here follow any of the common martial rhythms or sing-song vocals we commonly associate with military music (and transpose over to the cultures of our imagined aliens). Whether intentionally or not, NKVD do a nice job of estranging understandings of what a certain mode of music “should” sound like by swapping in another (admittedly human) form (power noise) to better convey just how alien their aliens are.
Even if you couldn’t care less about Klingon opera or musical semiotics, though, the first half of Prolog delivers a half-hour of solid rhythms and programming which moves between pure scalding attack and more cerebra builds and falls. That said, I can’t lie: my interest in this disc really tailed off during the two lengthy closing tracks. Though far more spacious and less aggressive than anything else on the record, they don’t really change the toolkit of sounds and textures Prolog has used in the previous six tracks, but just spread them out some. They’re still as insistent as the rest of the disc, though, and that omnipresence doesn’t really suit the static hold of some of “Raw” and “Psykoz Part (2)”‘s more repetitive passages. While the scrape and grind of that sound works in connection with the bombast of the early tracks, it’s simply an irritant here.
Those two tracks aside, I dug Prolog. It avails itself of several of the different routes which can be taken in order to produce aggressive power noise tracks, and also has more than enough character and pizzazz in its programming to avoid being simply a seed catalog of the genre’s tropes. Whether or not the concept underlying the record bolsters it in your estimation is probably dependent on whether you can sketch the Sulaco from memory or are really jacked up about the resurgence of space opera, but it can’t detract.