Electronic Music Means War to Us 2
Even by the standards of the now strangely quaint power noise movement, Hypnoskull has always been pretty menacing. Patrick Stevens has never really dealt in the monolithic textures or bleak atmospherics that added dimension to the works of contemporaries like Imminent and Converter. His work has always been lean, muscular and above all had a meanness to it, all other structural or production concerns beholden to pitiless barrages of noise and distorted drums. 2001’s Electronic Music Means War to Us was exactly what it said on the tin; an overture of aggression that exemplified Stevens’ approach. Perhaps it’s unsurprising then that that album’s sequel follows suit, delivering on the combativeness implied by the name in spades.
Listening to Electronic Music Means War to Us 2 in the wake of various artists that approach industrial from a techno background, it’s pretty easy to draw parallels. There’s definitely a likeness in the sinewy construction of “Show Me the Rhythm” or “Occupation Overload” to any number of tracks by say, Perc or Forward Strategy Group, a commonality founded on economy and minimalism. The difference of course is that Hypnoskull saturates everything with thick layers of distortion, right down to the occasional bit of punctuation like a vocal sample or a metallic synth pad. “Mediadeath (Face Your)” is so jacked up on fuzz that the borders of each sound start to blur into one another, while the breakdown of the mechanical “Curse On You” is predicated by blasts of static that suggest a spanner gumming up some massive engine and bringing the whole works to a grinding halt.
For all its grittiness the LP does occasionally dabble in a kind of primal funkiness, the effect of allowing beats to drift just slightly out of lockstep, enough for a raw kind of swing to manifest. The syncopated drums on “The Side Effect” or the zippy “Transactions” have a violent grooviness to them, songs to dance to as the PA tears itself apart from the sheer force of the music being played through it. With few exceptions all the songs are kept to under five minutes, whether as a concession to the ears of the listener or as a means to keep them from losing their punch it’s actually pretty effective; for all of Stevens’ trips to the well of noise the record switches it up enough to keep fatigue from completely setting in before the listener reaches the final minutes.
It’s in the last, collaborative tracks of Electronic Music Means War to Us 2 that I think some of the most interesting developments occur, the closing six tracks acting as a sort of reward for making your way to them. The team-up with fellow Belgian Michiel De Malsche scales things back with tinkling bells and hints of wind instruments before letting drums come into play mid-song, while the left of center hip hop of Dutchmen Kubus & Rico feels perfectly at home in the breakcore of “Dwars Door Je Speakers”. When things descend into pure noise during the Dissecting Table assisted “Intravenous Execution” the effect is that of a palate cleanser, the preceding 16 songs washed away by a wave of queasy sound, the listener left with the comparatively staid “Fear Eats the Soul” to soothe them from the experience. Hypnoskull might like to keep things nasty, brutish and short, but there’s a savage logic to how he constructs and presents his music, so long as one can focus long enough to hear it.