Flenser Records seems to occupy two niches when it comes to their releases. Lately, a significant portion of their output has revolved around a nexus of postpunk and Goth, and a willingness to experiment with industrial textures and any other method that adds to the listening experience. On the other end of the spectrum, Flenser’s bread and butter since the beginning has been extreme metal. In 2015, the label’s latest releases continue to touch on both approaches.
King Woman‘s Doubt EP actually spans the gap between the heavy and the atmospheric sides of the label’s aesthetic. For the sake of labeling things, we’ll put them in the doom category; their sounds are slow and languid, but heavy at the same time. Doom riffs are filtered through shoegaze’s opiate haze, the guitars of Colin Gallagher often tucking hidden nuggets of melody beneath the waves of distortion. Oftentimes, one could draw comparisons with Pelican and Jesu, but with the sonic heft of outfits like Burning Witch and Sunn O))). However, it might be more apt to give credit to the rhythm section for providing the release’s tectonic heaviness. Bass guitarist Sky Madden keeps things simple but anchors the riffs with an immense low-end. Meanwhile, the drums of Joey Raygoza sound like they were recorded in some vast echoing valley, and often utilize huge tom hits to accent the riffs. Perhaps most distinctive are the vocals of frontwoman Kristina Esfandiari. Her voice is ethereal, her melodies soaring above the music and helping to forge King Woman’s unique identity.
If King Woman bridges the gap between the two ends of the Flenser Records aesthetic, Mastery‘s new record VALIS falls firmly on the extreme end of things. It is safe to say this is probably the most intense record the label has released.
Mastery’s modus operandi consists of wave after wave of gonzo riffs, often played for just a few seconds at a time, never to be repeated again over the course of a composition that might reach the 18-minute mark. The project’s mastermind, Ephemeral Domignostika, abandons any semblance of traditional songcraft in favor of pure sensory overload. The riffs themselves are usually composed using a black metal harmonic template, but will disintegrate at the end of a measure into the kind of skronk that would not be out of place among Sonny Sharrock’s farthest-out moments.
And one would be remiss to forget to mention the drums. While the promotional material waxes eloquent about the “polyrhythmic drum patterns,” the actuality is the instrument drowns beneath the waves of guitars and enraged-goblin vocals, and what is left is merely a consistent pulse beneath the chaos, the effect being atavistic and savage.
VALIS might not be for the more conservative metal fan. This album is for those who have power electronics and the harshest of free jazz records sprinkled throughout their collection. The effect wavers between violence and meditation, and carves out its own niche within the genre. The chaos, on paper at least, nods towards the war-metal contingent populated by bands such as Revenge, Conqueror, and Black Witchery, yet the end result is quite different. One could almost point to the sort of alien soundscapes achieved by Blut Aus Nord, yet utilizing an entirely different means to achieve the end result, and fans of early Orthrelm and Japanese glitch/shred duo Noism will also find plenty to enjoy.
The track listing indicates this is a five song affair, but in actuality, two of the pieces are merely abstract electronic interludes. Still, excluding the interludes, there are still over thirty-five minutes of music here, and given its sustained intensity, much more than that would have proven excessive—too much to handle, even. Then again, VALIS is quite purposefully excessive, a challenging release made for only the most stalwart listeners.