Despite often being characterized as a metal label, Flenser Records has pushed hard to be at the leading edge of the current post-punk/gothic rock revival. This is particularly true when they’re releasing records by bands that have a less accessible sound, whether that be experimental or something more abrasive. It certainly holds true with the label’s two latest albums, Black Wing‘s …Is Doomed and Heat Dust‘s self-titled debut, both out on September 25.
Dan Barrett, the sole member of Black Wing, is no stranger to Flenser’s roster. He is one-half of the duo Have a Nice Life, who have two releases on the label, and is also releasing another solo album under the moniker Giles Corey. Black Wing functions almost as Giles Corey‘s opposite. While the latter utilizes only acoustic instruments, the former is completely digital.
…Is Doomed was made while Barrett was experiencing health problems, and he has talked about reflecting on issues of mortality during the composition process. Combining this information with the label’s usual aesthetic, one would assume the music would be quite depressive, or noisy like Pharmakon‘s Bestial Burden, created under similarly fraught circumstances in 2014, but this isn’t really the case. Most of the tracks, perhaps “My Body Betrayed Me” most of all, have a certain uplifting quality to them. Dreamy vocals float above minimal instrumental tracks, the edginess provided by the layer of fuzz and hazy indistinctiveness purposely utilized as the album’s central sound palette.
Only the track “Unemployed” seems to convey any sense of true menace. The percussion here seems to hint at some of the more experimental industrial acts of the late ’80s and early ’90s, such as Coil or Download. The track fits well with the songs positioned around it, though; once again, the production techniques provide consistency despite the changes in tone.
Heat Dust, on the other hand, is a more straightforward affair. Beginning as a three-piece consisting of guitarist/vocalist Clayton Hunt, bassist Shawn Tabor, and guitarist/vocalist Jasper den Hartigh, the group later added drummer Christopher Stein, who had played in hardcore bands with den Hartigh. While the promotional material lists the usual suspects of post-punk as primary influences, the most direct progenitors seem to be early Joy Division and Bauhaus.
There is a lot of punk in Heat Dust‘s sound. Songs such as “(Hopefully) Alone” and “Seeking a Praxis” start urgently and don’t necessarily reveal themselves genre-wise until the vocals appear. Others take a more laid-back, gloomier approach. In this mode, the group often utilizes a rhythmic approach reminiscent of the Pixies, drums, bass and guitar coming together in a lockstep, plodding beat. The way the tracks are sequenced on the album does a great job alternating these two sides of the band, holding the listener’s interest throughout the course of the release.
Stream “(Hopefully) Alone”:
There is no doubt a full-on post-punk/gothic revival is at hand right now. These records seem to address two different facets of that movement, providing the kind of variety which staves of boredom and insures that the momentum will continue. Heat Dust provides a satisfying immediacy, while Black Wing succeeds at a more experimental approach. In this sense, these releases work in tandem with each other, and Flenser seems to show that in releasing the two side by side.