A CLOSER LISTEN, April 2th 2017 :
One of the commonplaces of noise is that of excess, and one of the paths such a concept opens up and which is not often explored is that of the wealth implied in an overabundance of sonic material. The Spirals of Great Harm, like the luscious Apollonian-occultist façade of its cover, invites the listener to explore its depths, where the coiled serpent marks the beginning of the abyss. Whether that abyss leads upwards or downwards depends on what you seek within the temple, and the mythical Egyptian symbolisms and track names connect with references to Dante’s Inferno (according, at least, to the press release) in a veritable excess of links that create a never-ending chain of signs open not only to interpretation but to mapping as well. After all, some spirals, by virtue of their luxury, are also labyrinths. The aural textures drawn by Skullflower into play emerge from a mixture of the chaos of feedback and walls of sound with the rhythmic regularity of drones, the guitar and electronics simultaneously duelling and complementing each other as the base of a distant, perpetual rumble as much as they constitute a musical element that molds the informal into shapes. Fulfilling two functions at once (as above, so below), these sounds come together not as one, but as multitudes, like the small visual details of the album cover that overwhelmingly assault the eyes. Their very opulence is disorienting, a senselessness born from sensory overload, a harm that leads not to numbness but to the sheer enjoyment of the many stimulations of perception. It is the mythological ambivalence of the snake: death cannot stop the affluence of life, but in rebirth there is nonetheless a kind of loss, the excess skin now shed becoming a petrified icon of another living moment. To listen to these drones and noise as they rise and fall (at an appropriately high volume, of course) is to let the ears get lost in their sonic coils, to pull the rest of the senses into a state where nothing else makes sense because there is just so much of it alive, so many intricate paths within the speaker-busting feedback that there is no need to do anything else, no need to keep this skin with which you’ve entered this labyrinth. Like many other noise artists, Skullflower also operates with an ironic sense of humor, an abyss that appropriately mocks the light, a laughter as harmful as looking right into the sun. There’s plenty of mythological parting points in the track names, but there’s no doubt it’s quite difficult to imagine the “Tangled Light of Isis”, or what “The Firebright and Linda Show” might have to do with an ascent/descent into hellish circles. Then there’s something like “Yuggoth Within”, a reference to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos in which Yuggoth is a planet at the edge of the solar system populated by beings “from the ultimate voids”. It is, in a way, a black comedy: there are so many meanings that the exercise to pin down something other than nonsense is as humorous as the image of the skin once shed becoming animated, an empty simulacrum of life. And like all black humor, it ends with a subversive note: “Fuck the New Estate”, the last track, grows rich with estranged drones and an almost melodic (almost alive) line of sounds that inevitably lead to silence, to a dearth in sensory stimulation. At the other end of the spiral you find starvation, but it is needless, it is unjust, it is horror – assaulting the world in the name of multitudes of pleasure for the many is perhaps the only path left open in the wake of so much luxury undone by so few.
NOISEY, March 15th 2017 :
Skullflower’s idea of music has always freaked me out and drawn me closer in near-equal measures. The first time I encountered it was in the mid-2000s, via a Crucial Blast promo CD, and I still remember how utterly perplexed I was to hear it. At that point, the closest thing I’d heard to full-on noise was Ildjarn, and even those primitive scrapings pale in intensity next to Skullflower’s full-on, warped noise assault. The band—which has mutated its membership over its nearly 30 years of existence but always been led by British musician Matthew Bower—pioneered the combination of heavy metal and harsh noise, using traditional “rock” instruments to hew their craft instead of the all-electronic output of their contemporaries in the industrial underground. Their early marriages of sludgy, doomy riffs with extreme distortion and feedback loops eventually gave way to a more purely noise-based sound (one whose hypnotic, aggressive tendencies find it rubbing elbows with raw black metal in more ways than one). Skullflower remains a towering giant of the global noise scene, and a new release from them is always cause for celebration. Their latest double album, The Spirals of Great Harm, came out on February 22, and we’re delighted to be streaming it below. We generally only stream new releases prior to their street dates, but for Skullflower, I couldn’t resist making an exception. (…)
AVANT MUSIC NEWS, February 28th 2017 :
UK’s Cold Spring Records puts out recordings of a wide variety of unsettling music: dark ambient, neo-folk, harsh noise, and experimental. Skullflower, which centers around Matthew Bower, fits the more extreme end of that spectrum. Bower has recorded under numerous monikers for over 30 years and this double-album reflects the confidence that comes with experience. The Spirals of Great Harm features traditional instrumentation, particularly guitars, rather than just electronics. But this might not be apparent initially. To that point, the album is a viscous, ever-shifting series of noise walls featuring long drones from distorted chording. Hidden in these walls are some subtleties that careful listening will pick out – a melody or two within the mass of sound. But Skullflower ultimately offers an overwhelming post-post-rock and post-industrial set, fitting for both foreground and background absorption. Comparisons to early 70’s Krautrock are not out of order here, though without the rhythmic emphasis. A welcome slab of dissonant, twisted darkness from an early purveyor of the same.
COMPULSION ONLINE, 2017 :
There’s no holding back Skullflower at the moment. Aside from numerous digital and short-run releases emanating from their Bandcamp page, the release of The Spirals Of Great Harm coincides with the release of The Black Iron That Has Fell From The Stars, To Dwell Within a vinyl release on Nashazphone. The Spirals Of Great Harm on Cold Spring follows Draconis another expansive 2 CD affair from Skullflower. The Spirals Of Great Harm references Dante’s Inferno but really it is just another piece in the mythological and cosmological jigsaw put together by Matthew Bower and Samantha Davies as Skullflower. It is a personal and idiosyncratic rendering of Egyptian Mythology and its Gods, wrapped up in the English occult tradition forged by Aleister Crowley, Kenneth Grant and Austin Osman Spare amongst others.You almost feel sucked into The Spirals Of Great Harm on the opener ‘Khepsh’, as it descends with what sounds like a hydraulic hum, burrowing deeper with bursts of airy droning guitars before they’re fired up and let loose with a bomber squadron buzz. ‘Furthur’ crafts a sound of black psychedelia from its interweaving twin guitar assault riddled with moog oscillations. Sometimes Skullflower get referred to as a noise band but they’re not really. It’s certainly been an aspect of the group in times past but it’s not the central one now. The discordant atmospherics that surround ‘Tangled Light Of Isis’ take the form of a loose improvisation where detuned guitars are cast against a distant roar. The shape shifting electronic frequencies that bobble up throughout this one recall Bower’s earlier solo project Total and even some of the earlier electronics from Broken Flag days. It’s not noise though. With a title summoning demons, ‘Furfur’ is archetypal Skullflower; a rush of squalling circular riffing over caustic drone laced with added analogue oscillations. So too is ‘Thunder Dragon’ but while ‘Furfur’ is the shortest track here the expansive ‘Thunder Dragon’ which rates as the longest track on the first disc, is an altogether different beast. Here wild majestic guitar strokes waver over buzzing discord and droning textures. Its flight remains anchored, the twin arcs of distortion rooted but unhindered casting layer upon layer of saturated glistening creating a meditational almost devotional air. Immense and rooted it conversely goes places like the best Skullflower music, if you only go with it. ‘Thunder Dragon’ is a key piece on The Spirals Of Great Harm and its worth succumbing to its languid beauty allowing its layers of unfettered guitar squall to wash over you. The final two tracks are notable for the inclusion of chiming organ. Shrouded in stretched drone and buzz guitar that grand organ chime on ‘Nectar And Venom’ is pitched somewhere between haunted carousel swirl and a ritual death march. I’m reminded of Ela Orleans’ Circles of Upper and Lower Hell another album that looked to Dante’s Inferno for inspiration. Where Ela used Dante to represent desolation and depression, the hell of Inferno for Skullflower acts more as a metaphor for a lost Englishness. Like much of the rest of the UK it’s a populace lost in consumerism and credit and a celebrity seeking brashness. You can hear it too in ‘Fuck The New Estate’ which I don’t think is a comment on new council housing either. Here the two pronged assault of guitars jostle with airy organ chords, shifting into a blurred haze before bowing out in a mass of flickering frequencies and tones. In comparison, the second disc pitches a different Skullflower sound. This time obfuscation and obscurity seems to be the key. Each song seems distant, set behind a gaudy veneer conjuring inchoate melodies from the air. ‘Rotting Jewelled Stormclouds’ is a distant battle hymn beamed in from centuries past. Listen close and you can pick out bustling voices and the disembodied strains of a fanfare. Carthage was a city that figured in Dante’s Inferno but made famous by the Roman statesman Cato who finished all speeches no matter the subject or intent with the immortal line of the title. But that’s beside the point, as ‘And Carthage Must Be Destroyed’ is another hazy, obscured recording where I’m sure I can hear piano and the tinkling of bells and chimes cast against the saturated guitar drone atmospherics. Whether these phantom sounds really exist remains to be seen but it’s something Skullflower have been doing for a while; both Draconis and Fucked On A Pile of Corpses also made manifest these hallucinatory instruments within the amorphous swells of Skullflower’s guitars. At times, like the Ouroboros serpent, The Spirals Of Great Harm even references itself. ‘The Firebright And Linda Show’ is a blackened hymn; a devotional dirge suspended in arcing billows of interweaving guitars over grand keening electronics which shares an affinity with the earlier meditational ‘Thunder Dragon’. ‘Khephra’ – which takes its title from an Egyptian God – offers a harsher take on the opener ‘Khepsh’ allowing the heavy buzz of guitars to take a more prominent role over the subtle drones. Interestingly ‘Khepsh’ is derived from Egyptian mythology too, which fits nicely with the other new Skullflower release The Black Iron That Has Fell From The Stars, To Dwell Within released on the Cairo based label Nashazphone which is the first in their ‘The Darkness of Aegypt’ trilogy. On ‘Ice Nine’ heavy keyboard stabs pound behind a veneer of searing high-pitched guitar frequencies. And behind that lies swirling electronic oscillations. The instruments caught up in a battle for supremacy. The Spirals Of Great Harm closes with the H.P. Lovecraft inspired titled track ‘Yuggoth Within’. A dank and dark textured offering of circular riffing laying markers as a means to escape the stifling homogeneity, fraud and deception that blights much of today. On The Spirals Of Great Harm Skullflower continue to expound on the magic, mystery, mythology found within and outside in the rolling hills, lakes and countryside of Cumbria where the members of Skullflower reside. On The Spirals Of Great Harm Skullflower’s blackened squall is adorned with an intricacy and subtlety that makes the descent into the abyss both alluring and powerful.
THE NOISE BENEATH THE SNOW, 19th February 2017 :
The Spirals of Great Harm is the latest offering from Skullflower, a band that has had their foot well-planted in the underground noise/industrial scenes since the 1980s with a rich discography since 1988. Track 1, “Khepsh,” starts the album off with a solid black noise ambient backdrop and a repeated ulta-high pitch noise. Right away, you notice that this could be one of those recordings that is not only deep conceptually but that the sounds may actually change the chemistry of your brain…. Recordings like this really can most effectively be appreciated while listening through ear phones. With some noise records it’s relatively easy to catch some of the dynamics in the mix (i.e. highs & lows, analog & digital..whatever). This album is much more in depth. The thing that should be appreciated about the mix is that it is done in such a manner that keeps the listener wandering what sounds or samples are buried beneath the surface. From Cold Spring, “The new sprawling double disc from black noise classicists Skullflower referencing Inferno 17, Dante and Virgil’s spiraling descent into the abyss on demon Geryon.” The guy serving as the foundation for Skullflower is Matthew Bower along with Lee Stokoe and Samantha Davies. Moreover, members of Whitehouse, Coil and Ramleh have been known to contribute. If a descent is what Skullflower was making an effort to illustrate here, I think that they have done just that pretty effectively. There was obviously much more effort put into this work both conceptually and musically. It’s not easy to paint a picture with sound especially when trying to put a soundtrack to an iconic story like inferno. Track 5, “Tangled light of Isis” sounds like it takes the listener to the bottom of the pit; a pit where a demented harsh industrial atmosphere or a phantom factory is at work. Just when you thought you couldn’t go lower, track 4, “Furfur” takes you even further into the subterranean. We could go on and on… However, the point is this: The Spirals of Great Harm is perhaps a purposely unsettling recording but pulls the listener into it with a barrage of sounds (maybe some intentional and some not) including some easy to hear and some maybe intentionally mixed in so as to not be so easy to hear. Some noise or “black ambient” artists say that conceptually an album is inspired by a subject. However, The Spirals of Great Harm actually not only serves as an effective soundtrack to the descent, but pulls the listener in and takes them along for the trip.
HEATHEN HARVEST, April 24th 2017 :
Matthew Bower’s Skullflower have been around a fair few decades having formed in 1987, and in that time they’ve never lost the ability to menace the sensibilities of those who prefer the noisier end of the industrial spectrum. And if ever there was ever a need to prove that noise isn’t just noise for its own sake, then Skullflower is that outfit. Here we have a two-disc set of drone/orchestral/dark industrial/occult noise tapestries by these consummate wranglers of harsh gratings, insistent buzzing, stifling fuzziness, and high-pitched overtones. Having described it thus, it’s less confrontational and much less bombastic than much of Skullflower’s previous output, but this doesn’t mean it’s lighter in any way; if anything, it has the opposite effect. These tracks can be thought of as sketches—glimpses of other realities and states of mind, or dispatches from the front lines of some otherworldly warzone. Indeed, one can sense that something numinous, almost divine, exists behind the apparent limits of reality, but simultaneously it isn’t necessarily an untainted divinity. Degradation and decay weave their filthy tendrils through each of these monster compositions. Highlights include ‘Yuggoth from Within’, describing to perfection that feeling mentioned above. A bright refrain clashing with a grainy blanket of distortion, fighting to be heard above the miasma. In a sense, it’s telling us we’re drowning and that we’re slowly being subsumed by a nightmare beyond our understanding. Eventually the refrain disappears altogether and we’re left with nothing but the endless void. ‘Fuck the New Estate’, the final track on the first disc, ‘Hell’, isn’t a pit of fire; it’s a world in deep-freeze, where only bitingly cold winds blow and the ghosts of those once living wander aimlessly looking for a warmth that’s long since died. There’s no hope here, that particular intangible quality having abandoned us when we weren’t looking. ‘And Carthage Must be Destroyed’ is all massed fury, an endpoint of history perhaps. Saw-like waves of bitter sharpness cut an unstoppable swath, buzzing loudly and uncompromisingly, decimating all before it. ‘Ice Nine’ borders on the tuneful, the whipping and chopping of rotor blades hovering over a sonorous backdrop of bass piano chords and axle grinders. It’s teeth-grindingly menacing, all jagged edges and ripped flesh. If nothing else, the pieces presented to us on The Spirals of Great Harm leaves one’s brain blasted of thought and almost brings one to the brink of an elevated consciousness. It’s just like the afterimage left on the retina subsequent to being exposed to a bright light, but in this case, it pulls one out of the everyday and into an alternate reality/state that paradoxically leaves one feeling cleansed. What we witness on a daily basis isn’t the ultimate truth, and this is what The Spirals of Great Harm appears to be saying. Despite Skullflower’s modus operandi, they’re in effect offering us a series of short essays on what it’s like to strip away the gloss and pretense. In fact, I found it incredibly meditative and, bizarrely, uplifting. This, to me, is the true power of pure noise.
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