Mania - Heralds of Agony/Custodian - Traces
While it’s impossible to divide any musical genre along binary lines, the majority of harsh noise artists plant themselves firmly into one of two camps: those trying to push the boundaries of what harsh noise can sound like, and those who feel that harsh noise is fine the way it is. On the recent 12-inch split between Custodian and Mania, each artist crafts a solid argument for one of these two approaches.
Milwaukee’s Custodian represents the traditional side of the argument, grinding out churning layers of bass-heavy, rhythmic distortion that give way to ear-piercing swashes of feedback. It’s a simple formula, but Custodian’s Jon Engman balances these two elements perfectly on his side of the disc (entitled Traces), fixating on one for long stretches of time, but always filtering in the other at just the right moment. A subtle use of texture also presents itself throughout the four tracks as thick, wet walls of all-encompassing sound break down to reveal dry, borderline thin tones working underneath the surface.
Where Custodian looks to the past to find aesthetic inspiration, Texas-based Mania (a.k.a. Keith Brewer of Taint fame) looks in a different and entirely unknown direction. All of the elements of classic harsh noise are present on Heralds Of Agony: feedback, distortion, scrap metal abuse, screamed vocals, and weird synthesizers. How Brewer arranges and uses these elements, however, puts his side into a category all its own. The record sounds as if it’s falling apart, with bass-heavy drones capable of rattling Fort Knox colliding head-on with what sounds like an ungrounded amplifier left to its own devices. Both elements perfectly bury some truly horrifying vocals that only rarely burst through the rest of the mix.
Personal taste will almost inevitably push listeners into one mode of thought, finding new energy in old sounds or looking for the next, new fix to satiate their hunger. When considering a musical cannon, though, is it more important to create new branches or to add to the existing foliage? If nothing else, this record shows that there’s a place for both approaches.
-for AV Club Milwaukee by Peter J. Woods
released July 1, 2011
Jon Engman - Electronics, Sheet Metal
No Visible Scars 020
Limited to 150 copies
sold out/out of print
all rights reserved