For quite a few years now the Swedish noise scene has been burning bright, with many great and memorable releases coming from the likes of Sewer Election, Blodvite, Amph, Arkhe, and many others. I'm most impressed with the way that each artist is able to distinguish themselves while retaining a large degree of coherency within the scene as a whole. One element that seems to be common to most of the groups associated with Utmarken et. al. is a slow, methodical approach that emphasizes subtle textural shifts over harshness and rapid dynamic shifts. Combined with lo-fi tape-heavy techniques, intricate atmospheres can be constructed that end up being far more than the sum of their parts. Because the sounds unfold methodically, tracks from artists like SE, Amph, etc. usually benefit from having more time, but there have been a few Swedish compilations that provide satisfying introductions to these artists while keeping the tracks in the five minute range. Two great ones have come out already this year: RTB's swan-song Sverige LP and the Nordostra Malmo compilation on new label Elbogen Fonogram. Both compilations are necessary for those looking for an introduction to the artists covered as well as those who are already listeners.
Nordostra Malmo C36
I'm a fan of starting a label with a compilation. It's a good way to hook people and leave them wanting more, which is just what this comp does for this group of Malmo-based projects. I was excited to hear a few names I was unfamiliar with, and I was not let down. Teufelsdrockh, a project I've never heard of before, starts things off following a brief found-tape introduction. A heavily effected voice is dominant at the beginning of the track but gets swallowed up by a droning melody and tape loop noise. Amph delivers one the project's best tracks yet, utilizing slowed-down loops to build an uncomfortable atmosphere. Arkhe rounds out the a-side with a very murky track that tries to handle a bit too much in a short amount of time. So many elements are introduced that none really has the power that it should. Not bad material, but inferior to anything else I've heard from Arkhe.
The B-side ramps up the intensity somewhat, though it begins with a red-herring of a track from Midhem Funeral Band, another one that's new to me. The Midhem track has some of the ritualistic feel of Attestupa or Niding, but much less clouded in reverb. The synth melody interacts nicely with acoustic junk noise, but unfortunately the track is only two minutes long. It never really gets time to take off, but it certainly left me eager to hear more. The second Teufelsdrockh track is next, and it achieves remarkable velocity considering it utilizes the same slow, measured tactics as the other tracks. There's a line being straddled here between the extreme speed of the blown-out tape noise textures and the total stasis of atmospheric fuzz. Mirors Are Black explores tape and room noise further, to the point that these normally superfluous noises dominate the track and build an immersive atmosphere. Backasvinet layers quality acoustic junk noise over a brittle synth line to great effect. It's all topped off by an anonymous piece utilizing tapes of choir music, jingles and spoken dialogue.
This compilation is limited to 100, but I believe it's still available from the label. I highly recommend grabbing it before it's too late.
Sadly the last release of the great Release The Bats label, but it's a hell of a way to go out. The Arkhe track that opens the album really sums up what makes the project great, avoiding biting off more than it can chew in the four minute timespan and focusing on a few very effective elements. Slowed-tape loops, crackling electronics and eerie tones of indiscriminate origin. Perfect. This is followed by a Goblinesque sounding Feberdrom track. It's remarkably catchy, with a couple of melodies oozing in and out of alignment with each other. Definitely the best I've heard from the project by far. Hand Som Vardar's track is understated and rewards repeated listening. Acoustic noise loops shift and build with remarkably subtlety. Room noise is utilized well, placing some loops closer to the listener than others and really sucking you in, making you feel like you're in the room as this process takes place. Arv & Miljo end the A-side with a heavy synth-droner. Not-quite-piercing high end feedback probes the membrane of a thick synth wall.
The B-side kicks off with an Amph track that might be the best Amph yet, which is saying something. While I previously made the argument for only utilizing a few elements, this track is actually very complex, but it's all handled so adeptly that it ends up being very powerful. Live drums sounds, the trilling of birds, and synths cutting through the haze of reverb and tape noise all intertwine without becoming convoluted and muddled. It's impossible not to get lost in it, and the track seems to last for an eternity although it is only five minutes. The Landvarelser track that follows features a saxophone (or some kind of reed instrument?) loop that gets so heavily abused you almost have to feel sorry for it. Scraping textures and damaged tones overtake this loop, sometimes getting a bit too muddled and making me feel that perhaps this track would've fared better on cassette. Implicit Ruin is the only artist I'm unfamiliar with on this compilation, but the track here is intriguing. A rapid hammering noise dominates the track, too fast and bass-less to pounding. Underneath this various loops develop, in addition to some whispered vocals. The compilation ends with a satisfying track from Blodvite. While I don't feel that it reaches the heights of the recent Posh Isolation tape or the LP on Jartecknet, it's a good demonstration of what Blodvite is, featuring sputtering synths and squealing overdriven junk tape loop manipulation. It ends abruptly, which makes it feel more like an excerpt than a full track.
Some minor gripes aside, these two are two of the strongest noise compilations I've heard in the past few years. I'm hoping to hear more from Elbogen Fonogram soon.