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Polish multi-instrumentalist and general busybody, Michał Kuźniak, otherwise known as Nihil, has been churning out high caliber material for over a decade. Most of Nihil’s back catalog and previous works fall in line with some form of black metal. His most notable work is with Massemord and Furia, but he keeps busy with a lot of extraneous projects. Cssaba, one of these extraneous projects, is promoted as an experimental black metal project. “Toxic CSSABA”, this project’s debut full length from 2009, received fairly high marks for its unabashed mixing of cold industrial and black metal. Apparently the lauded fifty-fifty mix of industrial and black metal wasn’t good enough for Nihil, as his second full length creation from Cssaba throws a curve ball and drops the aspect that he’s best known for: black metal.
But wait, you say, the album’s title, “Underground Lo-Fi Songs”, sounds like the title of a black metal album. It could be a collection of ultra-raw raw black metal tracks from the Ildjarn vaults or even some type of static filled mess of droning buzzes and noise. What we were presented with, though, is far, far removed from black metal. Maybe the album title is just another way to keep them guessing. What “Underground Lo-Fi Songs” really is sounds more like an ambient industrial album with minute traces of metal here and there. Just because this isn’t black metal doesn’t make it inherently bad though, it just came as a shock, especially after hearing the debut album. If you’re looking for a quick description to get your mind in the right frame imagine the abrasively urban feel of Godflesh’s “Street Cleaner” and the electronic ambiance and tomfoolery of Ulver’s “Themes From William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”. There are touches of groove strewn throughout, but not groove in the sense of catchy riffs and the like, but a mechanical groove not too dissimilar from ascertaining patterns from running machines and engines.
Rather than following typical song structures and utilizing typical instrumentation, Cssaba relies on the heavy use of very machinated and electric sounding drum programming, thick and plodding bass lines, industrialized ambiance and particularly endless keyboard lines to create a sound that fluctuates between disparaging electronic rhythms and soft yet mechanical ambiance. The few instances that embrace any metallic leanings still utilize the same elements; it’s just done in a heavier style. The second track, for instance, shows a faster paced bass line coupled with electronic drumming and a churning, grinding industrialized backdrop. The sixth track delves into the electronic sounds with subtle rhythmic guitar lines accentuating the tail end of each bass run while the machine-like noises and electronic drums continue to pound away: and this is when Cssaba most sound like Ulver’s avant-garde masterpiece, “Themes From Williams Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”. Like the actual metal influence, the vocals are very sparse throughout the album. The two previously mentioned tracks dance between a gruff, distorted shout and a clean, distorted and atonal drone. Most often, though, the vocals tend to fly by without much fuss as the electronic and industrial elements continuously reign supreme. The entire album rolls past without much change in tempo or delivery: the electronic drums plod along; the thick bass plods along; the industrial elements reign; and it consistently feels like something Godflesh would produce. While it can be entertaining, the majority of the album flows along uneventfully, which is one of my main problems here. I have no problems with Industrial music, I just prefer more variation when I listen to it. The heavier, somewhat metallic tracks stand way out in front as being both more entertaining and more captivating than the rest of the album, but that is because there is more going on during these segments.
I guess this wouldn’t be a bad listen if you worship at the feet of Godflesh and absolutely adore the industrialized ambiance of mid-period Ulver albums: just don’t expect the black industrial styling of Blut Aus Nord or Reverence, as the black isn’t present. The entire delivery is bleak and harrowing, much like industrial albums tend to be. This album would provide a great backdrop for silently walking through a cold and desolate urban environment at night time. Other than that, the only real use for “Underground Lo-Fi Songs” is for background music. The industrial rhythms and bleak atmospheres are good, but the overall product leaves something to be desired. You may find some enjoyment if you don’t expect any form of black metal at all, because Nihil is all about throwing you for a loop with this one. While “Toxic CSSABA” was a balancing act of industrial and black metal, “Underground Lo-Fi Songs” fell off the balance beam completely. This is industrialized ambiance with slight moments of mechanized groove.
Written for The Metal Observer: