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Prominent players in the black metal / noise/ drone scene, the Californian band Sutekh Hexen (Scott Miller and Kevin Gan Yuen) teams up with sound artist Andrew Liles to produce this album of two Sutekh Hexen tracks plus their respective remixes. Having someone like Liles, a long-time Nurse With Wound collaborator, chew up Sutekh Hexen tracks might seem a bit superfluous as Sutekh Hexen would appear to have the intense blown-out blackened noise soundscape genre all sewn up with nothing left for anyone to work with into something even more forbidding and extreme but Liles has managed to control and sculpt the tracks to his own out-there specifications and the band and Liles even manage to cram the originals and the remixes into the modest physical format of a 45-minute cassette tape.
Unusually the first side opens with the remix of "We Once Walked Upon These Coals" with the original following after. Stern piano melodies, brimming with sinister portent, lead us into a black passage of ambient horror-expectancy: a deeper melody, steely and rumbling, generally contrasts with a shrill, icy-toned trilling tune. Ghostly wobble and susurrating sound fill the background void. The track soon slides into a fluttering machine ambience as if a giant mosquito drone the size of a passenger jet were hovering just above; meanwhile, a crowd of voices start gabbling in the background. Machine-like rhythm guitar riffs start churning out and are soon joined by an evil lead guitar solo trilling up and down the music scale in joyful, deranged mirth. For a brief while, Liles turns Sutekh Hexen into a Satanic heavy metal band. Fear not, SH aren't going cartoony-evil, the guitar solo halts and that hellish monster-insect flutter-churn resumes its baleful rhythm.
It's hard to tell where the remix ends and the original track begins due to the cassette format used but I take the break between tracks as that brief moment of quiet before a series of explosions begins that expands into pealing church bells and a choir of phantom voices that bleed into the metallic bell tones and the swirling mess in the background. Various found sounds - screaming women, twittering birds, the metal mosquito drone, a malevolent chanting priest conducting a Satanic ritual among others - fill the song.
Side B sees SH burst out with manic cloudbursts of blackened guitar noise buzz, ripping through the black atmosphere with a sharp hissy edge reminiscent of a high-pressure water hose spewing its product and which might actually be a highly distorted vocal. The song quickly exhausts itself and drifts into a ghostly pall that roams widely over a bleak landscape in the dark. Liles' take on "Selling Light to Lesser Gods" seems to reconstruct it in reverse: the remix rises quickly out of the void into which the original disappeared with church organ droning as its companion. A choir of demon choristers howl wordless hymns of damnation from their perches and stalls in the deepest, blackest parts of Hell. Piercing vocal hiss sounds stab through the track, pronouncing vile curses upon listeners foolish enough to have followed the recording this far. A maddened organ accompaniment is interrupted by shattering glass and the track passes into another realm of blackened ambient hell where the phantom choristers find their voice again. A layer of fuzzy black metal guitar noise loops over and over into a sudden outburst of digital sandstorm chaos, beneath which grit coalesces into a demon voice trying to say something. The whole thing stutters into a rapid train rhythm cut short by shattering glass.
The two tracks and their remixes are good though they would have been better on a CD format: the kind of blackened experimental soundscape noise that SH trafficks in needs contrasts of sharp sound, blurry noise and other distortions in sound texture and production to bring out the best in all sound textures used. There is a point in the music where the entire sound universe passes to a deeper, more sinister plane of existence and a CD format would have brought that transformation into clearer focus. As it is, the album is not bad but somehow I think the beast that SH and Liles have made is cramped up here and needs a different format to spread its wings or gallop like crazy to show what it's really made of. Certainly the ambient and sound-sculpture aspects of SH can almost disappear and the music is in danger of sounding one-dimensional most of the time.
Quite why bands these days think it's such a great idea to release albums and EPs on cassette tape without considering the effect that the format might have on the sound of the music beats me: I know cassette tapes have a DIY-punk go-for-it romantic appeal - everyone can record onto cassette tape and the tools to do that are cheap so it's the ultimate egalitarian music format - but the danger in recording music to tape just for the historical appeal willy-nilly lies in the eventual divorce of history and actual music when too many people do it and the format becomes known more for poorly recorded product whose full potential is restricted by the limitations of the cassette format.