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Industrial black metal/noise with very bleak theme - 80%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, September 27th, 2010

Experimental noise rock, often with a metal or industrial influence, has been on the rise in the United States: bands like Blue Sabbath Black Chiar, Hair Police, Mammal, Wolf Eyes and Yellow Swans have brought noise to a wider audience and it helps too that people have become more accepting of PCs and laptops as musical instruments capable of generating their own distinctive sounds which can be used in writing and performing music. Some time earlier this year I came across "Old Ways" by Missouri-based one-man act Jute Gyte (headed by Adam Kalmbach) which is very much in the mould of dense and devastating, blustering harsh noise with strong industrial and metal overtones, especially in the singing which resembles a black metal style of vocals. The album's packaging and theme are very much in sync with black metal themes and ideas about the faults and failings of humanity, the precarious nature of existence and people's relationship with death. One very unusual aspect of the music here is that mandolin is used throughout the recording in addition to the usual guitars, bass, voice, percussion programming and effects, though on most tracks it's very hard to tell it apart from the other stringed instruments due to their sound being very heavily distorted.

The whole album seems like one massive bloc of constant noise distortion with lots of screaming at first but with repeated listening you can make out seven distinct tracks. There are definite guitar riffs of a repetitive slashing sort, all heavily processed so the sound tends to be rough and crumbly. Sometimes the strings will fall away to allow bass and other instruments to be heard. Rhythms are usually medium-paced or slow enough that the music acquires a bombastic air. Overall it sounds like a very noisy minimalist black metal band with some doom rhythm influences. The drumming isn't anything special but with music like this, perhaps the percussion should be kept basic, not competing with the noisy flow for listener attention. Vocals often aren't all that distinguishable from the constant blizzard crunch and scree but they are deranged and filled with rage, pain and anguish.

The best tracks include "Interlude" which is one of two fairly noise-free tracks and features the mandolin as the main instrument, played in much the same way as the guitars with repeating riffs that go up and down. The sounds are still beautiful and round so the way the strings are struck rather than strummed or plucked is very jarring to the ears. A drone accompanies the mandolin in the manner of an annoying kid brother or sister. Then there's "Round" which is a solid slab of grinding, growling concrete rhythm alternating with light silver stabs of tone and woozy background churn. The second half of the track rages with insane shrieking voices and heavily distorted layers of noise while a lone guitar riff picks its way through. "Snail" is a gloopy watery being of repeating twangs and short booming bursts laid over a slow wavering bass, all held together by a crazed wailing vocal. Final track "Death" deserves some mention for its length (nearly 20 minutes) and very distinctive if abrasive noise guitar riffs. The music is massive and tends to flow more and the vocals become even more screechy and insane but for a long piece it holds together well.

"Old Ways" is hardly a subtle recording: the heavy, repetitive noise and in-your-face production have a bludgeoning effect and volume dynamics seem completely non-existent here. Though the album seems to be about a strange mass execution of fantastic creatures that might have existed in the imaginations of mediaeval age people, and is almost science fiction in some ways, the blasting noise can have an alienating effect so I sometimes feel that I'm just observing a parade of death and violence and its effects on the human psyche: pain, desperation, madness, more terror and violence, other people's lives being considered cheap, no respect for the preciousness and fragility of life. I can imagine some people might feel pretty numb listening to this album. Perhaps that effect of alienation and numbness may be intended. The funny thing is that though the lyrics sometimes refer to demons and other beings of ectoplasmic substance and can be hideous and gruesome, I don't find the music to be very sinister or ominous. Unlike some other noise metal acts I've heard - the over-the-top Gnaw Their Tongues comes to mind - Jute Gyte's style is not at all bombastic or histrionic, not to my ears anyway; there's something calculated about the music's structure, it seems very controlled. With the kind of lyrics "Old Ways" has, I'd prefer to hear them in their unadorned, matter-of-fact glory.

I really can't find much to fault about the music as it is. Initially when I first heard the album, a lot of it went way over my head and it felt very bludgeoning. Repeated listenings have changed my view drastically to the extent that what I think about "Old Ways" now, six months after I first heard it, is almost opposed to my first impressions of the music. If there are any changes I'd like to see to this album, I'd say the heavy noise could be toned down a bit in parts to allow for some subtle volume and sound changes to give the recording a bit more depth and perhaps a three-dimensional sculptured feel. If the noise textures were to go loud and soft, loud and soft, the music would acquire an organic "breathing" rhythm which might make it "come alive" and seem really menacing. I'd like to have the feeling that there is more evil and madness from where "Old Ways" is coming from, that no matter how maddened the music is, there is still more insanity behind it waiting to take over when it all ends and silence falls.