Various Artists - Broken Flag: A Retrospective 1982-1985 (Vinyl On Demand 5xLP)
First I couldn't believe it existed, then I couldn't believe I bought it. I never thought I'd see the day come when the Broken Flag vaults were thrown back open and people got a chance to sample the treats without paying sky-high prices on eBay (if you even found any at all). In case you need a history lesson for some reason, Broken Flag is the legendary U.K. noise/power electronics label run by Gary Mundy (Kleistwaht, Ramleh, Male Rape Group, Skullflower) and responsible for some 80 crucial tapes and LPs by the likes of the aforementioned Mundy groups, as well as Swastika Kommando, Maurizio Bianchi, Un-Kommuniti, Controlled Bleeding, Giancarlo Toniutti, Total, Con-Dom and Putrefier as well as releasing tracks on compilations from future legends like Whitehouse, the New Blockaders, Sutcliffe Jugend, Consumer Electronics. Sadly, just about everything they were responsible for has gone long out of print and with no real reissue program in place, today it remains more of one of those labels you just know is gonna change your life if you weren't around to experience it back in its heyday - if only you could get ahold of their fruits. So thank fucking god for Germany's Vinyl On Demand, then. Their reputation for quality precedes them, and as this was my first ever VOD purchase, I was not disappointed. The packaging on this set is lovingly executed, from the stark n' sturdy box, to the individual glossy sleeves for each record, and the incredibly informative and detailed booklet. Not only does the book provide a full Broken Flag discography WITH tracklistings for all albums (!), but it includes an introduction from Mundy as well as his comments on many of the releases. With all the mystery that tends to shroud this stuff, I was almost taken aback at how clearly everything is laid out. Just having all this info in one place for the first time ever is worth a decent sized chunk of the decent sized price, although I have to admit I'm slightly unnerved by the 1982-1985 tagline here. Seeing as how this box cuts off after Ramleh released the 6xCS "Awake!" in 1985 (which Mundy notes was to signify the end of a particular era in BF/Ramleh history), am I gonna be ponying up in a year's time for the 1985-1995 retrospective? Mind you, the three years covered here are from the label's most productive years and definitely contain more than enough meat to chew on for a long while, but you know. Inquiring minds need to know. Anyway speaking of meat to chew on, every side in the box contains about a half hour's worth of music (so the grooves are slim but the tippin's slow); we're really talking about five hours worth of music when you get out the pocket calculator. Fuckin' sold, man. Obviously, or you wouldn't be reading this.
First I spose it would be logical to talk about the sides that Gary Mundy himself is responsible for. "Extracts from Early Ramleh Tapes" is exactly what it says - five tracks from BF01, BF08 and BF37, and essentially the Broken Flag beginnings. Ramleh started as Mundy solo before being joined by Bob Strudwick, and later Jerome Clegg. I believe all formations are represented here. The self-titled track from 1982 opens with some ancient-sounding spoken German sample before moving into severely broken tape/guitar/amp destruction mode, high-end fissures spreading like cracks in a newly-shattered bay window. There's a dense layer of lo-fi skree (ostensibly from the limitations of the initial recording devices) that thickly permeates tracks like "Deathtoll" and "Throatsuck", allowing a disorienting poison mist to seep through the speakers. "McCarthy" is the highlight though, dousing psychedelic spectral cinder blocked noise with Mundy's venereable howl, while "Purge" alone could be directly responsible for Masonna's raison d'etre. Kleistwahr was also a Mundy solo project, and it too visits the early days of the label. The first piece, "Myth Part 4-6" from 1983's "Myth-Tape", is a lengthy synthesizer drone/noise beast, destroyed to the maximum. What makes it all the more unsettling is the sample of what sounds like somebody struggling to breathe, or at least struggling to do something. The other half of the side is "Fuck You All (Arsonicide Parts 1 and 2)", something that I'm assuming is largely-guitar based, but it's mostly dedicated to forcing stakes of white-hot feedback through your chest while Mundy screams some mega-distorted proze at you, keeping in the same range of depravity with the other Kleistwahr piece...Prurient made a career out of this brand of pain-bringering (I'm only half-serious). Finally, Male Rape Group is Mundy's project with Philip Best (later of Whitehouse and Consumer Electronics), and their side reproduces the entire "On to 83" BF05 one-sided cassette here. Crumbling, shrieking electronic ferocity and mangled vocals (from one or the other) rip black holes in the cosmos with high-intensity, in-the-red flaring, not that you'd expect any less from a session involving these two maniacs. But when you consider the dead machine garble spewed forth, and the high-tone, ear-punishing conclusion, it's hard not to be impressed - "On to 83" indeed. And then some.
The Italian power electronics contingent has been of interest to me lately, so I'm glad to see they were of interest to Mundy and Broken Flag back in the 80's - three members in particular are well represented here: Giancarlo Toniutti, Pierpaolo Zoppo's Mauthausen Orchestra, and Maurizio Bianchi. Others had released tracks and albums on the label (Roberto Marinelli's Laxative Souls and Pietro Mazzochin's Swastika Kommando, to name a couple) but couldn't be included here for whatever reason. Tonitutti's "A Selection of Broken Flag Tracks" is most welcome because he's a tragically under-documented figure who deserves more exposure than what he's been getting. His "Paroksi-eksta" with Massimo Toniutti, Giuliani Stefani and Daniele Pantaleoni is particularly impressive, sounding like a P.E.-informed take on the Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza and featuring a wealth of colorful noise-makers including piano, violin, percussion, glass, voices, magnetic tape, and "objects". The other the three tracks ("Some Fibres" and "Neocortex" from the 1983 "Trial by Ordeal" compilation and the previously-unreleased "Postsarkom") are Toniutti solo and bring about a lo-fi bedroom quality improvisations based largely around synthesizers, tape loops and voice, totally bent and stuffy and alienating and everything good n' holy about music. Mauthausen Orchestra's "Extracts from "Conflict"" is a 30-minute side containing the A-side of a tape Pierpaolo Zoppo released as BF29, also in '83. The first bit sounds exactly like what Neurosis sampled to create the intro to their "Through Silver in Blood" track; dense, shapeshifting, static-layered miasmush and the remaining 20-ish minutes are filled with heavy, industrial rain space-outs liable to leave your jaw on your chest and your eyes bloodshot, though the windtunnel oscillation taking place here is enough to leave you snowblind on it's own. Best part about it? The gentle birdsong that comes through every time Zoppo takes his foot off the gas. Real sweet-like. Maurizio Bianchi's contribution probably needs no introduction whatsoever, as it's "Excerpts from "Symphony from a Genocide"/"S.F.A.G."", one of the few documents on here that can actually be purchased in some form (although maybe not right at this moment). In case you're not already boned-up to the gills on this noise/power electronics staple, well this side is a nice help containing side B of "S.F.A.G." and "Belzec" from "Symphony". The former is an ominous, disparate Symphony indeed, like the quiet churning of a steamboat engine in dark waters at midnight as storm clouds roll overhead. I never really realized until hearing it again here how hard Bianchi has been copped in his absence (heck, even in his return)...the float he brings to the dock is like none other though, even 25 years later or whatever we are. "Belzec" is much shorter and somewhat more harsh, boiling in a lot of choppy voice transmissions as if you were listening to a "War of the Worlds" broadcast a notch or two away from the right station on the dial. On your knees.
Three other sides are dedicated exclusively to various associates of Mundy's who contributed en masse to the Broken Flag history. Paul Lemos' Controlled Bleeding project (about to receive a 4- or 5-LP treatment of his own from Vinyl On Demand) appears here with "Extracts from "Distress Signals", BF39. "A Human Invention" is an amazing slab of harsh noise, wild-ass whoops and yodels, slipshod musique concrete strikes, and freaked out operatic samples...totally messed up, haywire, scorched jargon insanity and it's damn great, way too far ahead of its time. The percussive belting that puts a stilted beat to the rest of the frenzy is just sauce serving as an achor. "Only Obeyed Orders", meanwhile, is apparently a loop of sheet metal banged incessantly while low synth drag and guitar flutter fill out the background. It's rhythmic in an almost minimalist manner, and ends with the kind of world's-end fade-out approach that's like a camera zooming out on Tokyo after Godzilla reduced it to dust. I wish it wasn't so good so I wouldn't even consider buying the CB set, but now of course I am. Shit!
Before doing Stereolab, Tim Gane was in a band called Un-Kommuniti (or Uncommunity as it was to become) that surely made him richer than his other venture ever would. Not sure why he gave it up, because he's pretty good at it too! "Destroy the Spectacle" is a dense horror splatter pitting searing effects against distant, disturbed vocals while "Mindretch" sounds like a mutilation of one of those "sounds of the rainforests" CDs, all sentient life being replaced by creeped chirping and screaming machinery. The machine gun/napalm archival disaster of "Dead Whistle Stop" is as horrifying as anything else you'll find in its own subtle way - well okay, maybe not as bad as this. Nyuk nyuk. This entire side consists of extracts from 1983's "Mindretch", Un-Kommuniti's debut.
Le Syndicat are a still-going French duo of Ruelgo and Veidt Mjolnir who had a pretty long-lasting relationship with Broken Flag, allowing for the release of "Rectal Struggle" and their contributions to the "Riposte" compilation, which is where the seven tracks on their side are culled from. On "Rectal Struggle - Soudain une Deflagration" and "Tongue of Shit" they put together lengthy basilisk-gaze-like loops and beyond-the-grave vocal blather, totally weird like a B-grade sci-fi movie shot in Esperanto minus Bill Shatner. "Black Blood", on the other hand, combines harsh sounds (tapes?) in a straight-laced industrial/kraut/Kraftwerkian fashion, totally predates any "Merzbeat" type groove. On the other hand, the clanging, foundation shaking going on with "Rectal Struggle - Shrague Tanz" reminds heavy of Neubauten's architectural deconstructions, so I don't really know what to think. I think I should see a doctor about the blood leaking from my ears.
As if all that wasn't enough (and god knows it should be), the final side is "Allies - A Broken Flag Compilation". Which is to say it's a compilation of tracks that appeared on other Broken Flag compilations like "Axis Sally", "Collaboration", "Riposte", "Le Couperet" amd "Ex - The Backlash". Besides tracks from Falx Cerebri (two) and Toll (Mundy's post-Ramleh group), the stand-outs include Sutcliffe Jugend's "Bloodfucking", Consumer Electronics' "Filthy Art" in which Philip Best shows himself to be in fine (screaming) form, Vortex Campaign's wonderfully gauzy electronic suffocation and and early showing of the New Blockaders' feedback scum rattle via "X-Nihilist Assault" - TNB's one and only "official" appearance on Broken Flag.
I know it's not what you want to hear, but if you have any interest in the slightest in the 80's power electronics and noise scene (and any interest in bands that spawned from it and continue to hang around today like Whitehouse, Skullflower, Sutcliffe Jugend, etc), you pretty much need to own this set. No more eBay trawling and Soulseek wishlisting - a huge portion of what you need to know has been put together tremendously by Gary Mundy and Vinyl On Demand's Frank Maier and is just waiting for you to sink your teeth in. Heaven will never seem further away than it does after spending 5+ hours with this monster. Let the angels wait.