Nebris - Bleak Angels (Dystonia EK CD)

It seems like a lot of folk (band folk, artist folk, etc) have it in them to play their own improvised soundtrack to pre-existing movies, in a live setting or what have you. I like to switch it around from a listener's standpoint and play records in sync with movies I happen to find on TV (or baseball games, you know, whatever's on). Recently I had Nebris' "Bleak Angels" on headphones while I tuned into a supremely shitty horror movie called the Guardian and I can't even begin to tell you how much better the movie sounded with "Bleak Angels" as the soundtrack, no dialogue necessary. Of course, if "Bleak Angels" can turn a lousy movie into a watchable one, imagine what it could do in the company of a good one! Well I'm not much for imagining, so instead I'll tell you what it is I liked so much about the record, just as soon as I provide you with a little background information. Dystonia EK is a Montreal-based label that was founded in 1989 and released clutches of tapes and CD-Rs for the following decade until ceasing operations around the turn of the millenium. No real reason is given for the layoff, but Nebris is their first new release in a good seven years, and "the beginning of a new phase" for Dystonia. I tried looking up some of the label's old releases but all I could hit on was a CD-R from Annihilist, who also seems to be in league with an artist called Automata aka James Hamilton, who also plays in Column, which is what Nebris used to go by, and the name of the guy who runs Dystonia EK is James, so I'm led to believe that if this lineage is correct, then Dystonia = James and James = Column (now Nebris), ergo Dystonia = Nebris. All that to say that I think the guy who put this out also runs the label. Sheesh. I should've just skipped over the graduate-level thesis and gotten right to the music in the first place.
This "Bleak Angels" thing, first of all, comes packaged in a very swank three-panel digipak case featuring variations of the same apocalyptic cover art all over. Noise records just sound better when they're not packaged inside grandma's tube sock, you know? As the story goes, Nebris rely on amplified organic materials such as bone and gut strings and minerals (fossils, meteorite fragments, stones) to generate their (his?) sound sources, often pushed and stretched to the point of breaking by an array of effects and processing. I can't say I spent a lot of time picking up on the exact moment a rock was "played", which is good. There's three tracks here all three falling in between the 15-20 minute marks, and although they're very seperate tracks, they work together to create slow-building and eventually devastating work of industrial-bred noise and ambience. Opening piece "V" makes me think almost immediately of Maurizio Bianchi-type industrial bluster mixed with Daniel Menche's heavy metal noise thunder - and of course I'll have to draw parallels to the organic heartbeats found in the tones of Aube's singularly-sourced records. What all that amounts to is a feverish blizzard of wholly unplaceable, sinewy sounds chopped up and coughed back up like a woodchipper regurgitating its metal innards. I wouldn't say it's overtly aggressive or anything but it sure as heck ain't very subtle either - think of it like a dense, frost-riddled wind strong enough to permanently alter your facial features if you stand too long in its path.
"II" initially isn't worlds removed from Tim Hecker's grainy ambience, but it slowly takes a sinister dip back into shadier territory, akin to a late night back alley shortcut through the desolate (indeed) industrial sectors showcased on the album cover. Throughout the track, Nebris layers semi-frequent groans of white noise static over top of the spooky gloss already being served up, crossing the Conet Project's shortwave paranoia with Cold Meat Industries' trademark tundra tones.
Nothing, however, hits quite as hard as "IV", and I think I needed one after it was over. It appears to be the culmination of all the cold-blooded aggression coursing through the previous thirty minutes of the disc, because it explodes in a mess of acid rainfall and never looks back once. It's hard to hear any of the bones n' stones sourcing that supposedly gave birth to what plays out on "IV" - the chaos that rips through the speakers at a torrential rate is borderline impossible to keep up with, Nebris keeps the howling winter wind drones in effect but accompanies them with horrific death rattles, mind-wiping static shrieks, and a palatable sense of danger and urgency. Think Francisco Lopez's earthly soundscapes paired with the shock and damage induced by mid-90's Merzbow and, well, it's a head start. All these comparisons I've dropped don't really amount to a hill of beans in the end - Nebris has created an album unique and interesting enough that in years time we'll be talking about what artists sound like Nebris, not vice versa. Highly recommended and a great way to start off the rebirth of Dystonia EK. Upcoming projects for the label include a CD from Sweden's Niellerade Fallibilisthorstar and a new Nebris LP.

V (excerpt)
II (excerpt)
IV (excerpt)
MP3s courtesy Dystonia EK


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