Words by Peter Tanski
Peter Tanski grew up in the small but thriving Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, fronting several bands and founding the music and literary fanzine, Exmortus. After a brief stint living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and writing for Legends Magazine, he returned to Pennsylvania where he began to work with web based music site NEPA Rocks. He currently fronts the melodic hardcore/punk band, Heart Out and hosts The Book of Very Very Bad Things PodZine.
The Dark(est) Noel
“I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chanced hope of escaping my fate…”. The desiccated, spectral form of Jacob Marley rattled his karmic burden, weighty and oxidized chains, as he wailed and bemoaned his life of greed to one E. Scrooge. His was a Hell of the Wall Street trader and money changer, an afterlife spent bearing the burden of his misdeeds. He came to warn his former business partner that their callous and greedy ways end with torment and despair unending.
When pondering the fireside stories of tannenbaum, the inherent opacity of the season was merely punctuated with tinsel and lights strung about evergreens in the decidedly unnatural venue of the familial living room. Gifts were meted out to the worthy, mortal doom to those that transgress in the intervening months before Saturnalia. The Unconquered Sun returns only after the darkest of days, which means the Christmas we celebrate transpires in the height of light’s absence. It’s the least wonderful time of the year.
I honestly don’t intend to harsh anyone’s mellow, yuck their yum, or defecate in their cereal, but there are those among us, quite like myself, that consider this season to be damned at best. Many of my kith, kin, and countrymen are artisans of the sonic variety, crafting and broadcasting sonics that match the somber spirit of this most haunted time. My old friends (and personal favorite) Lycia, who recorded particularly bleak rendition of the standard “We Three Kings” for Projekt Records’ dark-wave holiday compilation Excelsis – A Dark Noel, have reissued the career highlight “The Burning Circle and Then Dust” on 3LPs via Avant Garde Records. An album that is so possessed of lush, dreamy shoegaze, cold post punk, and dour new wave, that it became the centerpiece of the powerhouse Goth-centric indie project. In the era of grunge, they reigned over a scene that they accepted, yet did not reflect.
When considering something as classic as Lycia, one can only look farther and further into the past, only to arrive in the present with living legend and art-rock godhead Peter Gabriel. Peter continues his alternate mixes that serve as variations of the theme” I/O “, this month offering the yin and yang of the “In-Side, Bright Side, and Dark Side “ mixes of the same record. Each version similar in form, yet rendered desperate via the diametrically opposed moods of each mix. This, his first newly recorded material in 21 years, is his longest and most far afield of anything he’s done in over 30. This is a wholesale return to Gabriel at his 80’s Mensa-Pop peak merged with his work on “Passion” and electro-industrial meanderings. He has been toiling with this record for 27 years and 8 months. Let that marinate. Worth it? Absolutely.
Since the year of our pandemic lord 2020, the forward reaching and backward gleaning House Of Harm have been cooking up electro-goth-pop for the terminally sensual. Their sophomore effort, “Playground” (Maison Du Mal) gives us more of what we loved about ”Vicious Pasttimes”, well written passages about lost love and deep yearning, sung in a high tenor (instead of that trademark bass of the gothsmen of yore),channeling more New Order, less Joy Division, more Tones On Tail, less Bauhaus.
Shoegaze has had one hell of a resurgence, due in no small part to my Pennsylvania brethren in Nothing. With the partnership of Sludgey, Death-Doom devotees Full Of Hell, they have wrought ”When No Birds Sang”, (Closed Casket Activities) a fully dynamic and utterly soul rending six song exploration of boundless suffering. An absolute juggernaut of nugatory emotionality, this is the most challenging 34 minutes of music any of us are bound to endure this century, and we, the converted, are void bound and joyous.
Across the aisle in a similar pew sits the cyberpunk Industrialist sect, HEALTH. Their latest collection of armageddon hymns, ”Rat Wars”, (Loma Vista Recordings) offers the convivial guest appearances of the mighty Godflesh on the throbbing “Sicko”, and the similarly like-minded Sierra on “Hateful”. HEALTH have matured, and grown to occupy a similar stratosphere to Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, and the aforementioned Godflesh as demigods on an sparsely populated horizon of black sun luminaries.
Portland noise-punk mopers Koalra have been on a mission to document and release every piece of music they can since 2019, and have offered up a musical Venn Diagram beginning with their self titled LP, and spanning 4 full lengths, 4 EPs, and a smattering of live and single releases. This month they unveil their confirmed masterwork with “Disasterclass”, (self-released) a record that owes as much to the Pixies and Quicksand, as The Cure and Midnight Oil. It’s that fundamentally varied. It’s that singular of vision. If you are like the many wondering “Peter, who or what is a Koalra?”, you are about to find the hell out. “Disasterclass” drops on the 22nd of this month, and it is sublime.
Ulver, the Norsemen once responsible for Black Metal field recordings as well as partnerships with full orchestras, have offered a new single in the vein of electro-pop, “Ghost Entries”. Modern Men, French Techno practitioners and Bad Brains devotees, have offered the noisy and funky “Antifrance” single, and it practically drips with vehemence (SOZA). Old Cat’s Drama, necromancers of jangly Death Rock executed atop 808s, offer spooktastic single “Prymara” (self-released). The mighty TR/ST have expatriated from Sacred Bones Records (their home since 2012), and have dropped the sexy single “Robrash” on Dais Records. Underground cemetery rocker Chiffon Magnifique brings the blackened baritone and walking bass lines for new single “Witches Falls”. Finally, the excellent Aux Animaux paint a feminine and gory portrait with the minimal industrial attack that is “Body Horror”, a 9 track Grand Guignol.
This season bests my sweet Samhain in the arena of utter obsidian darkness. As we all face that great yawning maw, candles aloft to bathe us as well as to reveal the mysteries of the dark, may your loved ones slink past the atrocities that await us ‘round each light bereft corner and cold winter’s walk to the bedroom door. Leave one candle alight for me… I don’t hold disdain for it because others love it. I despise it for what is used to be, should have been, and never will be. I loathe it for it’s tricks and tropes. I fake it for my progeny. I love that I hate that I love it.
“Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner.” – Jacob Marley, “A Christmas Carol”- Charles Dickens