Review: Various Artists, The Earthen Siphon (Kalpamantra, 2015)

The Earthen Siphon, from UK experimental label Kalpamantra, is the fourth in a series of cooperative digital compilations highlighting the past, present, and future of the impeccable Malignant Records roster. For a mere £4 (about $6 - $7), one can sit back and enjoy a whopping 33 tracks—all of which are exclusive (sans False Mirror's "Leviathan Edit," which will appear in full on a forthcoming album)—pushing towards a total of four hours in length (half of the contributions top seven minutes apiece).

Very deliberately arranged, the collection's first hour or so consists of lush dark ambient soundscapes, opening with the relaxingly melodic swells of Caul's "This is Where the Night Begins"; followed by ominously droning cuts from Phelios, Terra Sancta, Phragments, Abandoned Asylum, and Skorneg. Amongst the more active selections from the first wave, False Mirror's aforementioned "Leviathan Edit" combines chilling waves of low-end drones and murky, hellish waters with a few discreet samples that sound like air traffic control monitors; and Sphäre Sechs explores spacious drones with more of a piercing edge in "Kaiserhöhe," gradually introducing a circular, looping melody that adds tension as it creeps along just beneath the surface. At 12+ minutes, Blood Box puts forth one of the longest tracks in "Chthonian Rapture," and uses that time in cinematic fashion—fusing ambient lulls and textures with lavish melodies that almost border upon a film score-like quality.

Ascetic Hedonism then signals a bit of a shift with "Pau'guk," introducing a simple, tribal beat to its eerie dark ambient foundation. A similar percussive thread carries over into United Front's "Decimation (Sampler Edit)," taking the added step of layering in samples of Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton. At this point the tracklist moves into more of a death industrial-tinged series, with Teeth Engraved, Hall of Mirrors, T.O.M.B., Of Earth and Sun, Analfabetism, etc. Nothing gets too overtly aggressive, however. A hint more distortion, more frequent use of samples and/or vocals, a more sinister undercurrent, and so on; but all with some restraint and superb atmosphere—notable highlights including contributions from The Vomit Arsonist and Ionophore.

I expected things to build into a fully-fleshed harsh and destructive closing hour when Theologian's "Image Over Flesh" came around, but it, too, builds upon a base of spectral dark ambient tones with the ominous fires of death industrial (as does the comparable aesthetic from The Scapegoat Mechanism). Even Steel Hook Prostheses—among the only compositions to utilize heavily manipulated power electronics-styled vocals—delivers a deep, dense morass of sound that never quite bursts forth with the level of direct intensity that one might anticipate. A similar atmospheric approach follows via both Gnawed and Abjection Ritual, the latter's "Oblivion Apparatus" traversing a wider range of sounds and building towards a more prominent and searing vocal delivery.

The last handful of tracks, then, do start to reveal an additional uptick in overall assailment. Climax Denial couples sizzling electronic hums with an unexpectedly bitter and deranged style of near-cackled vocals; while Linekraft emits choppy percussive textures and machinated industrial whirrs, occasionally teetering into quick fits of the not-quite-traditionally harsh and chaotic. Aderlating eases back a bit, mixing the vocal terror far off in the distance amidst abyssal low-end rumbles that gradually split off into hyperactive bursts of electrocuted distortion; whereas Hypsiphrone's closing dose is an unexpectedly cacophonous wall of blasting drum machine beats, indecipherable samples, and assorted textural elements.

The most intriguing aspects of The Earthen Siphon, however, are the six collaborative pieces scattered throughout the tracklist. Yen Pox & Xiphoid Dementia's "Disintegration Ritual" is a 12-minute epic of glorious, sweeping drones with subtly beautiful melodies and minimal percussive rhythms—a truly cinematic endeavor, absolutely outstanding, and certainly one of the true highlights. "Fairbanks Harmony 38 8-1/8 (Malignant Mix)," from & Kristoffer Oustad, opens with cyclically crunching machine sounds that carefully shift into sorrowful drones—slowly thinning out over the course of several minutes to reveal a more delicate and melodic sense of minimalism. Shibalba & Of Earth and Sun's "Anantashesha" is somewhat comparable, though slightly brighter, less musical, and with a ritualistic chant lean. Since their back-to-back solo tracks herein are comparable, Gnawed & Steel Hook Prostheses represent an especially strong pairing—their cooperation in "Ventilator" yielding a similar power electronics-tinged death industrial effect that does indeed build into a more openly ferocious crescendo.

Shock Frontier & The Vomit Arsonist's "By My Hands" is not unlike some of the other tracks in its dominant use of dark ambient tones backed with a minimal percussive streak, adding in distortedly yelled vocals that seem to subtly waver around the core of the mix without pushing too far to the front—one of the more effective and intriguing vocal performances of the entire set. And "Necropolis (Succor Version)," by T.O.M.B. & The Vomit Arsonist, succeeds in creating one of the more unique overall atmospheres by working backwards from resounding percussive hits and thick heaves of distortion breaking away to close with the warped, detuned plucks of a stringed instrument.

Malignant Records has been issuing quality experimental noise since the early- to mid-'90s, and with The Earthen Siphon, Kalpamantra has done an outstanding job of representing that quality by collecting and arranging these compositions with a sense of consistency and care for the big picture... not to mention offering such a wealth of exclusive material for a budget price. And the same is true for the prior three years' worth of volumes, so if you're feeling incredibly ambitious, pore over the entire collection to date:

  1. Malignant Antibodies (2012)
  2. The Black Plague (2013)
  3. Endless Descent Into Oblivion (2014)
  4. The Earthen Siphon (2015)

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