Mind Flare Media MFM006, 2011, CD and DD album, 34m 15s
$5 DD, $10 CD
The genre descriptions I put at the top of my reviews are not intended to imply any connection between an artist and a scene or movement, but to function as usefully as possible as descriptors for the benefit of my readership. Because I’m very eclectic in the styles I cover, I never assume that my readers know anything about the style of my subjects, and so I make a judgement about what sort of short phrase will give the greatest possible number of people a reasonably accurate sense of what the release will sound like. In the case of Melted Cassettes, I’ve taken the genre label straight from their website, and I think it does imply a conscious relationship to an established network of musical praxis, but it also describes pretty well how most people will hear their music.
For the most part they avoid the complete abstraction of noise, but the rhythmic structures they employ are far from the goth-disco floor fodder of powernoise: Skinny Puppy, the Canadian electro-industrial pioneers, are not a bad jumping off point for thinking about the sounds on The Real Sounds From Hell Recordings, but only as a jumping off point. Melted Cassettes are very much their own thing.
The beats are heavy, when there are beats: sometimes it’s a vigorous rock pounding, but sometimes it incorporates a mechanistic funkiness, as on ‘Hrt Attak’ or ‘Chrome Violence’. That heaviness comes in part from the meticulous attention this act pays to tweaking its tone and timbre. The careless listener may just hear a lot of distortion (which is particularly striking and disturbing in the vocal parts), but it is never a case (as with some acts in the noise orbit) of slathering distortions over every part of the soundscape. For one thing, there are a lot of sounds on The Real Sounds From Hell Recordings that, while they may technically contain distortion, simply sound harmonically rich; and they are extremely careful in how they handle the bottom end. It’s easy to destroy bass with distortion. A bit of grit helps it cut through, as any rock bassist will tell you, but anything approaching fuzz robs bass (electronic or electromechanical) of its punch. There are plenty of grimy distortions in the bottom end of these mixes, but there is always a focused punch to the lower bowel as well (playback system permitting).
And yes, there’s a lot of pounding, heavy beats, and a shedload of distortion, but there’s also a lot of variety in the arrangements, both in terms of dynamics, and of texture. The activity level ranges from small groups of extended (relatively) pure tones, to thunderous crashing and pummeling decorated by distorted angry screaming. What melodic content Melted Cassettes choose to employ is generally simple, involving oscillations between small numbers of pitches, but there are also moments of coherent atonality, in addition to unpitched explorations. Rhythmic complexities and timbral transformations are the places where most of the musical meanings are overtly located, but this is a music of layers, both aural and semantic. The listening experience, for an engaged audience, is involving and polyvalent.
Apparently (I read in the press release, in a rare fit of journalistic research) The Real Sounds From Hell Recordings refers to a project to record the sound of deep plate tectonics, which is rumoured to have accidentally recorded Hell. I would imagine that plate tectonics sound a lot lower and slower than this, and as for Hell, I imagine it to sound a lot more like Perry Como. These sounds are pretty damn harrowing however. They are, by turns, angry, dark, ominous and brutal; they are though far more complex and considered than most sounds that visit those places. Unlike music which overdetermines its meanings (mainstream chart music for example) and leaves relatively little room for meaning to be actively constituted, this album, with its huge variety of signifying content, leaves much to the listener. The closer you listen, the more you’ll hear: no empty conceptualism here, but an audible passion and focused concern for the detailed specificities of sound.