Spectrum Spools, a sub-division of prestigious Austrian label Editions Mego curated by Emeralds’ John Elliott, is rapidly becoming the premier driver of the modern synth revival, particularly in the US, thanks in part to its hugely prolific output. For my part, I’ve often been somewhat underwhelmed by much of what has come out of the stable. There is quite a lot to enjoy and admire with the new synth acts, from the aforementioned Emeralds, to their Mego labelmate Oneohtrix Point Never, via the much-lauded Bee Mask, on Spectrum Spools, as they’ve joined the dots between the sombre drone of classic kosmische artists like Klaus Schulze or Cluster and the current post-noise underground; but equally their commitment to plundering every aspect of synth music has seen a resurgence of some rather tacky and twee new age mundanity.
No such worries with Detroit resident Greh Holger. The opening track on Elemental Disgrace emerges falteringly, starting off as a slurpy, liquid current of fitful analogue wobbles, before building and building into a wall of overdriven deep noise. While a piercing high note squeals over the top, Hive Mind builds on a rumbling bass tone, and cavernous effects drift in and out of the mix like the flitting moans of transient ghosts. From the very first minutes of this short but troubling two-track album, Holger plunges the listener into a dank, claustrophobic netherworld, like the heroine of A Nightmare on Elm Street going to sleep and waking up in Freddy Krueger’s nightmarish factory. As the piece gets louder, you find yourself submerged in the swamp of Elemental Disgrace, unable and, increasingly, unwilling, to leave. Seduction by darkness – this could almost be a goth album.
Geography surely plays a part here. Unlike most of his label mates, Holger hails from the same dark Midwestern scene that gave us premier noise rock acts Wolf Eyes and Hair Police. Indeed, Hive Mind has appeared on record with erstwhile Wolf Eyes alumnus Aaron Dilloway, while collaborations with Robedoor and Religious Knives underline exactly where Holger operates on the synth/drone spectrum. Perhaps his closest cousin is Failing Lights, the superb solo project by Mike Connelly (again of Wolf Eyes and Hair Police fame). Like that of Failing Lights, Hive Mind’s music is more insidious than, say, the overt abrasion of Wolf Eyes, slowly seeping into your consciousness and settling there like a beautifully scary parasite. To continue with the horror film metaphor, if Elemental Disgrace were a movie, it would not be the gory splatter of Friday the 13th or the camp terror of The Exorcist, but rather the sweaty, lugubrious, atmospheric terror of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Evil Dead or Jeepers Creepers. Holger explores a shadowy American psycho-geography, where creepy farmhouses perch on lonely hills, their doors closed over heinous secrets, their occupants waiting at the window for fresh meat.
Hive Mind builds on the atmosphere to a thrillingly unsettling climax on the second piece, which opens on distant bass throbs and slowly, patiently evolves into a dense electronic forest of sound, as gritty synth lines seep in and out of earshot and strange sounds perturb the lengthy, insistent drone walls. Far removed from the airy cosmic flights of fancy of many of Greh Holger’s peers, Elemental Disgrace in fact owes more to the angry industrial music of Throbbing Gristle and Ramleh. In the current synth climate, it’s a welcome breath of fresh air. Settling nicely into a “horror music” continuum characterised by atmospherics rather than the histrionic posturing of black metal, and that also includes such illustrious gems as Xela’s In Bocca Al Lupo, William Fowler Collins’ Perdition Hill Radio, Bleaklow by The Stranger, all four KTL albums, and Failing Lights’ self-titled effort. The music of Hive Mind is further proof that synth-based music can be forward-thinking, challenging and even downright scary.
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