This is Pineal Ventana’s second release for Unit Circle Rekkids. The first, Malpractice, was a soaring and driving collection of songs that drove from quiet spaces into walls of screaching noise. This album is a greater exploration of the possibilities of sound. The members of Pineal Ventana stray even further from convention without abandoning what makes their music unique. This is a far scarier record. This CD was released on September 5th, 2000.
A few months ago, in his cramped basement digs, my pal Jor-El put on a rock'n'roll show. First there was a fab performance by local goth-psych mavens, the Passengers. Then, have mercy, came the headliners, Pineal Ventana.
Crammed into a ten by ten space, five lunatics thrashed on guitars, an arsenal of drums, chunks of metal and themselves. Synths droned and wailed like the shades of victims not yet murdered. As eyes burned in the stench of lighter fluid set aflame on the floor, a man all camp-survivor skin'n'bones gibbered and growled, his face distorted and shiny beneath a mask of rubber cement, once dancing like a narcoleptic robot to a tick-tock trance, other times pounding giant drums, king of all cannibals. A small woman with a tangled mane of raven hair helped him, thin arms banging out the savage rhythms. She was the voice behind the violence: Nemesis reading her rites to the perp clutched in holy claws, a mad little girl in a red-stained dress singing satanic nursery rhymes, a witch yowling curses even as she burns, the Lami crooning lullabyes to her monstrous brood.
The sound was huge, smothering, relentless, cleansing. It was like watching the hordes of Hell storm through somebody's rec room.
It was awesome.
Most of that set came from this disc, the latest from these veterans of the Atlanta underground. Turn it up loud, set your floor on fire, scare the bejeezus out of the neighbors and it's the next best thing to being there.- Bill Widener
Pineal Ventana(1) are performing(2) at the Earl(3) on Saturday, September 9. It's a CD(4) release extravaganza in honor of their new CD Axes to Ice(5). The CD is a soundtrack to the film by Chad Rullman called Kotoran Jiwa, in which members of the group appear(6).
(1) PV's brand of uncompromising noise-rock features continual shape-shifting: longtime guitarist Kim Chee has left, but she still administers the website (www.pinealventana.com). John Whittaker, the bassist-cum-fulcrum-behind-Ben-Franklin-shades has also left. They have been replaced by Lindell Todd on bass/drums & guitar and Brain "major damage" Ginn on keyboards and guitar. This shift has led the group to explore explosive percussive possibilities.
(2) PV have been known to "perform" by playing poker under a blue light; by splattering water-based paint on the crowd while operating on a patient and wearing satanic masks. There's a spirit of post-Fluxus performance art to their work. A sense of invulnerability that copulates with a feeling of profound inevitability.
(3) The club/restaurant on Flat Shoals Avenue in East Atlanta. Local scenesters think it's cool 'cause most have never been to New York.
(4) The music on the CD is a collection of uncompromising, percussion-driven intervals of loud spaces, just sledgehammer rock with some odd string arrangements and a rather melancholy coda. PV integrates aspects of late '80s tribal rhythms with post-'90s blitz-and-bang heaviness and the randomness that routinely attacks listeners.
(5) On Unit Circle Rekkids, produced by the legendary Martin Bisi at Brooklyn's BC Studios (the same place where their previous Malpractice was recorded).
(6) Stills from the film decorate the record's sleeve. Vocalist Clara Clamp holds a knife, the ritual cuttings of psychic youth while Mitch Foy (also a CL contributor) hovers in the background with a double-exposed mask. The film is an homage to Japanese filmmaking and will have its premiere screening at the performance.
Remember the possessed li'l girl with the nasty mouth and bad dietary habits in THE EXORCIST? Did you ever wonder just what happened to the demon nibbling on her tasty popcorn soul after the priest helpfully cast it out? Well, i know what happened to the demon -- he took a long vacation on the Nile and then came back to inhabit one Clara Clamp, the "vocalist" for this here band (although calling Clara a "vocalist" is about on par with calling the Unabomber "mildly eccentric"... understatement gets you nowhere in some cases, do you dig?). Either that or she's been coached by Diamandas Galas, which practically amounts to the same thing anyway. To say that Clara is intense is sort of like saying the ocean has some water in it. It's not enough for the band to sound like a manic fusion of punk, industrial, and metal that frequently moves in three separate directions at once, all of them loud and forbidding, no, they have to have Clara floating over the whole catastrophic panorama of sonic immolation like a floating harpy heaving poison-tipped harpoons at the unwary. I could go on in this vein, natch, but i think you get the idea... this band is not for the weak, okay?
This is the band's second offering on Unit Circle, following last year's savage and bludgeoning MALPRACTICE, the disc on which their years of sonic experimention finally coalesced into something that not only lurches, explodes, and shrieks, but actually swings. (Blame it on Martin Bisi, best known for his work with the Swans, a connection that is not even remotely coincidental given the importance of percussion to both Swans and Pineal Ventana.) Bisi is back tihs time around to help out again, and while the band has shed two members, their replacements are so in tune with the swirling-shrapnel-mantra ethic that you'd never even notice the difference. There is a progression of sorts, though -- if the last album was where they finally shaped their amorphous attack into something streamlined and angular, this album is where they loosen their grip again, unveiling songs that hold together at the core but are ready and willing to splinter apart at the seams at any given moment. Unlike most bands, Pineal Ventana are genuinely unpredictable -- very little of what they do is built on the concept of "chord progressions" leading to "obvious" places. Their entire aesthetic is more like several bands colliding at once, and with every album they've gotten better at making this work without dissolving into sloppy chaos (it's harder than it looks).
What i like on this album is that they've added metal moves to their whirling attack -- occasionally, as on the downright scary "Breech Denial," the band's cyclonic sonic murk is riven by bursts of flat-out metal riffing in the vein of early Metallica or something similar. (This could well be result of retaining a new guitarist; more jagged riffing pops up in "Divide" as well.) They don't do much of it -- this is definitely not a metal album, although it's certainly heavy enough to meet with approval in metal circles -- but when they do, it's like lightning striking from the thunderclouds. In fact, the entire album is strewn with moments like this, not all of them necessarily metal, but spastic bursts of elements that blow into the song for a brief moment before disappearing into the cyclone again. Another thing that makes this album interesting is that their roles are no longer as clearly defined as they once were -- everybody in the album plays more than one instrument, rotating at will, and while Mitchell F. and Kim Chee are apparently still the core musicians at the eye of the hurricane (along with the growling, shrieking, chanting, wailing Clara, the wild-eyed devil doll on steroids), they're all taking turns and throwing new, interesting twists into the sonic omlette. The result is not only a more varied and organic sound, but a sound that's even harder to peg than ever before.
The album itself flows like one long, disjointed acid nightmare -- although there are nine tracks, only five of them are actual "songs" in the sense that most people think of songs, with the rest being either short bits to introduce or bridge other songs ("Incarnia," "hark") or thick slabs of pure otherworldliness (such as "One Held the Key -- One Held the Sleep," a long train-wreck of almost random sounds and samples and clattering and wordless vocalizing and other sonic debris held together by an undercurrent of amp noise and shuddering bass waves; somewhere in all of this Clara sings of a little girl with a cut throat who might be real, might be nightmare... who knows). The cryptic "S.S.S. (The Land with no Heads)" opens with a peculiar phone message, followed by a sample of some lovely televangelist waxing nostalgic for the days when people beat the devil out of their children, as droning static guitars rise out of the background and come together in an orgy of hateful feedback. The song ends with a thunderous, metronomic beat over more of the phone sample, like an even more single-minded answer to early Swans. The best tracks (or the more "accessible" ones, anyway) are the ones that fuse metal, punk, industrial, white noise, and gothic opera into one blood-spattered auto accident in progress, like the aforemention "Breach Denial" (in which, halfway through, the song devolves into a breakdown with the band members spinning in several different directions at once, almost to the point of complete collapse, before coming together again to finish). "Control" is also one of the more commanding moments, opening with Clara chanting like a demented sprite before seguing into movements of thundering metal, sink-drain noises, and thick walls of percussion and guitar-driven fury. The preceding two tracks alone, at high volume, are probably capable of fusing your cerebellum into a toxic pile of melted grue. The end all comes in the grinding broken-glass roar of "Axes to Ice," in which Clara wails over an endless roar of sound and slo-mo beats like she's being buried in a landslide. All in all, a nice soundtrack for the invasion of the mongrel hordes...
The sound is even denser and darker on Axes to Ice (Unit Circle Rekkids, 2000). The band has found its true voice in a deragend form of rock and roll that leverages on tribal drums and the singer's wild persona. Overall, the album is more emphatic than ever. Neurosis and adrenaline overflow from the "danse macabre" of Breach Denial, that features Sonic Youth-y guitar strumming, tension-filled pauses a` la Type O Negative, and a continuous quarrel between the male and female voices. That emphatic exorcism drowns into Control's afflicted tale, a Clamp's childish "la-la" surrendering to her mate's angry rapping, while the music grows into a spasmodic, thunderous heavy-metal merry-go-round. Loud guitar distortions and electronic shocks tear apart the song, while Clamp metamorphoses into Bjork. Pineal Ventana draws from Cop Shoot Cop and Steel Pole Bath Tub to assemble songs as sonic puzzles. The morbid rant of Divide borders on death metal, but is devastated by drones of guitar and keyboards.
Whatever is happening to the playing and the singing, the sound of tribal drums never lets go. Drums permeate on Pineal Ventana's music like pipe organs rule over Catholic liturgy. The exception is the most ambitious track, the 12-minute concrete suite One Held The Key, an experiment in sound collage, a stream of mostly dissonant and often distorted events. This album marks an impressive progress in all directions: a broader sonic and stylistic palette, dynamic and dramatic staging of vocal duets, refined arrangements, psychological depth.- Piero Scaruffi