Death Magazine were an experimental noise group who were active between 1982 and 1984, they sometimes used the pseudonym of Spontaneous Human Combustion. They were around the Black Country region of the UK and played around 20 shows. They are famed for being the final band to play the infamous Equinox event in London before things were shut down by the police during Death Magazine 52s performance. This 2LP collection by Harbinger sound is a collection of their live and studio recordings, of which some have only surfaced on various compilations over the years; this is the first release of all their material on one collection.
The band was described as having a floating membership policy which included; Simon French, Paul Lay, Mike Dando , Chris Reynolds, Sean Dower (Dick Donkeys , Emma Boland, Mike Grant, Andrew Jefferies and Wag. Philip Guest also makes a guest appearance at the Equinox live performance featured on the record.
The A side consists of three tracks recorded MRS. Studios Walsall on 29th July 1982. Most of the tracks consist of various percussion, bass guitar and samples; there are some vocals involved. It functions as a stripped down experimental post-punk – funk – jazz hybrid jam session; there are squealing saxophones deep bass lines. It references the Industrial culture of its’ time through it’s’ use of odd sounds, vocal samples, shouted/muffled vocals make for a noisier approach. There are some nods to Glenn Branca’s ascension through the pitch and pace of the drum style. This first demo is effective through its simple formula.
Side B consists of another demo from recorded around a year later at the same studios on 20th May 1983. The entire session is dominated a lot more percussion and is more advanced from the opening track Traditions. Beginnings sees the emergence of drones and vocals from the sea of percussion. These trance like percussive sessions are vastly different results from the first demo. Death Magazine 52 seemed to use primitive instrumental means, the ritualistic feel of each track and chanted vocals does not sound to out of place from modern bands like Sunburned Hand of the Man. Reformation starts with further raw percussion and squealing saxophones, a kind of free noise passage of sound. Birth overlays different recoded conversational samples and sex moans. The Speeds of the vocal sounds are warped to make a stuttering Fluxus type sound collage. Dominance is chanted to more percussive ritual coupled with angry shouting. Ideology combines film samples and metallic slamming. Both Dominance and Ideology use broken forms of metallic percussion that form and break rhythm continuously; Elites is a more complexed group percussive noise session.
A lone discordant saxophone opens Side C, which is a raw recording of a live performance at Arches, Wolverhampton, 26th April, 1983. As a whole this is more in line with the 2nd studio demo. Eventually percussion beats away in the background, a distorted megaphone vocal enters and more percussion. This builds up into a clattering tribal ritual of different percussive sounds. A variety of percussive elements enter and leave the work, making way to reinforce the sax that wails amongst the chaos like a lost voice in a wilderness, sometimes working with the vocals. Death Magazine 52 gives a chaotic and damaged live performance.
Side 4: Track A is recorded live at Queen Mary’s Girlschool in Walsall 28th September 1983 is a far more ambient affair than the Arches performance. Voices can be heard and a round of applause and an introduction greets the band. The overall sound in the performance is something nearer to an overall Industrial sound. Electronic sounds and looped warped vocals play around at different speeds; there is percussion in the overall sound but to a much less degree than used in previous performances. Sounds creek and echo around each other throughout; breathy vocals mix with twisted vocal groans. The performance becomes more nightmarish in sound as it progresses; warped bursts of sound shoot through with sounds echoing and pulsating. Vocal samples, pitched beeps and pulsing beats emerge to finally dominate the work, bringing it to a climax before things die down to applause. Audience questions follow the performance. This is by far the best of the three live performances and the sound is a lot more complexed and developed.
The second track on side 4 is a live recording taken from the Equinox Event, LMC, London, 21st June 1983 organized by Mary Dowd and Produktion. Their brief appearance begins with chaotic raw percussion and sax starting things off, a muffled angered vocal comes in along with more metal banging. Authoritive commands come over the mic and things are halted leaving sounds of an angry crowd and a pissed off band. Although this serves as a historical document, the Walsall recording is far superior in sound and performance, this is weedy in comparison. I’d also add that in comparison to the Walsall school performance, this isn’t needed on the album at all.
Within this record most notably on the two demos and the Walsall live performance there are three different ways in which Death magazine 52 sounded. There’s the bass warped 80s hell funk of the first demo, the brief percussive ritual of the second demo, that were stretched out in live performances and the nightmarish ambient of the live performance that made use of electronics and drones. This is a wide output, constantly in a state of flux for their brief life of two years.
It is dually exciting to see documentation of an early noise experimental unit that was only previously available as snippets on compilations and also to see documentation emerging of important non-London UK industrial acts. This happened right in the Midlands of England away the capital. Mike Dando then went on to form the prolific and highly influential CON-DOM becoming prominent within the second generation of Power Electronics through releases on the Broken Flag, Tesco and Old Europa Café labels. Perhaps I am over romanticizing Death Magazine 52 as isolated experimentalists honing their act to perfection in the unchartered Black Country, isolated from the London scene. Perhaps the collapse of the Equinox was a blessing in disguise. This collection of demos and performances stands to represent them as a band with a pure unaffected sound and a strong sense of self identity during its’ short lifespan.
Written by: Lazrs4
Label: Harbinger Sound / Format: 2 x Vinyl / Cat. # Harbinger078
A1 Untitled track 1
A2 Untitled track 2
A3 Untitled track 3
C1 Untitled live
D1 Untitled live