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Artist Feature: Grunt – Europe after Storm; Someone is Watching; Long Lasting Happiness; World Draped…

Mikko Aspa (background) carefully considering his options.

Grunt – Europe after Storm

Grunt 4

It’s difficult to imagine an artist that is considered part of the post-industrial scene, outside of Peter Sotos, whom is more ethically polarizing amongst fans of the genres within than Mikko Aspa.  The majority of the black metal world seems to be either completely oblivious to his more noise-laden pursuits or genuinely disinterested in them — that, or they simply choose to ignore them, because within those boundaries, he is almost universally celebrated for his vocal work with Deathspell Omega and his own uncompromising compositions within Clandestine Blaze without fault.  However, once you cross that line into industrial music, it becomes easy to discern that there are few fans of abrasive electronics whom haven’t heard of the now-infamous project Grunt, and more specifically, Nicole12.  Even behind our own doors at Heathen Harvest, Aspa has been celebrated for his ability to push one’s comfort level into outer-space by some, while simultaneously being vehemently despised by others, even leading to the departure of one writer whom was disgusted by our support of Nicole12’s Black Line.  The man has been described as everything from the common Satanist and misanthrope to a sexual deviant, all the way down to the more damning descriptions of a perverse monster, a violent sadist, and a pedophile.  Yet, through it all, Aspa continues to create and force people to look at the darkest faces within the crowd of humanity that surrounds them, with little care for what opinion others may hold against him.

This feature isn’t about the perverse themes found in Nicole12, though.  No, this feature is about the most prolific and, arguably, strongest side of Aspa’s collective creative force:  Grunt.  The name says it all about this project:  primitive, bestial, indifferent and unemotional.  The releases from Grunt are commonly themed around the spectrum of control, war, violence, politics, and an army of other varying forms of modern decadence.  The intentions behind many tracks can often be seen as ambiguous at best, effectively putting Aspa on a pedestal that leaves him appearing as an ambivalent entity that is more interested in the resulting destructive chaos and cultural decay than one whom is interested in taking a side to any given social or political schism.  He is the sadistic observer, willfully watching the fall of civilization around him with only laughter in his heart; Loki-incarnate.  Each album is a chapter that documents these observations, written on fragments of worn parchment, recalling the sound of grinding metallic cruelty as the gears crank to drive mankind to its knees in an inevitable spiral towards oblivion.

The first chapter in this novel on human decadence is Europe after Storm, a collaborative release between Aspa’s own Industrial Recollections and the powerful French label Force Majeure / Nuit et Brouillard.  This release, in itself, is a collection of past documents that range from the original four-track tape version circa 1998 on Spite Recordings to unreleased tracks and several live fragments.  The theme of Europe after Storm at first appears — thanks mostly to the album cover — directly relative to the Kosovo War of the late 1990’s, but given the title, it’s far more likely that the album is more far-reaching than that.  Many of us live under an illusion of peace in the Western world, but whether we like it or not, conflict is a constant threat that can erupt in violence at any moment, and for many in Eastern Europe, that threat is more of a constant reality.  While conflict was always present before them, the World Wars changed everything, not only showing us the kind of devastation that war on that level could implement, but they also ushered in an age of technology in which global governments have never stopped putting more effort into funding new weapons development and defense than caring for their population.  This has led to a tension that continues to vibrate ever-further towards snapping outright as it appears inevitable that, one day, someone will grow weary of simply looking at the nuclear trigger and will decide to unleash annihilation upon us all.  For Aspa, Europe is a reference point for his own locality, but in reality, Europe after Storm can apply to any of us.

Grunt explores this subject through an array of grinding electronics that appear to utilize everything from ultra-heavy industrial attacks over subtle bass-end artillery rhythms to junk noise à la Richard Ramirez.  The vocals are powerful though inaudible, seethingly spitting terrorist mindsets on “Blood on Concrete” and turning up the fury a notch with the more minimal “Ethnic Cleaning”.  Moments within the album can range away from the violent face of atrocity though, moving instead into a comparatively short-lived cinematic synth layer and, to end the tape portion of the re-release, a looping reminder that “we can never accept this!”  The live tracks are a fair bit different in that they’re an obvious departure from the sound on the rest of the album, both in the sense that they’re more randomly experimental noise-wise and far more interested in high-end rawness.  They also have that quality that comes with live power electronics in that the sound is simply more violent because of the in-the-moment vocal deliveries and the general recording quality.

Overall, however, Europe after Storm lacked a certain ferocity that perhaps should have accompanied the theme; a fury and power that was doubtless replaced by desperation in moments that once seemed destined for a climactic shift.  It needed a maddened fervor, a strength like that found on…

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Grunt – Someone is Watching

Grunt 3

Yes, Someone is Watching is, surprisingly enough given its seemingly neutral theme, perhaps the most powerful of these four albums from its very onset despite being another re-issue from an original that existed circa 1998.  Brutal, jagged electronics are immediately dropped into existence upon the arrival of the first few seconds of “Watch your Back”, Aspa’s skin-crawling screams shifting pitch in a way that at moments seem unnervingly inhuman.  Desperation is here too, yes, but in the sense that it is directed at one’s adversary — a vicious clawing at that hidden presence that lingers in the cold dead lens of a metallic shell, gracing our presence with none of its own, turning our silhouette into information, collected, stored, surveilled and dissected — turning our fleshy vessels into nothing more than moving carcasses whose only defining features are whether or not they have come to acceptance with any given number of society’s laws in the modern age.  It’s about the inescapable death of privacy in our lives, the transformation of humanity into herded, paranoid sheep whom have gladly handed over individual freedom for protection, if it can even be defined as such as many find the idea laughable.

Mikko Aspa © Karolina Urbaniak

Mikko Aspa © Karolina Urbaniak

Whether one can consider this album a by-product of paranoia or not completely depends on perspective, but the surreal, almost psych-influenced drones that underlay the intensity of the noise, especially on the closing track “SuPo”, leave little doubt that there is at least a small bit of mental trauma that has been injected into the otherwise oppressive theme.  It goes without saying that our daily lives are under siege by the very atmosphere that is explored here though. From the security cameras that hide behind every business window and street corner to every bill that shuffles its way through America’s Congress in attempts to give bureaucrats more control over the internet, to the bots and filters that record every movement that you make online, someone is indeed watching, and none of it is to help you.  It is only to bind you further to control, obey, and submit.  The dedication with which the United States Government is stalking Edward Snowden for bringing things to light that we all already knew is proof of this, and somehow current events, in that sense, make this album all the more relevant.

It’s no surprise to me, then, that it is with these emotions that Aspa has unleashed some of his most gutting vocal performances through any of his projects with Someone is Watching.  He’s a man trapped in the same invisible cage as the rest of us — and while his flesh isn’t bloodied from defiantly tearing at the invisible tethers the bind us all in a web of documented movement and time, his is the grin that passes in shadow, mocking the eyes that pierce and retain.  After all, Aspa seems more interested in the philosophy behind the observance of “the subject”, and less interested in being the victim — his own eyes having been those behind a lens viewing others in bondage on more than a few occasions, albeit on a different level.

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Grunt – Long Lasting Happiness

Grunt 2

At first glance, Long Lasting Happiness seems to depart from the norms of Grunt into something more destined for the perversity of Nicole12.  What greets us immediately through the entire artwork package is a collage of fake plastic faces and narrow anorexic female bodies; glares and sensual poses that embody the dogmatic media insistence of what is beautiful or sexy in our era.  Cleavage, flat stomachs, golden tans, open mouths and cocked hips — all begging for a sexualized reaction.  The idea behind the album is one of control again, however — of the false enchantment that lurks within television and magazines, luring today’s fickle, hollow spirits towards an infatuation with the unobtainable.

Aspa’s attempts at creating an atmosphere here that is reminiscent of the theme are interesting, leading Long Lasting Happiness to be one of the more experimental efforts that he has unleashing in recent memory.  Though it is another re-release that contains bonus tracks (in this case, one unreleased song and four from the Nihilistic Paraphilia compilation series), it is unlike Europe after Storm in that every track sounds like it belongs on the album both in terms of structure and mixing.  While the very vocal fury is still there, Long Lasting Happiness — seemingly in a fit of irony — takes on an air of dark ambience in its best moments, mimicking the hollow existence and shallow emotion of those individuals whom have allowed themselves to fall prey to a beauty-relative obsession.  Even in tracks like “Streets of Decadence” where there is a huge blast of screeching noise to withstand, there is a darkness lurking beyond anger within it — a blackness to the fire where high-pitched drones, intentionally designed to be a typical raw element, end up sounding like looped and layered screams.

At this point, three albums in, each recording that Grunt puts out feels like it takes us into another circle of some sort of modernized hell to view the pathetic souls that linger — those too distracted with chasing false dreams to fully experience life, those too gutless and weak to stand up for their own freedoms or live out of harmony with the wishes of the State, those whom ignorantly live in a dream of security.

Well, and then there is “Male Clit” and “Paid Victims of Modern World Fetishes” which, in fantastically brutal (and hilarious) detail, take us into a view that is critical of modern over-sexualized, internet-obsessed men whom find their next perversion away from their wives and children in the anonymity of the “men seeking men” section of Craigslist.  Admittedly, it’s hard to tell if this is a celebration of modern decadence from a sadistic point of view, or a vehement howl of disgust.

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Grunt – World Draped in a Camouflage

Grunt

So what has this long path laced with napalm, human skin and rusted metal led us towards?  At the end of this twisted road lies the most recent original work from Grunt, World Draped in a Camouflage, which is also — by far — his most complex offering to date.  Upon my first listen of World Draped in a Camouflage, I was struck by an influence that was stubbornly familiar yet hard to place as, from my prior experiences, these elements didn’t belong in a Grunt album. Yet, there they were: an opening couple of tracks whose background were dominated by minimal apocalyptic choirs with subtle hints of neoclassicism and haunting dark ambient shrieks that cut right through the industrial filthiness — a sound that Autopsia has championed in years past, but with a new, more abrasive angle.  There is even a moment of strong symphonic accents on “Dance for the Genocide” that are straight out of J.G. Thirlwell or Raymond Watts‘ bag of tricks.  Combined with the incredible black and white collage artwork and the many quotes that populate its pages, this almost feels like a more sophisticated approach from a project that has become known to me for its primitive abusive electronics.  This could have several implications or none at all, but Grunt certainly appears to be evolving towards something a bit more intricate or elaborate.

Mikko Aspa

Mikko Aspa

That said, World Draped in Camouflage has an atmosphere that is both matured beyond previous efforts and deathly serious.  “Ritual of Mortality”, for instance, is an absurdly haunting combination of deep audio-style ambient in the vein of Bad Sector and industrial loops that merely lay down a relevant canvas for Aspa to shed his familiar screams and instead speak coherently with purpose, commanding the listener to rise from their day-by-day, hour-by-hour stasis and reject the numbness that assaults our senses in the modern era.  If there is an inspiring spark to be found on the album, that is it, for the rest is a downward spiral into a celebration of nihilism.  From the murderous afterthoughts of “Kansanmurhan Infarastruktuuri” and “Dance for the Genocide” to the bestial release of humanity in “Like Dead Dog”, World Draped in a Camouflage speaks for the side of humanity that is dominated by wrath — that burning flame within us all that can turn into an inferno of atrocity in the perfect moment within a destructive path.

Granted that the majority of these releases are more of a glance into the past of Aspa’s works than a fair build-up to his most recent offering, they collectively showcase how his original intentions have somehow turned away from album-based context into something more abstract — a new reality for the project that has also grown with his ability to create incredible collage artwork.  One thing is certain, however:  the combination of elements that is found on World Draped in a Camouflage is an incredible step towards something very unique in a style of music that has felt a little too stagnant over the past few years, even though it utilizes elements that have been successful for other past industrial projects.

Track List:

Europe after Storm:
01) Project Eden
02) N-Force
03) Blood on Concrete
04) Europe after Storm
05) Peacekeepers
06) Ethnic Cleaning
07) Cleansweep
08) Project Eden (Live)
09) Hitler Klinton (Live)
10) Ethnic Cleaning (Live)
11) Revenge Tactics II (Live)

Rating: 3.25/5
Labels:
Force Majeure / Nuit et Brouillard (France) / FORCE003 / CD
Industrial Recollections (Finalnd) / N/A / CD
Industrial / Power Electronics

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Someone is Watching:
01) Watch your Back
02) Someone is Watching
03) You can’t Hide
04) Information
05) Secrets of Technology
06) Conversation
07) Hidden Microphones
08) SuPo

Rating: 4.25/5
Label: Force Majeure / Nuit et Brouillard (France) / FORCE001 / CD
Industrial / Power Electronics

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Long Lasting Happiness:
01) Long Lasting Happiness #1
02) Long Lasting Happiness #2
03) Long Lasting Happiness #3
04) Long Lasting Happiness #4
05) Long Lasting Happiness #5
06) Never Wake up
07) Streets of Decadence
08) Paid Victims of Modern World Fetishes
09) MaleClit
10) Streets of Decadence #2
11) Caught — Original Version

Rating: 4/5
Label: Industrial Recollections (Finland) / N/A / CD
Industrial / Power Electronics

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World Draped in a Camouflage:
01) World Draped in a Camouflage
02) Kansanmurhan Infarastruktuun
03) Fucked by Steel
04) Psychosomatic STD
05) Maailmanlopun Mekanismi
06) Dance for the Genocide
07) Ritual of Mortality
08) Like Dead Dog
09) March of the Titans
10) Shattering Warped Mirrors

Rating: 5/5
Written by: Sage
Label: Freak Animal Records (Finland) / FA-CD-070 / CD
Industrial / Power Electronics