Kemialliset Ystävät / Sunroof!: Split #19

To put it mildly, FatCat's nineteenth 12-inch in its Split Series is designed with the brave listener in mind, whether that means one strong-willed enough to weather the bewildering storms of Kemialliset Ystävät's five tracks or courageous enough to endure the hellacious tumult of Sunroof!'s trio.

Kemialliset Ystävät (that it translates as “chemical friends” has to be telling) is a Tampere, Finland-based collective fronted by Jan Anderzén that traffics in an avant-garde psych-folk style that's been documented on nearly fifty releases since the band formed in 1995. Building their tracks using detuned guitars, bass, mandolins, balalaikas, hand percussion, electronic gear, and samples, the group produces a tangled web of textures and patterns so dizzying it's exhausting. The pieces are indexed separately but they flow together to form a beehive of frenetic activity. “Taivaassa on loivemmat mäet” starts as aggressively as a hornet swarm, after which murmuring voices and plinkety percussive noises wrestle the music down to a calmer state. Soon after, Chinese cymbal accents and bells establish a funereal rhythm in “Yöllä tulen ja raapasen tulen karvoihin!” over which a crowded throng voices a mournful theme. Though “Tässä maassa kun näin makailen” might be taken for Kemialliset Ystävät's version of “easy listening” (the snoring-like vocal noises suggest as much), its mix of abrupt jump-cuts, spindly clatter, and organ-and-vocal lullabies is still plenty jarring. Throughout the side, staccato fragments of voices, percussion, horns, cymbals, and electronic noises shatter into droning splinters of sound, occasionally cohering into semi-coherent collages before restlessly splitting apart the next moment.

Sunroof! is no stranger to the recording ranks either as Bradford-based guitarist Matthew Bower has been active for over twenty-five years and has issued over sixty albums under a number of pseudonyms (Total, Skullflower, and currently Hototogisu (with Marcia Bassett) and the vaguely black-metal project Mirag). The FatCat side's a monstrous, feedback-driven noise-rock howl and, suffice it to say, not for the weak of heart. Imagine an electric drill boring into your skull and being fully conscious while it's happening. Eviscerating, feedback-corroded, neuron-and-synapse destroying—all such terms spring to mind when “Little Ornamental Lake Of Death” bleeds into your eardrums for a brutalizing seven minutes. The less detonating “Spiritual Forgery” provides a too-brief opportunity to recover before the machine rises again to an excruciating pitch for “Extinction Fantasy,” seven additional minutes of tortuous guitar-fueled fire. Metal Machine Music's sonic kin, Sunroof!'s material, at its most extreme, feels like a chainsaw splattering your brain into little pieces.

December 2008