When I was first introduced to the entity known as Stalaggh a few years ago, the Dutch blacknoise maniacs crawled under my skin immediately. Couldn't really come up with a precedent for what they were doing, taking recordings of the screams and wails of mential patients and layering them against a fearsome tableau of dissonant skull-scraping noise, Merzbow levels of grinding harsh feedback and heaps of low-fi improvised black doom all but hidden by their thick curtains of demonic skree. It certainly made for some of the most evil sounding noise I've everheard, and the three albums that they released comprised a body of work that was horrific and suffocating and bizarre, challenging even the mighty Abruptum for the crown of nihilistic black ambience.
Not too long ago, the band announced that they were going to alter their sound and change their name to Gulaggh, with the new incarnation of the band now focusing on creating their terrifying soundscapes using orchestral instruments instead of the blackened ultra-harsh distortion and feedback of their previous works. And while their new sound isn't as heavy or oppressive as the Stalaggh albums, Gulaggh has managed to create something that is just as disturbing and nightmarish.
It's taken awhile to arrive, but Gulaggh's first album Vorkuta is finally here, a single 45 minute track of surrealistic dread formed from violins, saxophones, trumpets, electronics and voices to create an epic sound-collage of crawling horror.
It begins with what sounds like a old recording of a Russian voice, distorted and echoing, played over a surface of noisy hiss and scraped metal while a far-off kettledrum blast rumbles in the distance.
As the track continues, more sounds appear, stretched out metallic scrapes and deep bass rumblings, sheets of grimy drift and gleaming electronic glitches, and soon the voices begin to enter, the moans and wails of mental patients merging with the ominous murky ambience, followed by the instruments, brass horns bleating and straining, violins plucked and scraped, that booming baleful tympani quickening it's thunderous throb, deep bassy strings resonating below, flute-like whistles wheezing while the throng of screaming, groaning voices becomes louder and more prominent, slowly and inexorably ratcheting up the atmosphere of fear and sickness that hangs over Gulaggh's bizarre aural nightmare.
You can make out all of the instruments, but their bleating and honking and scraping sounds like a cross between some demonic chamber ensemble tuning up and a free-jazz group achieving maximum dissonance.
Things get really chaotic halfway through when the voices start to swarm in at once and a lone drummer enters the picture, pounding out frenetic free-improv rhythms while the mass of cries and howls and atonal instruments climbs to a fever pitch, and then begins to fade off.
The last ten minutes or so ofVorkuta slowly melts into a din of screaming children (themselves patients from a youth mental hospital) and furious honking horns and scuttling percussion swirling together, some insane Ayler session drowning in bedlam, and then the sound fades out on a dark drifting fog of droning reeds and depleted horns and low voices, finally coming to a c