...the mix of dark-electronic elements and heavier, industrial influences were successfully executed...it all remains pretty fascinating...really is a deserving new-comer featuring excellent ideas. 7 DP (out of 10). -- Side-Line Music Magazine
Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, a number of underground electro-industrial artists were building on the previous decade’s worth of sonic experimentation charted out by foundational industrial acts such as Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and Einsturzende Neubauten. Throughout the 80’s, groups such as Sleep Chamber, Controlled Bleeding, Clock DVA, Lustmord, SPK, etc, built on earlier electronic predilections and obsessions, mottled with liberal doses of noise, no wave, 80’s goth, punk DIY, and of course Metal Machine Music, and began releasing a range of harder, darker electro-industrial records steeped in alternating tangents of ideology, hedonism, dread, and mysticism. Their sounds and directions both mirrored and refracted the wasteland of mainstream 80’s culture, forming trends that would eventually bleed over into more mainstream acceptance with bands like Ministry, Skinny Puppy, and Front 242.
So why dig up ancient history? Because a quick history lesson is what the uninitiated ear is gonna need to process exactly what’s bubbling to the surface of Distortion Of Events’ newest record Congeners (2011, Zodarion Records). Congeners is the first full-length release from Patton, PA’s Michael Lubert (aka Distortion Of Events). As a whole, Congeners is so steeped in earlier-period electro-industrial that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t delivered on cassette as part of a ‘zine mailer. If some crypto-ethnomusicologist was to dig up this record 100 years from now with no adequate dates attached, it would no doubt be erroneously thrust backwards in the history books to the late Reagan-era.
Everything present on Congeners is in its rightfully retrofitted place, from the minimalist beats and the dated equipment tones, to the repetitive, meditative song structures, right down to the garbled, mostly incomprehensible vocals free-floating throughout the album’s electrical detritus and darkened horizons. Overall, the replicated sounds of earlier epochs herein falls somewhere in between Clock DVA’s “Hide” (from 1989’s Buried Dreams) and Sleep Chamber’s “El Topo”, from 1990’s Sleep, or Forever Hold Your Piece. However, before making snap judgments, it should be said that what Lubert is doing here needn’t be immediately discounted as simply derivative and lacking substantial originality. Though influences are visibly pinned on both sleeves, where Congeners succeeds is in system-merging itself into the depths of a sometimes menacing and never uninteresting musical subculture, painstakingly recreating and building upon a generation of earlier tangents while managing to imbue the project with a peek at Lubert’s own larger vision.
And what is that vision you might ask? According to Distortion Of Event’s bio, there are themes running through Congeners concurrent with general arcs in neo-mysticism, self-exploration, internal decay, magickal/mystery traditions, and even paranormal activities, all ensconced in a sonic backdrop that wouldn’t be out of place in one of Philip K. Dick’s darker novels, pulsating out of some subterranean network where the youth sway in unison to some switchboard futuristic tribalism.
Clocking in at 8 tracks, Congeners never loses sight of a doom-laden thematic centrality. Individual tracks are frequently claustrophobic, humming with sharp electrical energy and coldly encapsulating in their propensity to remain unaltered in structure and thrust. Standing alone, each track is a small window into some bleak hard-wired potentiality, taken as a whole the entire thing becomes a sustained meditation on isolation and discomfort.
Album opener “Surgery” starts off with a crackling frequency signal that leads into a mid-tempo plodding, stuttering rhythm line underneath Lubert’s largely indecipherable horror-film vocals. It’s an effective opener, setting up for what’s to come with minimalist precision. Beats come harder, faster, and more abrasive in some tracks, such as with the whirring metal gears of “Deadface” and the dancefloor machinations of “Abandoned Path”, as well as with the distorted rave-up “Illusion”, perhaps grouped together due to their aural consistencies. Congeners really shines with tracks such as the cold efficiency of “Vade Mecum”, which manages to arrange the album’s main thematic elements into a darkly melodic track that both hums and pops. Other album standouts are “Heritage” and “Decaying For Eternity”, both of which quite effectively manifest the sparse, doomsday effect Lubert is going for throughout the record, as well as “Universal Plague”, which is perhaps the album’s finest example of effectively marrying anxiety-laden undercurrents to piston-precise beats and a vocal track that is both haunting and menacing in its alien aggression.
In all, a solid backwards-looking effort that hints at interesting things to come...
-- Review by Reed Burnam
- Rating: 3 Stars (out of 5)
At times, industrial can feel like the cynical older brother of the electronic music subgenres. It’s constantly moody and dark, continuously has a critical eye over the beat-laden strands that have come after it, and not a day goes by that it doesn’t wonder what the hell techno and house have to be so happy about. However, industrial contains a wide range of expression, from the experimental sounds of Einstürzende Neubauten to the dance floor suitable tracks of Front Line Assembly. Michael Lubert takes his inspiration from the more subversive and noisier side of the subgenre, looking towards groups like Controlled Bleeding and Sleep Chamber. Recording under the name Distortion Of Events, Lubert has tapped into a sinister energy with his album Congeners, one that slinks through headphones and speakers looking for uninitiated ears to inoculate.
By definition, the word “congener” changes in meaning depending upon its use. While it can mean similar organisms within a biological context, it is also a toxic chemical that’s produced while fermenting alcoholic beverages. There are pockets of sound that take on the shape of a toxic cloud throughout the album, smothering the air with disconcerting and sometimes jarring effects. “Surgery” opens the release with potent doses of buzzing and distortion, the drum machine snare resembling a filtered crash. Lubert’s vocals are a halfway point between a disturbing whisper and a ferocious growl. Words are spoken, but few that can be deciphered without a lyric sheet nearby. Laser stabs and a muted thump for a bass drum occupy “Vade Mecum” as the rumbling bleeds through the speakers, causing the song to act as a black hole, sucking you into a sonic vortex of despair.
If this album is meant to encourage self-examination through unconventional means, then the hypnotic nature of the music could be considered part of an indoctrination ritual. “Universal Plague” doesn’t move far from its circular path, consisting of abrasive rhythmic pulses and bits of aural detritus that travel between the left and right channels. The song’s sequence repeats every four bars for at least five minutes and is designed to achieve a trance-like state. “Heritage” is bathed within dark ambience, a series of noise-ridden sweeps beneath a low-key boom, jagged-edged synth riffs, and Lubert’s creepy vocals. “Deadface” picks up the pace in terms of tempo, its percussive structure taking on the form of a locomotive. The freeze-dried cymbal sounds resemble the release of steam while a tap pattern sounds like the click-clack of wheels across train tracks.
The next two cuts are the closest that this album comes to delivering dance-oriented fare while staying true to its own agenda. The constant static shots on “Illusion” provide the foundation for a piece that puts the beat first. The mood remains foreboding courtesy of additional effects, including the ever-present earthquake of distortion and feedback. The electronic snares on “Abandoned Path” feel more like slaps that beat the listener into submission. The sustained keys in the background are the only element that keeps this song from imploding. “Decaying From Eternity” ends the album on an experimental and dour note, its lone pulse summoning a death march leading cult members to their own demise. Swirls of sound form a mighty wind that push against the shimmering tones in the mix, burying them deep. Hope is hard to come by within Lubert’s world, but Distortion Of Events never promised a happy ending. Congeners will speak the most to those who still hold early industrial acts in high regard. It’s not meant to break new ground in the subgenre, but to continue the tradition of exploring the darkness and peeling back the mysteries of the unknown.
-- Review by Jason Randall Smith
- Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)