Toby Dammit - Kriminal [Heretic Records - 2009]
Toby Dammit's "Kriminal" is the loudest Harsh Noise release I've heard all year, and is mastered just about as loud as is actually possible. If you're looking for sheer sonic violence, here it is. But is there any depth to it? I believe so. It's difficult for an album like this to distinguish itself among the countless releases available today, but "Kriminal" succeeds in doing so, and crushes you in the process.
Dammit works in short bursts, typically 2 - 4 minutes, coming at you like time is of the essence. His noise is refreshingly concise, unpredictable and human in a genre where tracks often drone on for half an hour until all sense of purpose, and of the performer, is lost. Often noise albums create a world of chaotic escape by removing all worldly associations. However, as with many classic power electronics groups, while listening to "Kriminal", one remains constantly aware of a brooding and intense human personality, which in this case occasionally sees fit to speak in a vicious sneer, considerably less harsh than a scream but no less malevolent. Throughout, it's this voice that keeps me engaged.
The voice seems to "narrate" each track, helping the listener associate palpable, intense emotions with the dissonant and varied distortion textures that make up the majority of the album. The words are undecipherable, and so the music retains the abstract quality noise typically has. The muffled growl seems almost to be directed inward. It is the sound of uncontrollable fury bubbling out of a closed, uncomfortable body. It possesses the uninhibited quality of a person talking to themselves when they believe themselves to be alone, and thus it is undeniably honest. The message remains somewhat clear; these songs, at least to me recall the pain of rejection and subsequent bitter homicidal fantasy - much as Whitehouse did in the 80's. However, I much prefer music of such sentiment when the artist refrains from explicit, graphic imagery of murder and the like (as utilized by Whitehouse), which is intended only to shock. Since Dammit does not force violent imagery on the listener, there is arguably more breadth of feeling, more opportunity for otherworldly hallucinatory transcendence, than was ever achieved by William Bennett.
Each track is without clear structure, but each seems created with conscious intent to set a specific tone. Without resorting to conventional 12 tone systems, Dammit creates balances of frequencies that could almost be said to form 'chords'. In "Kriminal 10" it almost sounds like one of the sounds could be a slowed, distorted flute playing a drone pitch. My mind is automatically drawn to thinking of the songs as each being smears of different dark colors, made with glossy, thick paint. There is more focus here than in the endless flowing 'skree' of Merzbow. "Kriminal" often takes the tried and true Whitehouse route of relying on an ominous, overdriven constant drone to slowly wear the listener's sense of security down.
"Kriminal 3" is an exception to many of these statements, and actually contains some real structure and dynamics. Over the course of 8 minutes, it builds from an uncharacteristically quiet, yet unsettling introduction, in which delay effects scatter distorted fragments of sound along the walls of an imagined lonely, darkened, subterranean space, to a face-melting howl comparable in volume to the audio assaults of the other tracks, made all the more effective the reprieve found in its first few minutes. It's the centerpiece of the album.
Toby Dammit's "Kriminal" is an extreme and beautiful thing. It is to be used with caution, as surely after even one listen straight through even at relatively quiet volumes, the ears will be closed up and exhausted. It should be considered an especially powerful catharsis, reserved only for when it is truly needed. It is a scream so violent it could dissolve a world of pain.Josh Landry