Music Reviews

Artist: 156 (@)
Title: Memento Mori
Format: 10"
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Most of you have probably never heard of 156, self-described as an "industrial junkyard outfit" in the tradition of Einstürzende Neubauten, Test Dept., Z'ev and other similar entities. 156 is masterminded by Adel Souto, a Miami musician based in NYC. So far 156 has released one CD, four cassette EPs, and one 10" (this one I presume), but Souto has a long history of participating in, and/or leading experimental and avant-garde music projects all the way back to 1985. Those with releases in any format include: Violent Deed (Miami sXe band, 1987); DÄÄb-Soul Destruction (Denver, 1991); Hangman aka Timescape Zero (Miami, 1992); Shroud (improvisational jazz-doom-punk outfit, 1992); None Dare Call It Treason (metalcore sludge band, 2001); Martini Kulture (experimental tape collage project, 2002); Sound 4 Sound (2003-2007, 2009); and also vocals to a track on DNME's 'Last of A Dying Breed' LP,and drums for The Goslings on an album and EP. That's just Adel's musical resume. He's also a writer, artist and photographer as well as occasional lecturer.

Now I've never heard these bands and music projects that Adel was involved with, but for the purpose of this review it really doesn't matter. I did listen to some other work in 156's discography (for comparison's sake) and found them quite interesting, although very
different from 'Memento Mori,' mostly because of the "instruments" employed on this disc. (More on that soon enough.) Prior recordings were more organic industrial ambient with rhythms being banged out or scraped on metal, glass, concrete, and found objects, as well as field recordings, voice, etc., much of it being more "out there" and edgier than any of 156's influences. Much of it is closer to true "industrial music" than anything put out by (synthesizer/guitar) bands that are often ascribed that label. Now although 'Memento Mori' is quite different than the others, some of the techniques Souto employs on it are similar to ones used in 156's previous works. On 'Memento Mori' the instruments used are only human bones. Yes - skulls, femurs, vertebrae, bone whistles, and Tibetan thighbone trumpets (kangling). Now that might give some chills (especially if one pauses to consider that these "instruments" were once living human beings) but in the context of what this music is supposed to be (Meditation music for metalheads) it makes sense and has an aura of purity as well as a spiritual connection about it. Over the nine tracks on this 10" EP (recorded at 45rpm but playable at 33rpm for the Thunderdrone versions) you will hear breath bone drones, scraping, rhythmic clacking, whistling and bone tinkling in a variety of tempos, textures, and terrains. Sometimes the bones are even able to emulate other instruments such as cymbals. The overall effect is one of primitive ritual, something far more ancient than any contemporary music form. I'm reluctant to call it "tribal" because
of the overused genre-tag associated with it. When slowed down to 33rpm (Thunderdrone versions) the pieces take on a different flavor, although (obviously) the components are the same. So at least you have options in your experience of them.

Granted, this kind of music is not for everyone. (Not much in 156's oeuvre is.) And although one might expect 'Memento Mori' to be inherently "dark side" music, I wouldn't call it that, especially in relation to some of 156's other works which definitely are. Ethnomusicologists will have a field day analyzing, dissecting and categorizing this recording as well as attributing which (primitive) cultural influence is in play in which piece. (Track names such as "Kokoro," "Demeter and Persephone Run From Hades," "Winds of Vayu," "Dance of the Ophites,"and "Chodpa" certainly add ethnic flavor from ancient Greece to Asia.) So what we have here is more ancient World Music than anything else. The recording is excellent, in part because it was mastered by James Plotkin, a name you ought to know from Scorn ('Evanescence,' their best work in my opinion), and numerous other projects, collaborations and solo recordings. This 10" comes on bone-colored vinyl with a lavender sleeve and is limited to 489 copies. Not cheap, but worthy. If you prefer, it is also available as a digital download from 156's Bandcamp page where you can preview any and all tracks. I would highly recommend that. I believe 'Memento Mori' is an
important work that brings ancient musical tradition to light in a way seldom heard in this day and age.

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