Saturday, April 9, 2011

K-Branding - Alliance (2011) REVIEW

"Alliance" is the second album for the Brussels industrial trio K-Branding whose reputation is getting over Belgium limited borders thanks to incandescent live gigs (France, The Netherlands, Switzerland), a handful of CD-Rs and their first more than decent debut album, "Facial", two years earlier. Wire Magazine, yes the legendary and very influential 'Adventures in Modern Music' gold-diggers, has selected one track from the album on their Wire Tapper CD. Let's bet it won't stop there.

K-Branding was founded in 2004 and began as an experimental and pretty chaotic combo with free-jazz, industrial and tribal extroverted influences, the debut album "Facial" being an appropriate musical photography. On this record K-Branding was not only noise and confronting burst of poly-rhythms, lead-heavy distorted electronics and abrasive guitars, two and a half tracks could be best filed somewhere between dark ambient and drone music. Furthermore, the album shows much variety of textures and colors as a whole as well as inside almost each titles while keeping an impressive cohesiveness. To me, the closest musical family would be short-lived New-York noise band Laddio Bolocko minus the industrial part but with all the rest, the Americans too using saxophones, electronics, jazzier tribal rhythms, no wave/post-punk guitars and deliberate chaos. But despite the obvious energy deployed by the band, the recording failed to capture the electricity, the omnipresent tribal percussion sounded here and there a little muddy and too low in the mix, the general production being slightly subdued.

The second album "Alliance" shows none of the above mentioned reservations, and in two years time they've gained tremendously in focus, depth and power of purpose. Also it seems they applied the idiom "less is more" by containing their anarchic and confronting nature to deliver music which speaks more to the mind than to the guts, which absolutely doesn't mean this album is devoid of energy. I would say on the contrary, these guys could have been responsible for black-outs in their neighborhood each time they're rehearsing, there's enough electricity in this record to provide an entire town if not a whole Belgium-sized country, and informed people know this little Kingdom is using a hell of a lot of electricity. "Alliance" is also darker and colder than "Facial", more repetitive, but in many ways far more threatening. The violence is latent, crawling under the surface with punctual and efficient, because of it, burst of percussive tantrum and guitar epileptic improv freak-outs.

K-Branding is essentially a European combo, their influences can be found among some German industrialists Einstürzende Neubauten or even electropunks Liaisons Dangereuses, 80s Electronic Body Music with UK Nitzer Ebb, Belgian bands like à;GRUMH, The Neon Judgement, why not Front 242, Canadian Skinny Puppy (not European, so what?), etc. and the obvious UK experimental bands like Throbbing Gristle, Coil or Zoviet France.

Among contemporaries I would point out American band Liars, surely on tracks like "Empirism" and "Shields", but Liars at their most German like on their magnum opus "Drum's Not Dead" (2006) but K-Branding shows on "Shields" an introspecting side which is closer to "Sisterworld". Outside of Europe, the trio seems to dig American no wave and among the most experimental post-punk combos. The first album "Facial" was near completely instrumental, vocals were very rare, "Alliance" contains more vocals which sometimes reminds me of the quite mannered parlandos in earlier Tuxedomoon's recordings.

However the most alien to industrial music influences are coming from the guitars, obviously the wild card of the band, which eclectic sounds are reminiscent of table-guitarist Keith Rowe (more than by the band acknowledged Derek Bailey, check out the live video below - except there's no table) mixed with a whole bunch of post-hardcore/post-punk obscure guitar heroes, above mentioned Liars, maybe Justin Broadrick in jazzcore band GOD. It is worth mentioning that gigantic saxophonist and composer John Zorn participated on one GOD's album and there are moments K-Branding seems to wink at Zorn's own Painkiller when saxophone, guitars, drums and electronic assaults are at their full.

Against all odds, and please forgive me the namedropping, these influences are just snippets, some more than others, but the whole album shows a band which is completely its own, K-Branding has incorporated their influences to the point of being just ingredients in order to cook their own personal musical concoction.

K-Branding has delivered an exceptional album in all meanings of the word, very varied and homogeneous, sometimes intensively oppressive like on "Astral Feelings" (maybe the weakest track, in my opinion), which makes you feel like being inside a nuclear reactor, or near shamanic in "Empirism", "Blurred Vision" ("Driller" on that Wire Tapper) and the second half of tour-de-force near ten-minute"Assente Cultura". Drones or dark ambient are now part of some tracks, the calm before the storm. "Alliance" is also one of the bleakest and darkest (the album cover is a perfect image) and most relentless albums heard in a while but it's certainly one solid and badass piece of work all along.

7.5 out of 10

  • Facial (2009) - 6.5

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