Diagnose: Lebensgefahr / Stalaggh
Transformalin / Projekt Misanthropia
2006 / 2007
B / B+
lack metal is no stranger to mental illness. Skamfer of Heresi and Kvarforth of Shining are certifiably mad geniuses; music that doesn't blink at self-scarification arguably sees through different eyes than most. The genre also has a strange fascination with electronics. Nowadays, black metal bands often dabble in "dark ambient" tracks, which are perhaps attempts to abstract the music's atmosphere sans conventional rock formats. These forces converge on two recent Autopsy Kitchen releases, Diagnose: Lebensgefahr's Transformalin and Stalaggh's Projekt Misanthropia.
Diagnose: Lebensgefahr is Nattramn, who achieved notoriety with Swedish black metallers Silencer ("lebensgefahr" is German for "mortal danger"). The band issued 2001's Death - Pierce Me, then split up due to Nattramn's institutionalization. Death - Pierce Me has been widely influential in so-called "suicidal" or "depressive" black metal, which includes artists like Xasthur, Leviathan, and Nortt. Midpaced, mournful grooves dominate the album, topped by Nattramn's howls, which suggest Grover of the Muppets under excruciating torture.
According to his website, writing and recording Transformalin was part of Nattramn's therapy and rehabilitation program. The liner notes state that the project was "fully sponsored by The Växjö Psychiatric Ward and the social insurance office." Such aid from any American source, public or private, would be unthinkable. The Swedish taxpayers may not know it (and likely they'd prefer not to), but they've funded a very interesting record.
Transformalin abandons black metal in favor of electronics. It sounds like a struggle, fluctuating between industrial menace and melodic ambience. Bits of found sound—classical music, marches, self-help lectures—litter the album like flashbacks. A few tracks feature Nattramn's vocals, which are now more straightforward, more human. The title track begins as pure psychosis: "Pull out my teeth / Inhuman grin / Peel off my skin / Break the bones underneath." However, it ends in resignation: "Let me sleep / In formalin" (another name for formaldehyde). Nattramn seemingly gets his sleep in the next track, nine minutes of beautifully gauzy textures, though static and buzz roils underneath. And so the album goes. With oceanic ambience one minute, and sobbing and yelling the next, it's a journey through a truly fractured psyche.
Stalaggh, on the other hand, goes straight for the jugular. The mysterious collective consists of Dutch and Belgian black metal and experimental musicians who refuse to reveal their identities. More important, though, are their vocalists—actual mental patients. Projekt Misanthropia is the last in a trilogy of releases, each progressively more disturbing, that revolve around field recordings of insane people screaming.
2003's Projekt Nihil featured a man who, as a teenager, stabbed his mother to death, as well as a man suffering from anorexia (and who killed himself shortly after recording the album). The band took them into the basement of a studio, installed instruments and microphones, and told an unsuspecting producer to record the whole thing. Then, for two days, everyone went berserk. People cut themselves with razorblades, the murderer destroyed almost everything in the basement, and the anorexic cried and moaned the whole time. The producer told the band that those were the worst days of his life. Their reaction? "[E]verything went exactly as planned."
The next year's Projekt Terror employed four mental patients. The band installed them in a small, completely dark room; the result, of course, was complete chaos. The patients drove each other to new heights of insanity and almost killed one of the musicians. Later, the band layered grimy drums and guitars on top, but those were just window dressing.
Projekt Misanthropia ups the ante with seven mental patients and a three-part recording process. First, the band set up microphones in an abandoned factory and recorded themselves smashing everything inside to bits. Then the band put the patients in an abandoned monastery chapel, played the factory recording in the background, and rolled tape. Later, the band added drums, guitars, and effects.
The result is the most horrific sound I have ever heard. Nails down a chalkboard may have more short-term impact; but 35 minutes of seven people screaming, shrieking, bellowing, and moaning over clanking, crashing, and occasional drums and guitars plopped into the din like thrashing live wires is the aural equivalent of the ghastly scenes of madness in Event Horizon. A black metal riff appears 27 minutes in, but by then it's basically meaningless. The first time I heard this album, I had to stop it after 30 seconds, feeling that I had opened a terrible Pandora's Box. Even now, after several listens, it's still difficult to stomach. Having repeatedly heard Stalaggh's full-length discography tonight, I'm sleeping with one eye open—if I sleep at all.
Which, of course, begs many questions. Why listen to this? (It's stimulating.) Is this even music? (That really depends.) Isn't this exploitation? (Probably.) What sick person would buy a Stalaggh t-shirt? (Yes, Autopsy Kitchen sells them.) Are these guys for real? (Either that, or they have some really gnarly sample CD's.) How did they get the mental patients to do this? (They got each one to agree to the recording, then shepherded them out on weekend leave.) Really, this album is impossible to judge without hearing it first.
If Henry Rollins had actually smashed through that mirror on Black Flag's Damaged, and then dove through headfirst, he would have tumbled into this abyss. Stalaggh is done, its mission accomplished. A "stalag" is a German concentration camp; the extra letters come from "Global Holocaust." Appropriately, the collective's next project will be called "Gulaggh." Whatever label puts it out should consider legal waivers on the packaging.