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Smersh
Super Heavy Solid Waste (Reissue) Bob Cluness , July 9th, 2015 20:16

Although the re-issue market that sprung up from the online "sharing" explosion in the last decade is now beginning to see the law of diminishing returns (there are only so many unearthed treasures that can remain hidden), some of the better labels have been extremely canny in their curation of releases from the dusty shelves of the past. One of the best of these labels is Dark Entries. The brainchild of San Franciscan native Josh Cheon, the label, over the last 5 years, has opened up and laid out the hidden histories emanating from the dark crevasses of the international industrial, new wave, goth and electronic underground scenes of the 70s and 80s. Linking the efforts of the past with the long running revival for 80s electronic music today, many of Dark Entries' reissues have generated a renewed interest in a wide selection of fringe and cult artists such as R.L. Crutchfield, Moral, Portion Control and Patrick Cowley to name but a few.

Dark Entries' newest re-issue, Super Solid Heavy Waste, sees the label return to one of the genuine curios of the 1980s cassette underground, Smersh. Formed by the duo Michael Mangino and Chris Shepard in the late 1970s, Smersh never performed live or even developed actual songs, preferring instead to record regular live "jams" at their self-made studio in Piscataway, New Jersey, creating a DIY electronic sound that magpie'd from a range of styles such as industrial, noise, EBM, and synth-pop. From their first release in 1981, until their break up in 1994 and Shepard's subsequent death in 1995, Smersh generated wave after wave of tape releases through their own Atlas King label and appeared on so many underground compilations to the point that a full discography is yet to be established. Despite remaining resolute outsiders, with virtually no attempts at courting any form of publicity during their existence, Smersh have gained a cult following over the years, partially thanks to their tapes being uploaded online over the year.

After the success of their first foray into Smersh's discography with 2012's Cassette Pets, for Super Solid Heavy Waste Dark Entries have trawled through their back catalogue, cleaning up and re-mastering a selection of the heavier, more rhythmic moments of Smersh's style and sound. Even though the compilation is fairly short, with only eight tracks chosen, the fervour and energy that radiates from their selections more than makes up for the lack of quantity. With 'Out Demon Out' the compilation sets its stall out early. A short intro of a sinister, garbled voice on tape followed by a distorted scream throws us against a pulsating EBM beat immersed with shards of noise, vocal manipulations, and synth notes popping and scything across the top. There is a heavy, industrial bent that you can hear in numerous places, with the bell-bottomed clangs that appear in the rhythms of the Euro-inspired coldwave of 'Entre Nous', and the furious wailing and snarling in 'Palomar', while a track like 'Highway Surplus' is a thunderous marshal dance beat set to a barrage of electronic klaxons and the squall of processed guitar feedback, a bit like Big Black but with more synthesisers. 'Spook House' meanwhile, has a mean goth dancefloor vibe, combining an incessant flow with a simple gargling bass synth line.

Despite the caustic and corrosive nature of the music on Super Solid Heavy Waste, there is a distinct lack of po-faced dourness or pretentions to esoteric mysticism with that you so often see with many underground industrial releases. What you get instead from hearing Smersh, is something that is at once both a testament to the intensity of spontaneous creation, and the laidback attitude of two guys who are enclosed in their own little universe, unaffected by scenius fad or trends. With Super Solid Heavy Waste, you can hear that Smersh were pioneering many of the sounds and aesthetics that you hear today; the wailing screams and electronic polyrhythms in 'Under Your Hoop' anticipates anything you hear from Cut Hands by a good 25 years. What Dark Entries have shown once again with this compilation, is that not only were Smersh one of the true unsung heroes of electronic DIY music, but that cultural history is rarely straight or linear.

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