Noise & Cries 굉​음​과 울음

From Seoul via Berlin, black metal vocals meets industrial electronics and traditional Korean song styles

Co-released by Unsound and Subtext, Noise and Cries finds Seoul-raised but Berlin-based bela taking elements of death metal – specifically the guttural growl – and merging it with traditional Korean folk styles and industrial electronic eruptions. It straddles dual juxtaposing states: simultaneously informed by Berlin club culture and by Pungmul, a traditional Korean folk music that includes drumming, dancing and singing. It faces up to South Korea’s conservative sexual politics whilst expressing bela’s queer identity and it also draws a sense of hope from gazing deep into the abyss. These paradoxical parallels mirror bela’s personal duality but they also speak to incongruous aspects of ourselves as we react to and identify with a constantly shifting palette of sounds.

Having combined traditional elements with modern modes of technology previously, this is the first time, however, that bela’s voice has featured on a recording. And what a voice. If you read that last line in Simon Cowell’s self-satisfied brogue, back right out because bela’s delivery will only upset you. They aren’t performing beautiful scales with fluttering trills, nor are they holding a high note longer than a pearl diver holds their breath. Their voice is grisly. Nasty, even. At times it sounds like Turkmenistan’s Gates of Hell has developed half a larynx and is attempting to croon its way into our good books.

In fact, bela’s vox are reminiscent of Lord Spikeheart of Duma fame, the Nyege Nyege Tapes breakthrough act also renowned for blending oesophagus-tearing vocals with explosive electronics. Album opener, ‘The Sage’ finds bela rasping like a malevolent goblin over sizzling digital pads and distorted eotmori jangdan rhythms. Third track, ‘죽음이 두려울 때까지’ (approximate translation “Until I’m Afraid Of Death”) is an interplay between various throated gargles as panicked, ritualistic drums cavort into life like a thrashing, sickening brood barely keeping a possessed junkyard orchestra in check.

A little respite is gained from the wretched vocalisations on ‘풀이’. Here, gargoyle belches are replaced with airy New Age sighs, filling out the soothing meditation pack of sound with whale call gasps.

But it’s when bela combines all of these aspects – the soft and the harsh, the dark and the light, the myriad genres and tones, their technical prowess and vocal manifestations – that everything ties together. The album closer and title track is a nine-minute piece which rises into view on airy Eno chords with a little clunking machinery for company. The sounds expand, in depth and breadth, filtering in breath, blistered industry and the trickle of running water. Their growl grows like a snoring dragon slowly coming round, enveloping us within its protective roar. As with any good conclusion, it is the summation of all that came before it.

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