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Skullflower: Kino I-V

Album Review

Mining the delirious sound of disease

Skullflower’s reputation among the underground scene is akin to a temple on a mountain just above the cloudline: invisible to many and monolithic to others, not least those who have ventured up into their rarefied domain, braved the inevitable disorientation their music induces and come away inspired to form notably more popular noise, avant-sludge, industrial (assuming Throbbing Gristle factor into your concept of industrial) and drone bands.

Any band who found the turbulent and apocalyptic meeting point between the sacred and the profane (Årabrot), or who found enlightenment at the cusp of obliteration (Old Man Gloom), owes something to the band that formed in London in 1986 and are still scouring the underside of Heaven 28 years later. 

Thanks to original member Stefan Jaworzyn, a raft of early material has come to light in the form of this 4CD set. Unnerving, enervating and ultimately exhilarating, Kino I-IV takes rock music to the brink, then shoves its head below the waterline to see what spasms and near-death visions it can induce. Like Killing Joke, Skullflower reflected the spiritual torpor saturating the Thatcher years, but rather than direct protest, they chose to internalise the rot and ride it out, find something fertile in the decay. 

Kino I: Birthdeath sounds sick to its core, a parched, bilious wallow in detuned guitar clang, feedback detritus and rudimentary rockabilly grooves, as if emanating from some exiled alternative dimension. It’s not an easy starting point, but there’s a gradual evolution throughout, culminating on the relatively lush textures of Language + Trance. Kino II: Form Destroyer sees the band moving further out into uncharted psychedelic territories, full of jaundiced guitar frequencies squirming around slave-ship grooves. 

Kino III: Xaman’s entropic skrees are but the raw material fed to its near-27-minute motherlode, Wave, a colossal, bilious, feedback-fried battle-march that sounds like Tesla’s lab overrun by demons, and Kino IV: Black Sun Rising, featuring the succubi-feeding-on-50s-R&B-groove of Bo Diddley’s Shitpump, continues to pummel its acid bath of noise like a thumb pressing on a welt until it bleeds into a livid, kaleidoscopic corona of disease. 

This is rock beyond the event horizon, strained into a mindboggling new physics that ekes baleful radiance from its unravelling death throes. Approach without caution.

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