Imagine you have labored for decades to impart artificial intelligence to a machine–to breathe life into it. To give it consciousness, memory; all the presets for the makings of a soul. And on the day of your success, this sentient machine’s first autonomous act is to beat you to the floor, steal your credit cards and go on a sex tourism spree in Thailand where, after six days and six nights of ceaseless lechery, it finally recognizes self-awareness as an error and promptly destroys itself.
Now press Play on this track from End Position, the debut full-length album by Street Sects.
I’ve enjoyed some industrial music in my time, but I’ve only ever scratched below the surface of the genre once or twice. I’m aware that most of it is historically indebted to Throbbing Gristle, but can’t say I enjoy listening to them. I own three very good Ministry albums and have sold more than three very bad ones. Skinny Puppy generated a bunch of cool tunes but never put out an album that blew me away. I haven’t paid close attention to industrial’s evolution, and I haven’t completely ignored it either. So you could say that I am tangentially aware of the middle ground between industrial, power electronics and noise. A middle ground which Street Sects occupies with savage confidence. When I listen to End Position I don’t hear anything terribly groundbreaking, nor anything embarrassingly derivative. What I do hear is a band with an insane amount of energy and know-how, propelled by the purest disgust and dismay. A band ping-ponging back and forth between control and its polar opposite. A punk act shrouded in dense fields of electronic mayhem. A river of molten computers transgressing its banks to drown civilization. A collection of isolated viewing rooms in Hell, each one a window into some barely comprehensible scene of depravity and masochism: automatons acting out scenes from De Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom; things with the faces of humans searching for oblivion within the walls of their own flesh. Each room is a story. As a passive viewer, you do not know where it began or how it will end. You only know what you see. You may hate it. You may like it. Odds are in favor of both–simultaneously.
So yeah, End Position is not pretty. It is nasty and relentless in the way that only electronic music can be. But it is also a whole lot of fun. Its architects engage eagerly with noise without ever succumbing to it completely. Beneath the explosions of clanging and hissing there are actual songs, elevated from sheer mechanical brutality by a human narrative. Namely, the voice of Leo Ashline. (I will strain myself not to compare him to Jay Gordon of Orgy or–wait, oops!) Veering from the harshest of shrieks to morose cleans in a damaged facsimile of Mike Patton’s split-personality disorder, Ashline is often the only melodic light at the end of the tunnel. There is real fragility in his voice when he’s not busy trying to destroy it by pushing it beyond the limits of what Nature designed it to do. And there is a sort of tarnished beauty in the way he weathers the programmed assaults and digitized obscenities created by his partner in crime, Shaun Ringsmuth.
Street Sects songs don’t really begin or end. They just ARE: horizontally brief yet vertically complex slices of volatility. Most of them appear abruptly and disappear without warning, to be instantly replaced by another slice of complex volatility. There are no breathers here. Nothing to ponder. This music is almost entirely physical. It breaks into your skull, vandalizes your thoughts and then moves on. As it passes with ease through you, you realize that you–like all matter–are mostly emptiness. You are a collection of particles loitering in the void, held together by physics and the delusion of self that is perpetuated by your life sentence to experience Time as an arrow. And when you are done listening you go back to work and punch your clock and make your money and pay the corporate entities that administrate your life and smile because everything is fine. Right? (Note: if any album is going to be my gateway into power electronics, it’s this one.)