The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly (In A Good Way): Sorting Through Prurient’s Late-2011 Burst Of Noise


On Tuesday Dais Records issued God Is Truth and Light Is His Shadow by Prurient, a.k.a. Hospital Productions overlord/NYC noise institution Dom Fernow. Clocking in at almost 16 minutes, God is a reasonably inauspicious outing that’s more interested in ambient texture than pulse-quickening implosions; its eye-scalping Genesis P-Orridge cover art is the most shocking thing about it. But it’s nice, and it simultaneously serves as an apologia for and corrective to the Extreme Death-Synth Misadventure that was July’s Bermuda Drain (Hydra Head) and a hint as to where Fernow might go next.

“God Is Truth And Light His Shadow” juxtaposes a children’s conversation with droning, glowing synth chords and a surreptitiously introduced hodgepodge of demonic samples and sonic stunts; “God Is True And Every Man A Liar” is horror-flick score foreboding; “Judgement To The World” allows critics to type “Prurient” and “furious solo guitar study” and “John Fahey” in the same sentence without seeming deranged. So God winds up being thought-provoking and diversionary and artistic—adjectives not usually associated with other entries in the Prurient catalog, which tend to shock systems or set up violent, anonymous nightmares. Fernow’s muse can just as easily land on power electronics as harsh ambient as black metal, then double back to any of those whenever the mood strikes; wading into the massive Prurient discography unawares is analogous to painting the town red with some dodgy dude you just met who turns out to be a charter member of Fight Club. Will you wind up dead, in jail, or bleeding in a ditch?

On some level, Fernow must have understood this, because on December 20 a crushing four hours’ worth of tinnitus-encouraging Prurient music surfaced on iTunes without warning. Though the deluge consisted primarily of long out-of-print cassettes and CDs—2001’s White Plains Leather/Black River Falls, 2002’s Dracula Syndrome, 2003’s Whooping Cough, 2006’s Point And Void, and 2009’s Palm Tree Corpse—new releases Despiritualized and The Annihilationist insist that this auteur remains keen to fuck shit up.

Running close to $50 in total, last month’s haul serves as a sort of survey course in lesser-known, under-trumpeted Prurient releases. Recognizing that maybe you don’t have $50—or that you’ve already blown through most of the iTunes gift cards you got for Christmas—Sound of the City invites you, dear reader, on a guided tour of these releases.

The Good
2008’s And Still, Wanting represents the zenith of Prurient’s aesthetic, a contained, concentrated showcase of tastefully coruscating static rinses, distorted blacklight synths capable of projecting gloom while remaining independent of hummable melody, and waves of ambience—benign and teeth-grinding—stabbed through with clanks, bursts of feedback, and Fernow in garbled Brooklyn Mephisto mode. Of this Dec. 20 haul, only 2006’s Point And Void and 2011’s The Annihilationist possess a similar dementedly elegant élan. Void capitalizes on the piercing squeals, metallic scrapes, and overdriven sonics of classics like Pleasure Ground and Black Vase, but Fernow plays the loud-quiet-loud game masterfully, strategically inserting silences for maximum sublimity, intensity, and disorientation. Listening to this is a lot like being shackled to a seat in a theater where you’re the only viewer following your kidnapping, watching unformed black-and-white shapes interact bewilderingly in ways that signify nothing, all the while somehow knowing that the film holds important clues regarding your future. Lovingly crafted and quietly pulverizing, Annihilationist belongs in the same Hall-of-Whoa genus as Wanting. “Emperors Corpse Enclosed In The Plaster Wall” unleashes a tubular, fire-hose deluge of ruinous electronic distortion we triple-dog dare you to program into Mom’s Valentine’s Day card. There is light-industrial throb and scree, like metal-shop floor found-sound remixed and distended; there is barbed purgatorial drone; there is menacing, end-of-days locomotion that evokes massive thunderstorms and somebody shaking a massive container of rice. Standout “Subordinates Erected In Niches” teases with tickling, heaving synths that suggest disintegrating flocks of migratory birds rising and falling on thermal updrafts. Get familiar; seriously.

Prurient, “The Other World”

The Bad
Last year marked Fernow’s much-anticipated return to Prurient music after a 2010 spent touring and recording with Cold Cave and moonlighting as, um, Tortured Hooker; given that his comeback year included primo perception-scramble like Jesus, with Italian performance artist Nico Vascellari, and the full-on rabid Time’s Arrow EP, it’s anybody’s guess why stans are all up on Drain‘s frayed hair shirt. For this aesthete, Drain represents Prurient’s nadir; his worked-over electronic snarl doesn’t get much worse.

While nothing in the cornucopia of reissues is that dire, 2009’s Palm Tree Corpse and 2011’s Despiritualized are the least essential of the bunch. Six similarly sized slices of torment, Corpse might best be characterized as “generic Prurient”: rippling firecracker noise; screams distorted beyond recognition; simmering ill-portent death drones; pensive, shrill nail-bite strafe-noise. It’s all a bit expected, like mean-mugging with gold-fronts in a mid-’00s Southern rap video or hitting pause in the middle of a sonic blizzard to say, “help, I’m trapped inside a wasp-clouded phone booth of eternal despair, and I lost my phone card.” Despiritualized disfigures the hook-based nature of Drain into madness, disarray, infinity, and annihilation. There’s something downright repellant and industrial about this EP’s bracing mini-flood of hinge squeak, engine flounder, burred synth-throb, vocals spat into a cheap tape deck and looped until alien. Fernow’s perversion of Drain deserves a salute; on the other hand, though, said perversion reminds us, again, that Drain exists.

Prurient, Dracula Syndrome

The Ugly
As we’ve seen, there’s good Prurient, and there’s bad Prurient (or not-so-stunning Prurient). Then there’s ugly—or, rather, “gnarly”—Prurient, absinthe Prurient, Prurient that will make a three-course meal out of you, Prurient that’s all raw, one-off fit-of-pique. And this is the zone where the last three December 20 offerings fall.

2002’s Dracula Syndrome brings the gnarled, uneven hydrogren-peroxide/paper shredder ruckus interspersed with abrupt feedback gear-shifts, hoary, maddeningly familiar orchestral samples, reverberating tones, and shredded vocals. A howling, scrabbling wall of noise and high-frequency misdemeanors, 2003’s Whooping Cough offers a soundtrack to a short film in which a inconsolable bird beast falls prey to a demon while trapped in a cage indistinguishable from a negative-energy field; mid-way through, this energy basically inverts itself, becoming dense noise popcorn that’s bracing in a numbing, immobilizing way.

But for hardcore, anti-authoritarian hijinks, look no further than 2001’s White Plains Leather/Black River Falls, all toxic frequency-skewering flicker cut with radio-scanner ugliness, cop-cruiser sirens, and low-impact fuzz-crud. Then the B-side conjured up a poisonous stew/swamp of rippling chopped-synth menace, scrambled opera arias, and creep-show sub-Phantom of the Opera vamps. It might be the sickest 20 minutes Prurient has even committed to tape, and with the click of a mouse it can finally become yours.