The Nazgul – shadowy figures from the most obscure Krautrock fringes of the ’70s – are back. And lurking in full public view. They’ve been occasional housemates of Tom Waits, and probably got the chance to have a gnaw on his bone machine. They’ve been studio ghouls scratching atmospheres out of trash and implements down in the Turkish quarter of Cologne in the mid-’70s, and they’ve been people who don’t just seem to coax sound out of the most unlikely sources, but draw it out via seance. The rumour is that they’ve even developed a way of recording ghost voices from over-amplifying the signals impinging on bare wires. And these two tracks – crouching malignantly on a new slice of black vinyl – were recorded using only voice, twenty-foot drainpipe and 270 feet of microphone cable. Oh, plus an accordion, for that homely folk edge. As if.
Forget the motorik aspects of Krautrock; forget the shapes it scratches and growls, whatever its texture. The Nazgul have taken it to a point where there’s almost nothing but texture: a rhythmless, frighteningly impure cloud of sound shot through with disturbing noises. Plujectories is a thick worm of static hiss, whirring compressor grind and bass-bin hum, scratching through your ears like a fibreglass cotton swab. Lunging ghostlike through the centre are flattened steam-whistle screeches, the shrill treble songs of nerve-fibres being burnt through, sometimes a barely-recognisable voice stretched in a submerged roar. It’s the sort of sound you’re scared to imagine a microphone collecting, because of what that implies about the world it’s listening to. You close your eyes, and imagine the solar flares burning through your house.
Habitually is more accessible. Hmmm. As if that mattered at this stage of the game. Although as soon as it’s let you in, you feel as if something dark has closed in behind you and cut you off. It’s an experience, a sound picture of an unsteady walk along a polluted foreshore. The crunching and crackling noises that slide around you could be the sand crumbling beneath your feet and dissolving under the dirty water, could be the stone and mortar of the old dock wall disintegrating like perished rubber; could even be the air frying and corroding under the malignant fumes emanating from that squat, broad, frightening factory over the estuary. Distant boats slither past on the sullen greying surface of the water, no faces showing on deck. Occasionally harsh dark chords and dischords blow out, looming up to enormous foghorn dimensions – something to flinch at. There are slammings, as of giant train doors: and, always around, the barely-there voices. Whistling, rustling, wheezing and gasping, part of the architecture of this corner of nowhere good.
But The Nazgul somehow seem to make all of this sound like… just another dark day, ugly things going about their business as the world slowly chokes on the last polluted shreds of its poisoned lifetime. One of the scariest things to consider is the fact that people can get used to anything. The Nazgul are up on the harbour wall watching you as you come to realise this, while you’re knee-deep and imperceptibly sinking in the dull sand. And they’re wraithed in smiles.
The Nazgul: ‘Plujectories/Habitually’
day Release Records Ltd., DR103
12-inch vinyl-only single
Released: July 1999
Buy it from:
Best looked for second-hand.
The Nazgul online:
No dedicated websites available.