Smersh :: Cassette Pets (Dark Entries)

At beginning the listener could be forgiven for thinking that Smersh were an angry industrial outfit with a penchant for machines and a misunderstood attitude. But that is only the beginning, as the album runs forth a spectrum of sounds are revealed.

Smersh 'Cassette Pets'

Smersh ‘Cassette Pets’

[Release page] Undeniably, Dark Entries was one of the most prolific labels of 2012. Under the guidance of Josh Cheon, the San Francisco imprint has developed into an influential force whose raison d’etre is the releasing of top quality music, from latter years and present. Before the year turned, DE took one last dip into the pools of the past.

Smersh were the brainchild of Mike Mangino (Pink Noise, Pop-Tarts) and Chris Shepard (Pop-Tarts), coming together in1981 to form this blazing eyed industrial outfit. With an enviable store of equipment (303s, 606s, SH-09s, Korg Poly 8000s and much more) the group released a mind-boggling number of tape cassette albums over their thirty year existence. It is from this spread of material that Dark Entries have developed a double LP; Cassette Pets. From the opening there is no place to hide, “Greasing Wheezer” grappling with the listener in a cacophony of strings, distortion and larynx lacerations. Those guttural vocals are constant, shattering and slicing in the razor edged “Johnny Claw” and into the eight car pile-up of “Bedknobs and Bruises.” “Special Branch” maintains the raw tension, but the instrumental nature of the piece reduces the dizzying intensity. There is a coarse force that penetrates the opening of the album, Smersh churning up sounds, ploughing through machinery and macheteing strings to create a ferocious metal clad beast. “Judy Mach” introduces a comic element amongst the distortion and “Sweet Little Bishop” maintains the pastiche. “The Fuse Burns” is a curious piece, much of the sweltering Industrial sounds have been sheathed for a work of proto-electro, and a fine one at that. A more electronic aspect to the group’s sound begins to filter through, “Rhythm Crash” and “Beat This” having a House forefather slant to them. Interestingly, by the time “Black on Pink” arrives much of the angst is gone as Marngino and Shepard dish up a clever piece of EBM. By the close, house and electro are being experimented with before the final punch in the chest, the air sucking internalisation of “White Teeth Cola” plays out this history.

Cassette Pets is a fascinating exercise in audio topography. Cheon has done this with other compilation releases, but for Smersh the listener is helped across the group’s musical terrain, the novice guided through a catalogue of forgotten obscurity and experimentation. At beginning the listener could be forgiven for thinking that Smersh were an angry industrial outfit with a penchant for machines and a misunderstood attitude. But that is only the beginning, as the album runs forth a spectrum of sounds are revealed. The foundations of house and electro are contained within this double album, as are fledgling notions of EBM and techno, not to forget some primal machine screams.

Cassette Pets is available on Dark Entries. [Release page]

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