Nicholas Bullen "Component Fixations" (Type Vinyl)
What have the following combos got in common ? Jesu, Scorn, Godflesh, Carcass, Lock-Up, Lull, Extreme Noise Terror, Head of David, Unseen Terror, Painkiller, Meathook Seed, Quoit, Terrorizer, Venomous Concept, Fall Of Because, Mutation, Cathedral, Final, Pale Sketcher, Ripcord, Doom, Resistant Culture, Righteous Pigs, Gentlemans Pistols, Teeth Of Lions Rule The Divine, Benediction, Defecation, Ice, Brujeria, Council Estate Electronics, Firebird, Blood Of Heroes, Septic Tank, Disgust, Equations Of Eternity, Smear Campaign, Absolute Power, Zonal, The Weakener, Atrocity Exhibition, Little Giant Drug, Sacrilege, The Sidewinder, Filthkick, Black Galaxy, Techno Animal, Dumbstruck, Grey Machine, Praxis, Malformed Earthborn, Last Exit, Warhammer, Warprayer, Saskwatch, Freestate, Frequencies, Youpho, Aberration, Certain Beyond All Reasonable Doubt, Azagthoth, Cylon, Squandered, Krackhead, Matera, Umbilical Limbo, Valley Of Fear, Blood From The Soul, Dead Pulp, Hygiene, Subspecies, Optimum Wound Profile, White Viper, Adventure, Biomechanical, Cerebral Fix, Solaris, Antichrist, Crusade, Trace Decay, Sweet Tooth, Cracked Cop Skulls, White Static Demon, Witch Hunt and many, really, many others...?
That's right: they're all better than the Beatles. Not *just* that, though: they're also all branches of the same rock family tree, because all have featured in their ranks one-time members of the finest British rock band of the last quarter-century, West Midlands stalwarts Napalm Death. Even without going anywhere near 'guest appearances' etc, the list above covers pretty much every conceivable genre, from dubstep, drum & bass and electronica through forty shades of metal to free jazz (apart, you may say, from hip-hop, but we would just nonchalantly direct you to Shane Embury's guest guitar-playing on the fine "Jagged Edge" remix of Gunshot's formidable "Mind Of A Razor" single).
Pretty impressive really, isn't it ? To take former drumstool doyen Mick Harris as perhaps the most obvious example, it's difficult to comprehend how one musician could be so central to such brilliant records, in entirely different genres, as Napalm's eviscerating game-changer "From Enslavement To Obliteration", Mick's headcrushing "HedNod Sessions" and Lull's recent, glacially austere masterpiece, "Like A Slow River".Anyway. From this family tree, from this mighty oak that so blossoms with diversity, here's a new release that really maxes up the intrigue. For some 27 years after playing - as 'Nik' Bullen - on Napalm Death's "Scum", and a good two decades on from his work with early Scorn (which sounded absolutely nothing like Napalm Death), Napalm founder member Nicholas Bullen has finally come up with his first solo album. Which, inconveniently for yr reviewer, sounds absolutely nothing like either Napalm Death *or* Scorn. Or pretty much any of the myriad bands listed above. (It's not easy to work out quite how many musical ventures Bullen has been involved with since departing Scorn: in contrast with the dozens of records released over that timefeaturing Mick Harris, Justin Broadrick or Shane Embury, all that we have from him are two 18-minute long post-Scorn workouts released on Sub Rosa, as Nicholas James Bullen, in the mid-1990s).
Anyway. "Component Fixations" is one of those records which cares not a fig for line-ups or antecedents or influences or historical accidents, and indeed that implores you not to sweat over other 'little' details. So it doesn't matter if you can't work out which instruments were used, or whether any instruments were used at all; it's not really relevant to the listening experience to know whether the sounds herein are digital or analog; it's ultimately unnecessary to work out whether we're at the frayed ambient edges of rock or on the bleak outskirts of the minimalist classical tradition. What we have here is simply a bold but rewarding record, as extreme in its way as anything Bullen has been involved with in the past.
The first side, "Element Configuration III" consists of two, er, components. The longest, "I", begins with staccato bursts of processed sound, punctuated by oases of near-silence, before being anchored by a drone that's more pastoral than industrial, and enlivened intermittently by further shards of pent-up noise and the tiniest hints of glitch. It's a kaleidoscope of samples, rooted in musique concrète, but with a definite contemporary air. "II", as its sub-title ("Commixture") suggests, serves as a bridge between "I" and side two of the LP: it's a steady, sweetly and softly-oscillating hum that concludes with what sounds like a babbling brook as field-recorded, found-sound water samples surge in to envelop the mix.
The lone track on side two, "Signal Filament Extensions", settles early on into a becalmed and pure low-frequency burr. For a quarter of an hour, it unwinds and recoils - each time by the merest fraction - but with barely any other interruption or movement, making "I" seem playful, even mischievous, by comparison. Then, from nowhere, the sound of chimes rings out, and the speakers trace a delicious melange of grey noise and tinkling bells while the needle rolls on towards the centre vortex. We're almost back to nature. "Component Fixations" feels like an installation work in that, rather than rely on noise to shape the pieces of music, it uses silence and near-silence to create a gallery space; it then populates that space with atavistic, organic sounds, some that persist, some that either flit in or out, some that veritably crash in or out. We've become worringly intrigued with it, to tell the truth.
And we're all too aware that had Bullen never been "Nik Napalm" in another life, we'd probably have never come across this LP. That's something else to thank Napalm, and the quality control of their members' subsequent projects, for. Funnily enough, "Component Fixations" is so serene that it makes other present favoured flavours of ours, like Burial or Autechre, sound more like, well, Napalm Death. If this is the future sound of Birmingham, you know, then we're greatly looking forward to hearing more of it.