REVIEW: Kevin Hufnagel – Kleines Beist

There is supposedly a different set of priorities that goes into preparing sushi when compared to how meals are put together in the West. Texture is privileged over taste, presentation trumping satisfaction. Maybe that’s a bit of a cultural oversimplification but it’s also a good way to look at an often under appreciated aspect of modern music. Texture. Noise is full of it – Fractured, rough, glissy, all synaesthetic attempts to give dimension and shape to a sonic wave. The stippling that crackles on the surface of harsh noise can really only be acknowledged by aficionados. And aside from being aware of Merzbow I’m not sure I qualify as one. It belongs to those who investigate the aural surfaces of a sound before its tonal quality and its relationship between other notes.

This is where Kleines Biest discovers a fascinating contradiction between – or maybe an unholy merging of – definitions belonging to noise and tonality. Kevin Hufnagel produced another trance-like, hypnotic record named Ashland a couple of years ago, but unlike the ethereal analog of steady, layered ukulele, Kleines Biest rages and shakes in a digital purgatory. The record dips into heavens and hells without much regard for convention. But that should go without saying given that Hufnagel and his New York City contemporaries consistently – ecstatically – delve deeper into abstraction while warmly honoring an upbringing devoted to thrash, prog, and death metal.If this scene was a STEM field then these NYC gals and guys would be stationed at the Large Hadron Collider, confidently solving quantum mysteries that otherwise go against all previous scientific rationale.

It’s tempting to consider Kleines Biest as “alien” or “disturbing” but – challenging as it is – it does tap into something pretty core and ancestrally familiar for me. I don’t think that’s alien. It’s just deeper down than we usually (or sometimes like) to go. The record is confident and has a few different themes going on as opposed to Ashland‘s focused score; some that should already be familiar to those who dug Ashland (the track “Deep Blink”) and Transparencies (“Redshift”). Newly present here are Hufnagel’s chops-y leads that remind one of the expressive soloing on old maudlin of the Well records (check out “Serein”), often providing a harmonic rock to cling to before being submerged in the binary abrasiveness of Kevin’s pedalboard dark magic (and shout out to Colin Marston‘s always ingenious production).

But most admirable is the genuine exploration of textures and shapes that lurk behind the arrangement of notes. I found myself enjoying the curious nature of a given sound over just waiting for a killer riff. Hufnagel has provided another uncompromising yet honest work that opens noise up and observes it from all angles.

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