Over the past few years, I’ve written a bit about Release Entertainment, the long-defunct sub-label of Relapse Records that was dedicated to releasing a variety of experimental music ranging from noise to dark ambient to death industrial and beyond.  It got me thinking about which entries in Release’s sizable catalog were my absolute favorites, which in turn lead me to satisfy my obsession with making lists.  So without further ado and in chronological order, here are my five favorite albums released under the Release Entertainment banner.

Merzbow – Venereology (1994)
By 1994, Merzbow was already known in experimental music circles as a prolific noise artist, but Release Entertainment brought his patented brand of sonic extremity to a much larger audience. Venereology is Merzbow’s skull-splitting response to the burgeoning death metal and grindcore scenes of the early 1990s and it is also likely one of the most abrasive things you’ll ever hear. The punishing waves of distortion, feedback and white noise coalesce into a concrete block of aural terrorism that’ll have you questioning everything you thought you knew about what constitutes “extreme music,” or then again maybe it’ll just melt your brains until they come oozing out of your ears. Whatever the case, most metalheads had never heard anything like Merzbow prior to Venereology and once you’ve spiraled down the harsh noise rabbit-hole, there’s no turning back.

Further suggested listening:
Pulse Demon (Release Entertainment, 1996)
Hybrid Noisebloom (Vinyl Communications, 1997)

Masonna – Inner Mind Mystique (1996)
Masonna mastermind Maso Yamazaki never managed to garner the same widespread acclaim that Merzbow did, which is likely why Inner Mind Mystique is often overlooked in favor of Merzbow’s trilogy of Release albums (Venereology, Pulse Demon and Tauromachine). But make no mistake, Masonna’s seventh full-length is a singular work of sonic annihilation; Yamazaki’s heavily processed vocalizations sound as if he is drowning in a pitch-black sea of distortion and feedback, his screams overpowered by the constantly shifting chaos. Inner Mind Mystique hits hard, fast, often and offers little if any reprieve from the relentless eardrum-devastation across its thirty-nine minute running-time; it is the very definition of a challenging listen. In fact, it might be the most thoroughly punishing album in the entire Release Entertainment discography, which is truly saying something when one considers the heavy hitters it shares catalog space with.

Further suggested listening:
Spectrum Ripper (Cold Spring, 1998)
Frequency LSD (Alien8, 1998)

Atrax Morgue – Sickness Report (1996)
Prior to his suicide in 2007, Marco Corbelli’s approach to synthesizer abuse as Atrax Morgue was sometimes haunting, sometimes utterly corrosive, but always steeped in a desire to make sounds that reflected mankind’s most depraved obsessions. Whereas Merzbow and Masonna sought to beat the listener’s brains in with their relentlessly harsh noise, it was the mission of Atrax Morgue to drag the listener’s psyche into the deepest, darkest depths of psychosis, sadism and morbidity, crafting soundscapes that go far beyond the stuff of nightmares.  Indeed, the deathly electronic atmospheres Corbelli was able to conjure on Sickness Report exist on a whole other level of macabre intensity within the annals of experimental music and are just as unsettling today as they were over two decades ago.  Corbelli may have departed this plane of existence, but Atrax Morgue serves as an eternal grim reminder of his bizarre genius.

Further suggested listening:
Slush of a Maniac (Crowd Control Activities, 1997)
New York Ripper (Slaughter Productions, 2001)

Dissecting Table – Human Breeding (1997)
Like Merzbow and Masonna, Dissecting Table is also a product of Japan’s ridiculously fertile experimental scene.  Mixing elements of noise, dark ambient and industrial, project mastermind Ichiro Tsuji crafts a sound far more structured and varied than that of his label-mates, while still managing to keep things dark, abrasive and sonically adventurous. Throughout Human Breeding, Dissecting Table seems undecided as to whether he wants to compel you to dance or compel you to kill your dance partner, so he attempts to do both, bouncing back and forth between extremes over the course of forty-six agonizing minutes. While it may be slightly easier on the ears compared to some of the other albums on this list, Human Breeding is certainly not for the faint of heart; its schizophrenic attack can be rather disorienting if one isn’t fully prepared for it. Nonetheless, this is a good starting place for extreme metal fans looking to dive into the freakier end of the music spectrum.

Further suggested listening:
Zigoku (Dark Vinyl Records, 1995)
Life (Release Entertainment, 1998)

Megaptera – The Curse of the Scarecrow (1998)
Hailing from Sweden, Megaptera’s music falls more along the lines of dark ambient in comparison to the brutal noise being explored by the other artists on this list. Their sound consists mainly of glacially slow synth-work with minimal industrial noise, dialogue samples and other effects lurking in the background, buried under a haze of nigh-impenetrable electronics; it’s ominous and disturbing, but it’s also strangely hypnotic and even a bit cinematic at times. With The Curse of Scarecrow, the band crafted a symphony for ghosts trapped within barely-functioning machinery and shrouded in darkness, blindly searching the endless mechanical abyss for some semblance of their lost humanity. The more one listens, the easier it becomes to get lost in The Curse of the Scarecrow‘s malevolent monotony, so approach with caution; you might end up in the sunken place.

Further suggested listening:
Disease (Art Konkret, 1996)
Beyond the Massive Darkness (Cold Meat Industry, 2001)

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