Axebreaker is a new project from Locrian vocalist/keyboardist Terence Hannum, and one that harkens back to the earliest days of the power electronics scene (right when it transitioned from the world of industrial), while putting an entirely modern spin on the sound. It is heavily politically charged and packed with all of the anger and rage I could have hoped for. The strength of Hannum’s performance ensures, however, that it will still be relevant even when the political landscape shifts to something hopefully more pleasant in the USA.
Politics and power electronics have been tightly entwined ever since the genre’s inception in the early 1980s. Early projects such as Whitehouse and Ramleh took the more dissonant elements of Throbbing Gristle and SPK, but also emphasized the more extreme political imagery. For most of these bands, they used totalitarian and fascist themes for the same purpose of shock and provocation, sometimes with a more intellectual nuance than others. These early practitioners largely moved on to more developed themes once the shock gimmick was exhausted: Consumer Electronics have been presenting issues of social/economic inequality and toxic masculinity on their most recent releases, and even Genocide Organ has shifted their ever vague and obscured lens to topics such as private military corporations and US interference in foreign governments.
The unfortunate side effect of these early projects is that a subset of their fans latched onto the politics more than the provocation, resulting in a group of antecedents that are riddled with unpleasant themes and a slew of "prohibited for sale on Discogs" listings. That is why Axebreaker is such a stand-out project. Within a scene and style where conservative/fascist beliefs are frequently espoused (sincerely or not, it does not really make a difference), it is refreshing to hear the other side of the coin presented in a similarly aggressive manner and with the same intensity and force. I mean, I may be somewhat biased since the views and ideas espoused here are more in line with my own, but even without that piece it is a great piece of aggressive noise.
Hannum wears his influences pretty overtly on this tape. Most telling may be the layout of the included lyric booklet, which is a clear homage to the legendary Broken Flag label. This comes through in the audio too: "White Rose" has a low, nausea inducing bass synth that could be from Whitehouse's New Britain, and cheap drum machine that sputters under the manic vocals and violent noise wall of "The Reek of Your Privilege" sounds like a leftover from SPK's Information Overload Unit.
Of course it has to be acknowledged that Hannum's occasionally prog tendencies are still at play on Burning False Flags, and I mean that as a sincere compliment. Rather than just a chunk of overdriven bass and distortion, there is a complexity to the electronics that causes these songs to stand out even beyond the aggressive approach. Sure, "White Rose" is at first all aggressive screaming and ridiculous shards of reverb, but by the end the lighter, almost ambient synthesizer work shifts forward, giving an almost pleasant grounding to an otherwise ugly work. "Changeling" also features lush electronics and melodies that manage to drift to the front here and there, adding a rich color to a style that is too often monochromatic.
One of the notable things about Burning False Flags is while it is riddled with frustration and anger; it never comes across as hateful. What could have been the audio equivalent of a half hour of punching Nazis (which would have also been enjoyable, I am sure) is instead more constructive without being condescending. Lyrics like "Is Your Spirit Already So Crushed by Abuse/That You Forget it is Your Right to Eliminate this System" on "White Rose" make it pretty clear that Axebreaker is not striving to just deliver simplistic political sloganeering without thought. For the lengthy "Know Your Enemy" Hannum delivers no vocals at all, and instead just opts to underscore recorded during the recent US Presidential campaign with a slow burn of buzzing noise, eventually reaching an intentionally unpleasant, unrelenting bit of dissonant repetition that matches the samples in tone and discomfort.
Given the nature of the power electronics realm, I am not quite sure how Burning False Flags will be received. On the content of the audio alone it should be heralded: Terence Hannum has put a unique spin on a style not widely known for its innovation, resulting in a tape that stands toe to toe with the best practitioners of the genre. The political bent, however, may be a different matter since it is anything but the status quo. That being said, I do not think Hannum will at all care about any dissent on that level, and any social media/message board griping will likely just feed into and strengthen the next record even more.