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KnifeLadder - Live Actions In Dead Cities

Live Action In Dead Cities is a limited self-released release from KnifeLadder. Live Actions In Dead Cities presents select cuts from their albums, Organic Traces and The Spectacle, largely taken from the Amen Festival in 2006 and a London performance held at Upstairs at the Garage in 2003.

KnifeLadder albums have always been heavily processed in the studio so it's satisfying to find their live excursions are carefully focussed, and where there is an emphasis on texture and not oppression. They are an extremely physical outfit with a muscular sound of rhythmic improvisations drawn from their live instrumentation of drums, bass, electronics and voice. Comparisons with the likes of SPK and Swans abound but as Live Action In Dead Cities shows their roots may be in early industrial but they stretch their sound to covers all the bases from trance states, electronic noise, drone, post-industrial rhythms with a loose song based structure.

The latent threatening intent of 'Just Deserts' opens up Live Actions In Dead Cities. "Just deserts. You're gonna get them," intones Murphy amidst passages of wailing voices and eastern pipes over a neat line in bass throb and rolling drums. It's all performed in a rather subdued manner but powerful in its own way. It's John Murphy's drumming relying on snares and floor toms that shapes much of the KnifeLadder sound. 'Born Under Fire', for instance, is based around tight snare drum rolls. Added to this are thick layers of buzzing electronics and distorted bass lines all performed at a sluggish pace. This time, Andrew Trail lays on the harsh vocal about violence and struggle. 'Harm's Way' features another Trail lead vocal over electronic hiss and drone. His voice becomes increasingly fired-up as he moves from spoken passages to a defiant bark.

'Wilderness of Mirrors' pits Murphy's laconic vocal against careering drones and controlled feedback. It takes upward of 4 minutes before the thunderous drum rolls come in as electronics ululate and the sub-bass distorts. The lashings of electronics become more frequent as drums beat faster, and Murphy's voice gets wrapped up into an aggressive howl.

One of the most surprising tracks here is 'Carousel', which shows another side to KnifeLadder. With dreamy taped strains, Murphy is delightful with his melodic vocal over timpani drum rolls and cymbal crashes. The bass is almost funky here making this, without doubt, the most accessible track I've heard from KnifeLadder.

'Dervish', a longtime live favourite, displays the groups interest in trance states. It's all guttural moans and rasping vocalisations set against looped threshing electronics. The adoption of thunderous drums allows the track to take on an invocatory dimension, with Murphy's vocal outbursts reduced to an indecipherable roar. The whole thing is shot through with the wails of the zurna and intercut with short bursts of noise from the live mixing.

The longer, final piece, 'Miniscus' is a 23 minutes studio workout from Murphy and Andrew Trail. Thick with treated electronics and blasts of percussion it shows a more experimental side to KnifeLadder.

With members of KnifeLadder now based all over the globe, performances are becoming infrequent. This limited self-released CD-R is a little reminder of what you're missing but it's by no means an excuse not to catch them live. And while you're at it don't forget about their latest studio release, Concrete/Music, out now on Cold Meat Industry. Live Actions In Dead Cities can be obtained for 6 EUROS/£5 via Paypal to or from Andrew Parsonage, 56 Regina Road, London, N4 3PP, UK. For more information go to or