Release year: 2021
Label: New Approach Records
I’ll readily admit that for a long while, I was thrown off by Portugese Metadevice’s most recent release. Whilst nominally not in a genre at all alien to me, Turba’s industrial soundscapes still managed to perplex to begin with. When I’m presented an album with the descriptors “industrial” and “noise”, I’ll almost instinctually expect something highly abrasive, violent and cacophonous. But, as you can probably guess, that’s not what Turba is.
Of course, sometimes it’s the albums that you have to work to crack that turn out to be the most rewarding to review – regardless of whether they’re good or bad. In many ways, this is true for Turba. So, let’s dig in!
To be sure, my preferences in all things noisy and industrial are somewhat skewed by the fact that I am Finnish and, as such, the Finnish scene has always felt closest to me. Having immersed myself in, probably to the point of inundation, the likes of Grunt, Bizarre Uproar and Sick Seed – to mention a few – obviously my tastes lean towards the violent, noisy and messed up.
Turba is of a very different nature.
In fact, Turba’s sound comes across as highly composed, controlled and reined. The main focus is on pulsating, throbbing, droning synths and even conventional percussion. When Turba momentarily veers in the direction of layers of violent noise, it never comes across as uncontrolled: everything about Turba speaks of control, of premeditation, of focus.
The sound is also surprisingly clear and undistorted: where a lot of old school industrial of a more noisy ilk might utilize synths in a rather similar vein, they will more often than not drape it in layers of crackling, popping and deteriorating distortion that covers everything in a veil of rust. Turba does not. Instead, distortion is used relatively lightly on the metallically, electronically droning synths. This places the ambience in focus, not the aggressivity.
The result is something cold, sterile, inhuman and alienated. Turba sounds like a hypermodern urban landscape, from where the powers that be have swept away everything that spoils their picture-perfect idea of a cleanly, organized city. No dirt, no graffiti, no junk, garbage or waste – and least of all, no undesirable people; instead, omnipresent surveillance devices, surfaces and locations designed to be as inhospitable as possible, and everything colored a sterile, unsoiled white. There’s a sensation of deep dystopia underneath every single sound of Turba, the feeling of an environment designed to be hostile and alienating.
Apparently, I’m not even very far off with the above. Only just before writing this review did I check what label New Approach Records said about the album on their pages, and to me it sounds like we’re talking about things in the same ballpark, at least: “this is an album about collective alienation, raving individualism and a deep dive into the hyperreality of our modern times. This mass movement is not a liberation, but an inexorable escalation of autophagic violence and atomization towards the void.” Where power industrial would parade street rabble (and Turba, apparently translates into rabble!) – Taint’s whores and prostitutes, Slogun’s serial killers, and so on – in Turba’s universe, they have been swept away from an urban reality that actively rejects and alienates them.
There’s very little that’s inherently and obviously aggressive, abrasive or violent on Turba. There’s a sense of threat, of a reined-in hostility on the album, reflected in the moderated use of distortion and the somehow ominous, tense dynamics between programmed-sounding, clean percussion and the occasional burst of analogue noise violence. The vocals, courtesy of Rui Almeida, aren’t particularly aggressive either – a lot of the time they come across very narrative in the emotionally detached, matter-of-factly descriptive fashion of a documentary movie. This distanced, cold delivery just adds to the alienated feel of the album.
Atmospherically, Turba is effective. It’s vaguely but disconconcertingly oppressive, evoking sensations of a landscape and time that actively exiles the listener into the periphery, of individualism being equated to isolation. It really is hypermodern, it’s disciplined and clear sound reflecting how so much of modernity seeks to erase the human element in favour of the sterile and artificial.
Musically, after finding my bearings, there is a lot on Turba I like. In its strictly controlled and disciplined nature, Turba confronts the listener with industrial soundscapes that at first do not feel threatening, but will upon repeated listening reveal a substratum of hostility and violent negativity. If at first I thought the album would benefit from a slightly more abrasive soundscape and more moments of layers of blasting cacophony, with time I’ve turned around entirely: Turba is so much more effective and potent just because it doesn’t let loose, because it never allows the threat of violence become fully actualized. With this, it maintains an unsettling sense of apprehension from start to finish.
I suppose Turba is an album most accessible to friends of old school analogue synth based industrial. However, the modern soundscapes – in particular the very prominent percussion – may initially be hard to get to grips with. Just give Turba the time it needs, and you’ll be convinced.
Summary: Effective, atmospheric industrial noise of urban isolation