Factrix / Control Unit - Elegy For Rusted SoulsElegy For Rusted Souls marks the return of Factrix (or at least two-thirds of them; Joseph Jacobs appears missing) with this their first studio album since 1981's Scheintot, originally released on Vale's (of Re/Search publishing) Adolescent Records. Having caught a Control Unit performance in 2012, Bond Bergland and Cole Palme, the remaining members of Factrix, invited Control Unit to the Factrix studio in Berkeley, California to record this album. Factrix were of course at the forefront of California's industrial scene, reflecting a dark mirror to San Francisco's psychedelic history. Their last album, California Babylon, featured a live collaboration with Monte Cazazza - who, as we know, coined the term "industrial music for industrial people". The Italian duo of Control Unit are well versed in collaboration, aside from their solo releases, Silvia Kastel and Ninni Morgia have worked with many in the avant jazz and experimental circles, while their album The Fugitives channelled an early industrial spirit.
Surprisingly, since Factrix used to split lead vocals - or maybe not since this is a collaborative album - lead vocal duties are given over to Control Unit's Silvia Kastel. Maybe that's fair enough as this marks Factrix's tentative return to recording - recent live shows, likewise, have enlisted other musicians. While Factrix's instrumentation on Scheintot included everything from multimoog, viola, zither, teakettle to various forms of bass and guitar, here Bergland and Palme's instrumental palette is confined to acoustic guitar, bass, garden rake, squeaking door and voice - not that I picked up on any male voices. Listening to this, the nearest comparison I can find to early Factrix is with 'Center of the Doll' which hinged around guitar distortion, bass and drum machine rhythm. Yet for the most part, Elegy For Rusted Souls is much more electronic and those drum machine rhythms favoured by early Factrix is eschewed in favour of percussive clatter. Of course, those Factrix releases - recently reissued by San Francisco's Superior Viaduct - date from a long time ago, so it's no surprise that things have moved on.
Having said that, the industrial roots of Factrix can almost be found on 'Free From The Net', with Silvia Kastel's processed flickering voice recalling the horror of Throbbing Gristle's 'Hamburger Lady' while the rumbling electronics squeak and scrape in a blurred blackening of psychedelia. 'Polarity Tremens' fizzes with a controlled flow of electricity and distortion, as Kastel moans and howls, over intermittent bursts of metallic clanging, fusing those rhythms which gain a powerful momentum, as all around falls into a dark chaos of shrieks and discordant guitar tones. The loose limbed barrage of primitive rhythmic percussion found on 'Agitated Feelers' acts as a backdrop to a series of sensual howls from Silvia Kastel. Kastel's vocals on Elegy... don't sound too far removed from Kasia Meow's contribution to Philippe Petit's and Eugene S. Robinson's stunning Last of the Red Hot Lovers album. Elegy For Rusted Souls is punctuated by moments of avant guitar excursions, especially on 'Winter Down' where dissonant guitar moan wafts over low bass tones and hammering percussion. At other times on the first side of this collaborative album Factrix and Control Unit opt for some heavy effects laden atmospherics, as they do on 'Trap Doors' - which features Bond Bergland's "squeaking door".
The second side, however, moves into altogether new areas, if you want to compare it with original Factrix material. Blending electronics with acoustic instruments in an improvised manner, with Bond Bergland's guitar playing performed in an industrial blues style - comparable only to the rhythmic blues strum of 'Ballad of the Grim Rider' from Scheintot. 'Slip On My Skull', which opens the second side, merges electronic squiggles with bluesy acoustic guitar playing alongside Silvia Kastel's wails and moans, with percussion almost coalescing into a beat behind the guitar. Its loose structure means there's little to hang on to here. 'Pollyglot' and 'Warm Wind', meanwhile, are basically improvisations. While on 'Pollyglot', Kastel's wails hover over detuned guitar and the scattered blur of electronics, 'Warm Wind' pits low loose bass notes and fractured acoustic guitar picking against discordant tones. The brief 'Red Jelly' carries Kastel's sexy, sultry coos over low strung bass notes and disembodied electronics.
The main issue with Elegy For Rusted Souls is that there is no centre. Much of it is rootless, featuring improvised layers of sound. It's by no means a bad album, it just lack a focus to the sound. I've spent much of this trying to tie this back to original Factrix material. And maybe it's my problem, as Elegy For Rusted Souls features Factrix thirty years on, in a collaboration with Control Unit - and I don't have enough knowledge to comment on their contribution here. Of course, with the exception of 'Ballad of the Grim Rider', it's not like Factrix's output was ever really song based. But at least on things like 'Heavy Breathing' and 'Phantom Pain' the interplay between bass and drum machine acted as an anchor you could latch onto. The creepy atmospheric closer, 'Broken Dreams', with its deep heaving drones, brittle acoustic guitar notes, and Kastel's wordless accompaniment is by anyone's standards pretty good though.
Elegy For Rusted Souls certainly veers towards the more challenging end of Factrix material. In recent performances the revived Factrix have featured a number of new tracks, alongside cover versions so there may be more to come from Factrix. I do hope so. Elegy For Rusted Souls may mark a return with kindred spirits Control Unit but a full-on Factrix album is yet to come. This is merely a calling card, a tentative return. In the meantime, if you want to hear what the revitalised Factrix sound like seek out excerpts from their recent live shows on you tube. Elegy For Rusted Souls is released on vinyl, with liner notes from Bananafish's Seymour Glass, with the first pressing of a 500 featuring a limited 7-inch single. For more information go to www.backwards.it