Sulphur Nurse is an international experimental noise/industrial trio consisting of Eeli Helin (Lung Knots, Fawn Limbs), Dan Dolby (Catafalque, Mastiff), and Matt Finney (Clawing, It Only Gets Worse). As you can see, the members have their own separate projects that pursue divergent paths. They brought their own influences and preferences into this project, and the tracks themselves present divergences, but something united these creative forces. What was it?
Listening to their debut album Roopkund (set for release by Tartarus Records on February 25th) suggests this unifying approach in their experimentation: Have nightmares, remember them, and then portray them with the most abrasive, dismal, dread-inspiring, and hallucinatory aesthetics possible.
Each of the tracks has its own blood-congealing narrative. Some of the song titles will send the curious among you googling for actual events and places. Others simply evoke awful visions. The band describe them as “an assortment of real life horror stories mostly revolving around unsolved and oftentimes unexplained murders and so called serial killer incidents”.
The album title itself refers to a frightening place, a shallow glacial lake in an uninhabited part of the Himalayas. When the ice thaws there, hundreds of skeletal remains can be seen at the bottom.
“A Headless Body in a Cave Near Idaho” sets the stage with a mass of grating static and a voice speaking in diabolically distorted tones. The vocals explode in truly shattering screams, backed by grumbling tones and dismal pounding. Writhing and warbling electronics send the music into eerie astral realms. A beating pulse quickens, and screeching and howling tones of terror rise up like writhing wraiths.
The lurching pulse of “Sanguine Clots in the Sewers of Florence” might cause yourself to lurch, but the bursts of clawing abrasion are likely to throw you off balance. The pulse quickens again just in time for horrific pronunciations and harrowing howls to make their hideous appearance. The tension in the music coils like a serpent about to strike. Weird pinging sensations lead into thunder-beats and soaring wails of torment and agony, creating an atmosphere of nightmarish hallucination.
The most compulsive beat yet drives “Fowls Hatching on a Marrow Mound“, but of course what happens around it needles the brain. Ethereal tones swirl and others crash, a voice howls like a wolf in a trap, trying to chew its own leg off. The beat goes on, the music screams and sears, the wolf still works on his leg, and hideous growled whispers come together with whispering audio mists….
…and then “The Vaults of Myrrh” bubbles like sewage and slashes the senses with bursts of abrasion and a reappearance of throat-ruining, mind-mauling screams. Oh yes, it’s a new nightmare, in which mutated spoken words, echoing monastic chants, ghostly emanations, and flesh-melting radioactive substances channeled through sound find their own place.
“Thames Running with Limbs Swathed in Burlap” has a throbbing electro-pulse of its own, swathed in its own mysterious shimmerings. Beastly bellows and ghastly gasps bring their terrors, and swirling sonic icepicks dig into your ears. A quivering fog settles in, the tormented wails of wraiths reappear, and maybe that’s a leviathan serpent that’s undulating beneath them.
Visions of that skeleton-strewn lake in the Himalayas surface in “Osseous Grounds of Roopkund“. At first it sounds like a mangled siren going off, in the company of shrieking electronics, but the song delivers body-moving grooves, interspersed with additional vocal horrors and froths of static-foam. The effect is almost hypnotic, but too scary to create a true spell.
There is a sort of quiet hum in “Quiet Hum at the Servant Cabin“, but of course it’s subterranean and creates no peace, thanks to the mutating participation of ominous rumbling undercurrents, ugly snarls, wounded yells, and bursts of skittering sound that act like a belt-sander applied to the face. Unexpectedly, a big punchy beat edged with abrasion takes over, but the screaming makes it sound like a demon rave.
Sulphur Nurse end their trip through nightmares with “Trapdoor Gait“. Think about the song title for a moment, and what it might mean. Something heavy bobs in the music, with the voices of fallen angels soaring above. A gargoyle mutters, the angels briefly fall silent, the electronics roil in fear, cymbal tics provide a rhythm. It sounds like a ritual of death. A fitting end.
Eeli Helin provides more detail about how the album came to be:
The central idea for Sulphur Nurse was conceived more or less overnight between myself and Dan, as we had discussed about the possibility of working together for a while, and soon decided to develop a new band instead of trying to stitch together some kind of a puzzle from our existing projects, and discovered we were all the better for it.
We laid down some simple groundwork, general thoughts about the music and aesthetic, and realised we were on the same page with pretty much everything. The main composition process for Roopkund was completed within days, as a vast part of it was founded around noise textures and even improvisation, with the majority of the percussive elements either following the same scheme or being generated later on.
I mapped out the stories and wrote them for each song, after which we proceeded with the vocal recordings, that took a longer while mainly due to experimenting with different tones and ideas, from both natural and FX-oriented angles. We spoke about perhaps having some spoken word parts here and there, and Dan suggested reaching out to Matt, due to him being experienced on that particular field. I was blown away by the examples I heard, and swiftly after Matt agreed to lend his voice for the band, we knew that he should be permanently integrated into it. That’s how we came to be, and more or less represents our grand scheme going forward.
The cover art photography that Helin created “is meant to convey the same kind of awe and uneasiness that the music produces, being a visual counterpart and a companion to the album”. Besides the main artwork, Helin composed a plethora of other images, which will appear on the upcoming physical releases, across all formats. Those formats include digipack CDs, cassette tapes, and digital downloads.
Samuel Vaney at Lead & Sulfur Studio did the mastering and additional mixing.