One of the most interesting, accomplished & erudite machinators to exit the Industrial/Noise ambit, Chicago’s Illusion Of Safety have heaped on the heuristic unpredictable interpretations from the late 80’s onwards. An extensive lineage of releases & pioneering has waned only in it’s regularity over these decades, with the projects pilot Dan Burke continuing to spawn totally distinct & irregular uniqueness on a very consistent trajectory.
This particular album, Bad Karma, that was recorded between 1990-1995 (released on Soleilmoon Records in 1998) remains to me (& I believe many others) one of the most stand-out structures from IOS. It a delirious & fevered hallucination/bad-trip that becomes increasingly bleak & disturbing as the album culminates, all fractured frames & stripped of formal connecting tissues, like waking up in different scenarios with no options but to explore the surrounding hazard. This is a quirk that I really admire about this band, you truly never know what the fuck is coming next. this occurs over & within albums, often with dramatic disparities, shifts & skin-sheadings that keep the forthcoming moves impossible to predict.
Like some kind of tenebrous bad-dream scape reeling from one disposition to the next, Bad Karmas manifold scenario-shifts draw on minimalistic Noise/Drone, immaculate Field Recording/Performance Art randomness, harrowing Death Industrial & Distress Electronics, multifaceted Industrial related dereliction & pounding ethno drum-machine Industrializations. It’s a very eclectic medley with a gigantic scope of emotions & vacillating intensities. Some of the stuff oozes by wit little to prompt detection whilst others are much more assaulting & direct. the bulk of the material opts for a composed unfolding of horrors & menace, with spaces of dark beauty & even occasional humour. It’s difficult stuff to contextualize & explicate in writing. The frequencies are incredible, from a Noise perspective this stuff is so much more sophisticated than 99% of the paradigm directive. Crucially, IOS very rarely resort to harsh or trope electronics/extreme frequencies to imbue profound sentiment or effect. This stuff is much more constructive, versatile & astute than the majority Noise/Industrial & is frankly on another level, escaping the obvious Noise or Power Electronics pigeon-hole.
Another major feature is the repleteness of samples & Field Recordings. Public space, crowds, streets, performance & machinery are a fairly common construct in the IOS montage. Other samples salvaged from documentary, debate, radio, cinema & other media are profuse here, straying widely in their content. It’s generally very difficult to pin IOS down as it’s so allegoric, varied & non-committal. I can only really say it’s like a viewing/study of life & the world through an audio lens with some kind of sonic translation of the phenomena analysed & witnessed.. A lot of it could be acknowledged as a political or existential nature, & a lot of it is dark with recurrent themes of war, conflict, destruction & control. There is no real dogma, no vocals (ever as far as I know) or conclusion, it’s an observation, like a camera rolling without narration, letting the events speak for themselves without instruction or thought emplacement.
Tracks 10-13 which encompasses about 23 minutes worth of material are particularly difficult to deal with. It’s a critique of torture & violent interrogation, stuffed with real life accounts from victims & perpetrators (& some of the most unbearable feedback/Sourmilk ever). It’s very fucking intense…VERY! Like a piece of political activism. I revere this work but I can’t listen to these tracks regularly unlike the rest of the album. The final statement “Inhuman, from some kind of activist or survivor make it clear that this is not revelling in this vulgarity or exploiting the subjects overt extremity for amplified effect & is unequivocally damning of such depravity.
The final track of the album “The False Mirror” is a very powerful piece of first-class Dark Ambient, a fitting closing ceremony of an extraordinary album.
Bad Karma is profound! a stand out prelate delivering something singular & unmatched.
Rekd: 1990-1995 (released 1998)
Label: Soleilmmon Records