San Francisco Weekly, John Graham, Feb 2010
Jazz for the Aftermath
The reeds-and-rhythm duo of Ettrick plays an improvisational, tabula rasa-type of thrashing free jazz that's almost post-apocalyptic. At the very least it's unconstrained by any normative form of architecture, occupying the wide open terrain vague between the turbulent saxophone cyclones of free jazz and the nuclear blast beats of avant-metal: imagine German sax titan Peter Brštzmann getting into a wild 'n' woolly rumble with Naked City drummer Joey Baron, or Anthony Braxton battling Orthrelm. In Ettrick, however, both members Ń Jacob Felix Heule and Jay Korber Ń play both instruments, tag-teaming each other by swapping instruments in mid-set, or both playing drums or saxophone simultaneously, inevitably choosing to do whatever causes the maximum amount of musical ruckus. It's an exhausting, frenetic spectacle that, by dint of the effort expended at each gig, can only last a few minutes before either the players or the instruments end up half-wrecked. But all is not wanton destruction in Ettrick's world: after the show, a few smiles are always sure to bloom like flowers amid the debris.
The Wire #282 (August 2007), Edwin Pouncey
Ettrick, Feeders of Ravens (Not Not Fun LP)
Ettrick are sax and drums duo Jacob Felix Heule and Jay Korber from San Francisco. Melting free jazz into the cobwebbed eye sockets of Black Metal, they aim for the kind of Satanic squeal that fans of Mayhem or Celtic Frost might find appealing. Or maybe not, for although Ettrick have got the free jazz side down pat, with monumental Borbetomagus sax gusts and Sunny Murray drum surges, their affection for Black Metal is harder to detect. There is more to it than speed and runic song titles, and they fail to grasp the atmospheric detail and experimentation of the genre.
Vital Weekly, Frans de Ward, #585 (2007 Jul 17):
ETTRICK - FEEDERS OF RAVENS (LP by Not Not Fun Records)
We came across Ettrick before, loud and clear, one could say. 'The Infinite Horned Abomination' (see Vital Weekly 500) was their entrance, Jacob Heule and Jap Korber, playing drums and saxophones and sometimes switch roles. Here they return with a likewise slab of energy, power and noise, this time in the form of a LP. The previous releases were recorded live but here's the turn to the studio. Recording noise is not always a thing many people do right, but in the case of Ettrick, hats off. Clear, crisp and deep playing of drums and saxophone in the same unrelentness spirit as before. Total free music of total free form mayhem. No electronics are used in this recording, yet it sounds like a big crash course in noise. Some tracks are dueling saxophones, or dueling drums or a battle between both ends. It's the kind of noise I like, because it sounds so different than the regular noise assault which land on this desk. Quite hard hit to the face and play loud is more than recommended.
Vital Weekly #585
Apples and Heroin, S. Kobak, 2007 Jun 9:
... Now, self-professed "death jazz" mongers Ettrick kick out the jams with Feeders of Ravens. While the band certainly does not freak speakers with layered skronk like Borbetomagus, they sound like Albert Ayler imitating a No-Wave band with Ed Wilcox at the skins. How exactly does chaotic-but-structured soul pair with soulless structured chaos? Very well. Matter-of-fact, wouldn't mind listening to this band for the majority of the day. EXCELLENT!
, Apples and Heroin
Foxy Digitalis, Grant Capes, 2007 Mar 13:
I wasn't there when the Berlin Wall fell. I wasn't there when the atomic bomb exploded in the morning air. But I was fucking there when they recorded this set of bone-shattering, ego-melting music. Double drums, double saxophones, two dudes just hammering it out any way possible, screaming every once and awhile to let us know that they aren’t just Terminators sent to eradicate our souls.
Ettrick, hailing from San Francisco, really goes against that whole peace and love feeling of the city, focusing more on the death and dismemberment plan. They measure out lengthy spans of drum and saxophone intricacies, varying the density and intensity widely over this twenty-minute track. There is really something here for everyone, from squonky sax duets to limb-breaking battles on the skins, to even playful metal on metal collisions.
Not Not Fun is one of many labels to release this series of Ettrick captured live, which I imagine is really the only way you can experience this work. Music of this intensity cannot be planned out ahead of time without diluting the confrontation in it, and the two fellows of Ettrick don’t seen intent on watering this sound down at all.
A lovely 3" cd-r, packaged lovingly by Not Not Fun in a case adorned with crushed tiles, presumably from the ruined art gallery where this show was recorded, SAD vol 2 is a devastating document, which shifts just as quickly into eerie bouts of beauty and sadness before dive-bombing back into the lake of burning blood. My only criticism is that even this diversity of sound is going to wear off after a bit, and as with Hella and Lightning Bolt before, something gimmicky is unfortunately bound to happen. But let's hope the Dark Lord's powers keep mediocrity at bay for just a little longer.
Hail Satan and Miles Davis! 8/10
Outer Space Gamelan, 2006 Dec 5:
You need to understand something - there's just some bands I'm destined to love without ever having heard a single note of their music. Am I a sucker? Yes, maybe. But that's how it is. When I heard Ettrick described as a black metal/free jazz duo, that was it. I was sold. I liked them even before this disc arrived at my house. And now I understand they actually have a full-length CD-R available too, which I also ordered without having a heard a single note of. The cross-pollination of metal and jazz is such a brilliant idea that it's a wonder so few people have tried it to date. The obvious name is John Zorn's Naked City (and, to a lesser degree, PainKiller) but that's more rooted in jazz than anything else...and there have been some prog metal bands trying it like Cynic or Atheist or Ephel Duath or Dysrhythmia but then that's more like metal bands with jazz-ish leanings...and even then it's almost always associated with prog metal and we all know the kind of negative connotations that can conjure up. Silentist is probably the only group I can think of who comes close to a jazz/metal fusion but they're too far out to be pinned down as one or the other or both. What the world needs is a band raised equally on obscurist black metal and classic ESP-era recordings...what the world needs is a band to combine these two loves into an unholy cacophonious union...what the world needs is a band who have Rashied Ali and Abruptum listed side-by-side in the "influences" part of their MySpace page...what the world needs...is Ettrick! (insert sound of gong being smashed)
Now, don't get me wrong, "Sudden Arrhythmic Death" is a monster. A 15-minute-long monster at that. But it's not exactly the perfect jazz/metal band as I've envisioned it, although they come pretty damn close. Basically the deal is that the Ettrick duo - San Francisco's Jacob Felix Heule and Jay Korber - both double up on drums while one mans the alto saxophone (Jacob) and the other mans the tenor saxophone (Jay). Sometimes, as on the opening few minutes of first and only track "Feeders of Ravens", they play together like bulls locking horns. Sometimes one mans the sax while the other takes the kit. Sometimes they switch. And then of course other times still they lock into the fourth combination, which is both guys playing drums. So right there you've got quite a lot of sound potential floating around but it's safe to say it doesn't convey too strong a feeling of black metal per se. More like grindcore, since the drumming here is seriously frantic. And the sax is heavy too...the opening sax duet is unbelievably harsh and sure to take a few years off your life if you listen to it turned up too loud. But then the drums kick in at such a furiously blazing pace you'd have to think they were machine-made if it wasn't for the fact that this cut was recorded live (on April 29th of this year in fact). But holy shit when the duo truly get going, they can outpace any current jazz duo like of couple of impalas sprinting towards the horizon. Of course they don't have any of the intricacies of those other groups since it's basically playing almost full blast as often as possible, but you don't need fucking intricacies when your album is called "Sudden Arrhythmic Death". Both J.'s are hell bandits on the kits, frequently choosing to play the sides/rims instead of the actual skins and when they both get on at the same time it makes for a vertigo-inducing psyche-pummelling soup, no shit. At their most aggressive I'd put Ettrick on equal terms with grindcore overlords like Fear of God, World, Arsedestroyer and so on. I guess they've got definite ties to Abruptum though in that both bands utilize improvisation (Ettrick moreso out of necessity since there's no way you could chart and plot the kind of polyrhythms being thrown down here). Gather Bennink, Corsano, Pearson, Graves, Mounier, Blair, Portnoy, Chippendale, even the dude from the Berzerker on their own kits in a one and a half flat, stick a coupla brass throats in the middle and have them play along to Napalm Death and Pig Destroyer records and that's the kind of intensity Ettrick are bringing to the table, with just two men on the job!
I knew a blind buy like this couldn't do me wrong, and boy was I ever right..."Sudden Arrhythmic Death" is straight up one of the best new anythings I've heard from anyone in the last anytime. Full marks and a highest recommendation, especially if you're an adventurous metal fan or the kind of jazz head who wondered if there was life beyond Last Exit that didn't involve shitty no-wave acts. Here's hoping the LP lives up to my already-lofty expectations, but how could it not? All they have to do is show up and it's guaranteed gold.
San Francisco Bay Guardian, Kate Izquierdo, 2006 Nov 29
Failure, so thrive
Black metal, free jazz, and improv skronk — these are the things Ettrick are made of
"Ever heard of Wisconsin Death Trip?" Jacob Heule asks. Ettrick's alto sax–playing half and I are in my living room discussing the rigors of life in the Midwest as they pertain to the metal-listening youth of today. Heule, a Wisconsin native, has jokingly — or maybe not so jokingly — cited Michael Lesy's book about the disintegration of the 19th-century town Black River Falls as we make loose connections between freezing cold weather, insanity, and locales that death metal and its fans call home. He's certain of one thing: "Black metal is the perfect stuff when you don't feel like a human anymore. When I was a receptionist at a medical center, I got really into it because I just felt terrible about certain things. It was a dehumanizing job. Cold, bleak black metal — I could relate to it."
Ettrick are indeed a black metal duo, and their music harbors the telltale signs: ferocious blast-beats, gargantuan expanses of pitch-black noise, and drums like a self-propelled howitzer gone berserk. They also happen to be a free-jazz pairing as well, in which Heule and partner Jay Korber, both drummers and saxophonists, rotate between the two instruments to create a grueling improvisational skronk. A well-circulated YouTube video featuring their collaboration with Weasel Walter reveals a dimly lit scene of busted drum kits with the bleating screams of Korber's tenor sax piercing the deafening cloud of beats raining down from the stage. For all its grandiose chaos, however, the players never lose track of each other in the din. Heule credits this to time spent practicing. "It's difficult to improvise, but it's a skill that you can work on," he says. "We have developed certain patterns that we call on sometimes, but we don't really discuss things ahead of time. We realized that it sounds a lot better if we don't."
Ettrick’s beginnings hark back to 2004, when Heule was looking to sublet his practice space and Korber answered his ad. Korber — a Pittsburgh native who shares his bandmate's love of brutal music and calls Immortal's Battles in the North "one of the best black metal albums ever made" — had coincidentally been playing sax for a few years as well. (Heule has played the instrument since age 10.) As it turned out, they were even recording Ettrick-style music independent of one another. "We both had recordings that we had made of ourselves, overdubbing all the instruments onto each other, drums and sax, but we were doing it all ourselves," Heule explains with a laugh. "So then we found the 'other guy.' We could play live now!"
A year and a half later, Ettrick recorded their first self-released album, Infinite Horned Abomination, in their practice space. Though starkly minimalist (doom-laden atmospherics are largely restricted to the first track), Infinite Horned Abomination hints at the separate yet intertwined paths Heule and Korber have forged. Their second disc, Sudden Arrhythmic Death (American Grizzly, 2006), is an absolute must-have, a 15-minute live session recorded in Portland, Ore., that begins as an achingly radiant saxophone duet before it explodes into a maniacal barrage of beats that push the eardrum till white noise is the only sense the brain can make. It concludes with Ettrick's signature: bloodcurdling screams and the sound of drum kits being destroyed.
THE SOUND OF MAYHEM
Heule muses on the carnage during their recent tour: "The last show in LA was pretty destructive. I broke my snare stand in half. I dropped my kick drum. I wasn't really thinking about what it would break if I just picked it up and dropped it."
Korber amassed similar injuries, breaking both heads on his snare drum. He confesses that his sax is "a piece of shit to begin with" and is sure that his other band, Sergio Iglesias and the Latin Love Machine, isn't helping matters: "Last time [Sergio played] I rolled over it a couple times."
The improv community in the Bay Area is a tightly intermingled mass of weeds that entangles every act in its path. Ettrick are no exception, having collaborated not only with the aforementioned Weasel Walter but also with Moe! Staiano (Moe!kestra!, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum), Mike Guarino of Oaxacan, and most recently, Tralphaz, a one-person pedal feedback assault.
Tralphaz embodies what Heule enjoys most about their chosen genre. "One of my favorite things seeing improvisers play is when things just start going totally wrong, and they bring it back," says the saxophonist. "I've seen Tralphaz do that a couple of times."
Ettrick follow that lead, constantly pushing their black cloud of noise into failure's clutches. They hope to tempt even more sonic dissolution with their forthcoming album, Feeders of Ravens (Not Not Fun), which will be released on vinyl in early 2007. Korber is matter-of-fact about the strategy. "There's always a chance that it's going to fail," he confesses.
Heule nods. "That's one of the best reasons to do it."
The Onion AV Club (Boulder/Denver), 2006 Oct 5:
With all the squawks, rasps, and synapse-smacking harmonics of John Zorn and Albert Ayler, the San Francisco duo Ettrick wields saxophones like some kind of pan-dimensional alarm clocks—or, at the very least, malfunctioning dentist's drills. But like the best free jazz, there's a deep intuition and discipline at work within the band's music. Jacob Felix Heule and Jay Korber switch from saxes to drums throughout the course of their sets, doubling up and breaking apart at seemingly random moments that in reality serve to punctuate both the tension and release (okay, eruption) of their cosmic noises. To top it all off, the twosome splices bits of Orthrelm-level metal into the frenetic jazz on Infinite Horned Abomination.
Aquarius Records, May 2006:
On the same label as the more spaced out free-form black jazz ambience of Hodag (reviewed elsewhere on this list), Ettrick on the surface seems like they must be a way more metal proposition, the record's called Infinite Horned Abomination for chrissakes! And their logo is of the spiky illegible classic metal style, but in fact, this is way more of a sputtery skronky free jazz, with wild horns and chaotic bursts of sputtering drum splatter. Each half of this duo handles both sax and drums, each player safely ensconced in their own channel, sometimes it's two horns, sometimes it's horn and drums, sometimes all drums, a dizzying barrage coming scattershot from both the left and right channels, as if there were some sort of free jazz monkeys screaming and beating their chests wildly in each channel, pelting the listener with sonic stones and hurling great handfuls of free jazz dung! Intense and aggressive and furiously freaked out. You might think you're tough, jazz sissy, and we're happy to let you have a go, but this stuff is dangerous, and sharp, and sort of scary, so stand back and let the more highly decorated free jazz warriors step forward, unless you're feeling particularly brave today...
San Francisco Bay Guardian, Kate Izquierdo, 2006 May 10:
With 6/6/06 so rapidly approaching, it's comforting to know that we've got hell's house band right here in our own city. Enter Ettrick, a sax and drum duo that offers up a bludgeoning amalgam of black metal and skronk sure to summon the apocalypse. Jacob Felix Heule and Jay Korber rotate instruments to create an excruciating free jazz that feels like being trapped in a metal shed during a thunderstorm. Noise fans have no business missing this show.
Willamette Week, Michael Byrne, 2006 April 26
Most folks I know would rather be hit in the face for an hour than deal with either free jazz or black metal for longer than five minutes. I'm usually inclined to agree, but the sax-and-drums duo Ettrick, whose stated concept is combining the two, isn't terribly heavy and makes some sense in a Freudian way – something about the latent aggression of free jazz as revealed through a black-metal filter (mostly a pounding drum). Or maybe I'm just a sucker.
Paris Transatlantic, Dan Warburton, January 2006:
Ettrick is a two man outfit from San Francisco consisting of Jacob Felix Heule and Jay Korber (no relation to Tomas, methinks) who both play saxophones (Heule alto, Korber tenor) and drums. As you might have guessed from the album title, these lads are coming at free jazz from Black Metal, though I rather suspect that die-hard aficionados of those lovable Scandinavian homicidal maniacs might find Infinite Horned Abomination a trifle intellectual. John Zorn's flirtation with hardcore of a couple of decades ago is a little closer to home, as is Paul Flaherty's recent power duo with Chris Corsano. But that pair's Hated Music is a hard act to follow, even if Heule and Korber are just as energetic. There's a noble tradition across the pond of wild men blowing themselves silly and giving the finger to straight ahead jazz snobs (whom, you will recall, Mr Zorn advised to "eat shit") – if your collection includes the aforementioned Mr Flaherty and seasoned brain melters like Borbetomagus, this is one you'll enjoy checking out. What it lacks in subtlety it certainly makes up for in pure adrenalin rush. Play loud.–DW
Paris Transatlantic, January 2006
CMJ, Christopher R. Weingarten (2006 Jan 6)
San Francisco free-improv mutant Jacob Felix Heule sounds like Dolphy but wants to roll with Darkthrone, playing icky jazz-noise with the dark soul of a church-torchin’ black metal Viking overlord. His band Ettrick is some inspired downtown-styled skronk, but the real trip to Valhalla is Hodag, his noise-doom duo with bassist Chadwick Rntnen. Their self-titled, self-released, self-screened debut doodles corpsepaint on Albert Ayler, sounding like jazz-spazzes trying to claw their way out of Xasthur’s murky coffin.
CMJ: SKZZZ (January 2006)
bran(...)pos (via Myspace 12/30/05)
free jazz/free mad as presented through black metal.
a really great idea as the album start is like the intro to a Leviathan album and then launches into pedaltothemetalogical-freebasing drum/sax duo reminiscent of charles gayle style hard-blowing and made me pull out the late-90s Cygus Adapter CD of 99Hooker/Tom Scandura duos in a similar style though this recording is more dry not drenched in the reverb of 90s-era noiseviafreejazz. the versatility here is not in dynamics but in the fact that both players switch off on drumkit and tenor/alto saxes, so you have a couple of tracks of sax/drum blowing, one track of split-channel sax duos, one track of split-channel drum duos. i'd love to see these guys trio with M.Guarino (drums from Oaxacan) to fill in the few spaces between with hyperspeed micro-rhythms on blocks and bells + to hear the sax duo in long tones (which is especially effective on this CD) alongside drums would be a great plow to the brain. Always glad to get my noise fix via accoustics, I'd be happy as hell if the noise bookers in this town (SF/Bay Area) continue to plug these guys in as synapse glue between the AC/DC crowd.
Vital Weekly, Frans de Ward, #500 (Nov 2005):
The website of Heule doesn't give us much extra information on the artists they just released on two CDRs, but I believe Jacob Heule is a drummer. As Hodag he teams up with Chadwick Rntnen on bass guitar. Their five tracks are however built up from the meanest noise, in which a drumkit or a bassguitar are hard to recognize. Pretty harsh stuff going on, also pretty free and wildplaying with these boys. They have 'quieter' moments available here, but usually they explode in your face, when the feedback and distortion comes back in. Free improvisation for sure, but in the strict realms of noise.
Jacob Heule is also part of Ettrick, another duo, here with Jap Korber. They both play drums and saxophones here, but switch instruments. Heule however is always on the left channel and Korber (no relationship to Tomas) on the right channel. Here too force is at work, but in a totally different way. The instruments are to be recognized as such but the two play this with great energy (and pain, no doubt). Energetic free improvisation, with hardly a moment of rest. Less the feedback of guitars, but with the addition of drums, this comes close to the Borbetomagus sound. Certainly a blast that leaves the listener behind, exhausted in his chair - that is if you can find the energy to play it in one go and at a loud volume. For me the Ettrick release was more engaging, since the noise type of Hodag is something I heard before and Ettrick made a more solid impression throughout. (FdW)
Vital Weekly #500