As a supplement to our celebration of Kevin Drumm’s landmark 2008 LP Imperial Distortion, we’ve compiled a five-track guide, intended as an introduction to the Drumm’s catalogue. Scroll down to sample each release. 


Drumm’s first full-length emerged back in 1997 and was the point where the wider world began, albeit slowly, to get to grips with the guitarist’s thoughtful, fractured constructions. The eponymous album is a delirious selection of tabletop guitar manipulations – each track is untitled and makes up a crucial part of the stop-start, crumbling whole. It’s hard to pick a specific standout, but the third piece is maybe the most complete representation of the record with its gong-like string-smacks and rapid, distorted slices. None of Drumm’s catalogue is particularly easy listening, but it’s reassuring to know that he made his voice so utterly clear this early in his solo career.

(COMEDY, LP, 2000)

Recorded by Jim O’Rourke in 1996, ‘Organ’ is one of Drumm’s most confounding pieces, and appears in two forms on the brilliant Comedy. The full 55-minute piece eventually emerged on the 5CD boxset Necro Acoustic, but this truncated version was the first most of us heard of Drumm’s heady organ treatments. While his tabletop guitar experiments were very much informed by Keith Rowe et al, this particular study (and to a degree Comedy’s predecessor Second) showed off Drumm’s deep understanding of minimalist forms, something which would re-appear later on Imperial Distortion. ‘Organ’ is no sublimated meditation however; the familiar sound is fed through layers of distortion and rhythmically interrupted by a foghorn-like sub bass that’s simply impossible to disregard.


There are few noise statements as definitive as Sheer Hellish Miasma. Long regarded as the pinnacle of Drumm’s career, it stood, and indeed still stands as a monolithic and perfectly measured example of 20th century extreme music. Originally released in 2002 on the Mego imprint, Sheer Hellish Miasma managed to succinctly summarize noise as a whole up until that point, and give the scene enough of a jolt that its influence can still be heard even now. ‘Inferno’ is the record’s gruesome zenith, and clocking in at twenty-five minutes (almost half of the album’s original run time) manages to work as an apt introduction for unprimed listeners. With a collision of overdriven oscillators and thick, oppressive white noise it’s startling that Drumm manages to surface with any trace of composition, yet ‘Inferno’ settles itself as a grand noise symphony, and after over a decade still sounds totally unique and absolutely overwhelming.


In many ways 2004’s Impish Tyrant is Drumm’s only tangible follow-up to the destructive Sheer Hellish Miasma. It finds the musician at both his most visceral and most metal-indebted, and its opening untitled track is easily the most naked example of this. Champing with riffs, the track hiccups through half-digested bites of distorted guitar, jump cutting in a manner not totally dissimilar to Drumm’s West Coast peers Sissy Spacek. Drumm distances himself however by totally disregarding anything that might be confused with accepted form, and allowing each riff to dissolve in a tape-saturated swamp of wet, hot overdrive.


Reportedly an odds and sods collection of Drumm’s lower key work, some old and some more recent, it’s a miracle that Imperial Distortion holds together as well as it does. That it’s one of the most rewarding records of his entire canon is more astounding still. ‘Snow II’ opens the album’s second disc, and seamlessly transitions from creepy, haunted gusts to the kind of soft-focus oscillations that made Aphex Twin’s seminal Selected Ambient Works II so compelling. Perfectly paced and delicately engineered, Drumm never allows the track to teeter into new age territory, and his choice of sounds makes it near impossible to date. Ageless and crystalline, ‘Snow II’ is simply more evidence of Drumm’s ability to handle two extremes with an identical level of mastery.

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