When Gary Mundy formed Ramleh and the Broken Flag label in 1982, he was a primary participant in the UK power electronics scene, which attempted to outdo the industrial template first drawn by Throbbing Gristle. Very much a product of their time, his recordings were violent sonic bursts laced with proto-fascist and misogynist imagery, given vulgar titles meant to shock. Mundy and co-conspirator Philip Best quickly rose from this noise ghetto by applying the scene’s best aspects (experimentation, improvisation, volume) to a more traditional rock format. Along with its sister group Skullflower, Ramleh laid the foundations for improvisational noise rock with a stubborn intensity that catered to no one. The band rarely issued records in quantities greater than 500, live shows were few and far between and cover art and liner notes were filled with cryptic drawings, photographs and abstract writings. Their sound remained reliably rooted in an unwavering formula: plodding heavy drums, an endlessly repetitive low-end bass groove and wave upon wave of guitar screech.
With tracks by Ramleh, Consumer Electronics (a solo project by Best, who was 14 at the time), Whitehouse and others who followed their lead, the Neuengamme compilation was a pivotal release in the Broken Flag catalog, and established the label in the experimental noise scene. Also from the same era, when most of the label’s releases were cassette-only, the We Created It, Lets Take It Over series provides a glimpse into the early work of Mundy/Best. (Beyond the tape realm, the vinyl A Return to Slavery split LP is included on Vol. 2, and “The Hand of Glory” 7-inch is on Vol. 3.) These recordings display a savage, raw intensity distinct from the pink noise tirades of Whitehouse and that ilk. Ramleh’s work was more wall-of-sound, with electronics constantly pushed into the red, alongside indecipherably shrieked vocals. The tracks appear to have been improvised; overloaded circuits and feedback abound as they cut out and begin again at random, with variable velocity and intensity. The slow, bass throb of “Phenol” stands out on Vol. 1, displaying the first signs of Ramleh’s future direction. A migraine is guaranteed for the uninitiated.
With the exception of a few compilation appearances and small-issue cassettes, Ramleh was inactive from 1984 to 1989 as Mundy (without Best) focused on other projects. He formed Toll and began utilizing guitars with electronics, recording Christ Knows with Paul Lemos of Controlled Bleeding, Tim Gane (McCarthey/Stereolab) and others. The tracks have a post-punk feel, with a healthy dose of sprawling noise workouts. Although credited as Matthew Frith, the significant new participant was Matthew Bower, who had released cassettes of his guitar noise as Total on Broken Flag and would shortly form Skullflower with Mundy. In that band, Mundy provided the deep bass riffs to anchor the torrents of droning noise (on the first two albums).
When Mundy launched the second phase of Ramleh in 1989, with Best again on hand, he focused on this sludgy drone with singular precision. Grudge for Life cements that formula on relatively short tracks that reached straight for the jugular. Muscular drum/bass work provides the foundation for blasts of frenzied guitar. Mundy took the sound of Skullflower and trimmed away what he could. The refined and confident Blowhole stretches out for more than ten minutes of “Shit of the Alchemist.” After collaborating with Italian noise artist M.T.T. on his Caught From Behind album, they shared a split release. Crystal Revenge mines similar terrain as Blowhole, with “Caligula” providing a particular heady stew of droning intensity. One of their most noteworthy recordings.
Homeless proved to be a pinnacle for Ramleh. By adding Anthony di Franco and Stuart Dennison, both from Skullflower, Mundy and Best incorporated a denser, freer sound (touching upon similar terrain then being explored by Skullflower) while retaining their own identity. The title track is all lumbering intensity, while “Kansas City Bomber” is a solid 15 minutes of unbridled stringed chaos, with Dennison’s unrelenting drum work a definite highpoint.
Works III collects outtakes from Homeless and combines them with the unreleased Shooters Hill album from 1992. The leftover Homeless material, entitled “Soundcheck Changeling,” nearly outshines the original; one untitled 17-minute piece stakes out wholly new territory, with Ramleh using the studio in a twisted, dub fashion. Shooters Hill is standard fare for the duo, lots of familiar rumbling lead bass lines that anchor piercing squalls of guitar noise. Unfortunately, the use of a drum machine subtracts from the power, leaving many tracks sounding flat and empty. “In for the Kill” breaks the monotony with near-hardcore tempo and what could be Mundy literally yanking the strings off his bass. “Oedipus Rex” rescues the affair with cascading guitar lines that crash off one another, building into a frenzy of electrified broken accordions attempting a LaMonte Young piece.
Adieu, All You Judges celebrates the bond between Ramleh and Skullflower, proclaiming Broken Flag to be the “spiritual home” of both bands. Ramleh’s live contribution, “Toronto Blessing,” is actually a droning rave-up of their “Pristine Womankind” B-side. Be Careful What You Wish For is Ramleh’s highest-profile release but also its blandest, as the group goes through the motions while leaning too hard in a rock direction.
Ramleh’s final studio album, Boeing, is a powerful ode to its singular aesthetic. Each track rumbles along blindly toward the light Mundy has always sought to extinguish. Adding a Moog to the mix helps, making Boeing unique in the catalog. “Time for a Little Something,” a barely recognizable cover of Neu!’s “Weissensee,” is mesmerizing, an apt swansong to 15 years of droning mayhem.
The posthumously released Too Many Miles collects the extremely limited-edition 7-inch singles Ramleh released on obscure labels around the world. They were a remarkable singles band, albeit not in the traditional sense. The extreme cacophony of “Loser Patrol” and the warped riff of “Trapped Aircraft” make them stand alongside the group’s finest tracks.