mark steiner black holeBlack Hole - Mark Steiner and his Problems (Rabben Records) 

Mark Steiner, expat New Yorker (think Piker Ryan's Folly), Oslosian and globe-trotter, has released his third LP. Being a busy chap, it's been a few years between road-trips Down Under.

COVID won't have helped. Remember COVID when large numbers of otherwise normal folks suddenly demonstrated that they couldn't tell the difference between a virus and a bug, came up with all manner of preposterous and completely impossible conspiracy theories (including the one that the deep state is ruled by giant lizard aliens), and generally gave the impression that education for the masses is clearly a waste of time, money and effort?

You don't remember? You don't remember when the government took us all to this new planet and decided not to tell the stupid people because it would look like ..

Oh. Anyway. 

Let's start again.

“Black Hole” is a bloody great record. When I finish, I play it again. I want to get into the gaps between the tracks, feel the dust in the studio. Your ribcage will shudder to Leon Muraglia's bass and Mark's baritone guitar. You'll enter into a love-hate relationship with Romek Paluch-Edwards' guitar. Ted Parsons is the lock-step you need to march you to the electric chair - you know you want it, baby.

It's been a while between records for Mark. Every time he emerges with a new one, there's a clear development; of themes, thought, maturity (occasionally not, but hey) ... in between having an actual life, Mark puts time and work into his songs. 

“Black Hole” slides into you, then reveals itself as a big, tensely coiled beast, guitars and bass setting up an enormous muscular backdrop for Mark's distinctive voice. Even so, despite its power and majesty, it's only the beginning. Figure it out for yourself. Suffice to say this LP is somewhere between the US and Europe, with the best of the cultural underworld.

Was it a tragedy when they tried to steal your soul?
Was it mind over matter when they seized control?

This is such a great song. It drives truth like a pair of drills ...

A strange calamity when they took you in
They pointed with their fingers like you committed a sin
Your gave your trust, they took away your freedom
Locked you up, left you to rot in that dark prison
There’s a black hole tearing at the sun

Ingunn Holmen's echoing backing vocals merely adds to the horror, Pavel Cingl's violin fair raises the bar.

The lyrics were written a year or two back, but resonate even more in our brave new world of slavering dickheads and dictators, of a Europe on the brink of a long slow slide to a third world war, with civilians tortured simply because the Russians ... can. So, these Russian adults with a chronic tall-poppy syndrome, torture people mostly, it seems, because they live better than they do, and have better expectations. And, of course, we're so accustomed to peace that we can't imagine anyone wanting to really and truly-ruly chuck it all away in favour of stupidity, misery and fear and privation. 

Which is one reason why a chap called Adolf got away with so much international bollocks in the 1930s. Foul chap; schoolkids have been puzzled ever since why he got away with so much so quickly. Same reason Putin's getting away with the same sort of thing.

I mean, we all have expectations. We don't always understand that we do, nor what we want from each other, or ourselves. Remember the COVID lock-downs? Remember the slew of utterly uninteresting Covid LPs? While 'Black Hole' was recorded back then, the songs are not about that period of inertial freedom, nor is it about sitting on the porch poking your navel while the cat swats dragonflies and thinking about ordering another bottle of whisky. No, I suspect Covid simply gave Mark the opportunity to put the already-written songs together.

From the first time I saw Mark Steiner play live (at the Metro Hotel here in Adelaide) I've been struck by how powerful he can be, without histrionics, hyperbole or running around. There's a tuff gravitas about the man, his presence, and his guitar sound is a kind of tangible presence. Leaving one of Mark's gigs is a bit like having a physical shadow at your side for a few days... “Somehow you found the key and made it back outside”...

This outfit has Mark produce a sharp, graceful record which somehow manages to be heavy and light. Perhaps you'll recognise a few turns of expression, a few vocal timbres. Perhaps you'll recognise a stylistic pass on guitar, a few slices of metal. But it's all original, positively steaming with life and determination, self-belief, regret and emission.

Yes, alright, so on the surface, “Black Hole” is a 'breakup LP'... but between the lines is someone balancing their life through temptation, consequences, punishment, shame and ... rising again. That's what really makes a man, in my view, not the posturing tough macho bollocks which every man has to either confront or avoid - or join.

The band are, I see from the press release, “a new gang of ex-pats living in Oslo. American drummer Ted Parsons (known for his work with Prong, Swans, Godflesh, Jesu, Metallic Taste of Blood, Keith Levene and Killing Joke); British-Italian Leon Muraglia (Orange & Blue, Radio 9, Salvatore, OMD) on heated bass; and London guitarist Romek Paluch-Edwards operates a distinctive counter to Steiner's Fender baritone.

Norwegian chanteuse Ingunn Holmen debuts as Steiner’s latest ‘problem’, and her vocals add veritas and enigma, as does Line Saus; you may be familiar with Czech violinist Pavel Cingl’s glitter and wash, while Danish wingman Thomas Borge contributes more decadent sounds'” 

“Insomnia” is a similarly juggernautish creature, the bass and guitar rubbing up and sharpening each other. It's an ingenious hook, too, and yes of course it's a break-up song - it doesn't feel sorry for itself though. Mark's vocals tell the story dead-pan, “the silence in this bedroom/ No longer feels the same', set against Romek Paluch-Edwards' chiming guitar gives me goose-bumps. 

Next, “Feels Like Home'” which really digs the dagger into the theme ... honestly, this one should feature in a dozen TV series, and be a jingle for temptation of anything from political grifters to eating too much meat without [insert brand name here] laxative. (Don't mix the two, folks, don't mix the two)

Ignited by the intrigue
You said that you were mine
Then began the sickness
Or was it something in my drink
I kept seeing fallen angels
As I began to sink

“Feels Like Home'”is a dark liquid grind, reminding me a little of Iggy Pop, but yeah, that's a trite comparison (maybe an out-take from his LP on Animal Records back in 1982?). I'd like to play “Black Hole” to someone who thought grunge was the best thing they'd ever heard.

Mark predates grunge, by the way. 

“Love Hate Love” surely, IS a lost Iggy track. It's fantastic, rippling and riffing along, with Paluch-Edwards adding a nasty sharp edge. This is brutal, brutalising. By now you want to see this band. The breakup song to end all breakup songs, it rocks so hard Pocketwatch and the Stones will both want to cover it. Hell, I want my outfit to cover it.

Do you hate me because I was born?
Do you love me because you were just bored
Do you love me because I had self-respect
Do you hate me now that I'm just a defect reject

Some of this horrific abuse continues in the appallingly jaunty “The Fuck-up'” Smeared lipstick, stained sheets and dog shit. I can imagine a crowd singing along to verses like;

Every time you invite me to your bed
Somehow I end up on the floor
And each time you leave and go to work
|I wake up feeling like I am such a whore

Oh, those guitars. If your system will stand it, play the song with those levels way up. Then go back ... it's funny, savage and ruinous. You'll love it. In fact, throughout this LP it's difficult to hear which elements are the most spectacular. If I could see this band over a few nights, I'd end up watching one person at a time. Just riveting.

There's a great video, too..


“Monster” changes the pattern; you could quite easily imagine this one being played on MTV (even now), with its gentle guitars and crooning Steiner.

Careful what you wish for
What you find is yours to keep
Try to swim, just don’t drink of me 
If you should taste me in your sleep

 That's not the half of it, by the way. “Float” is next, and continues a beautiful, tainted progression. 

Ok, I'm going to stop here. If you haven't figured it out, as far as I'm concerned, “Black Hole” is an essential piece of musical kit.

You want comparisons, I know. All I can think of is Mark's extraordinary trajectory over the years, and the struggles he's pushed through to get to a state which many of us have denied ourselves. And, his rejuvenation.

A few more videos accompany the songs; you'll see them on Mark's Bandcamp page

“Black Hole” sets a standard, an emotive throb, if you like. I tend to enjoy beauty, release, imprisonment and trauma in music, in its many varied forms. If I had to attempt a definition of “Black Hole”, it would be perhaps something to do with the 90s, too smart to be grunge, too dark for pop, sometimes grisly, often somewhat magnificent. Surprisingly, I find it very in keeping with the zeitgeist, but hey, what would I know about that?

Siri Bjoner of Puls website thinks it's kind of “swamp noir”, which I will politely disagree with, because I think it's far, far too simplistic. Mind, Bjoner is spot-on when he writes” “Mark's lyrics are raw. I have no better words for it. Frighteningly recognizable.”

“Black Hole” is a stone dark grooving beast that shifts uneasily in the dark; I love the sound of it, crisp and muscular ... the depth and balance of the creature, the wounds, the dried blood (etcetera...) on the sheets ... again, Bjoner: “It rocks, it's tough and energetic and your legs want to dance”.

“Black Hole” is also glorious, elegant, ugly and rough.


Buy it