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Class ?

Main Category: Avantgarde
Also applicable: Mope Rock, Celtic/Medieval
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



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Year Of Release: 1984
Overall rating =

I gotcha. The worst thing about the Apocalypse will be that it'll take forever to finish!


Track listing: 1) Ach Golgotha; 2) The Mystical Body Of Christ In Chorazaim; [BONUS TRACKS:] 3) No Hiding From The Blackbird; 4) The Burial Of The Sardine; 5) Lashtal; 6) Salt; 7) Maldoror Rising; 8) Maldoror Falling.

The original LP edition of Current '93's first and most groundbreaking album only had two tracks, but it was more than enough at the time. Especially considering the titles, of course: 'Ach Golgotha (Maldoror Is Dead)' and 'The Mystical Body Of Christ In Chorazaim (The Great In The Small)'. Talk about your prog influences, but fear not: this is as far removed from 'prog' in the traditional sense as it should be removed from people with unstable nervous systems.

What David Tibet was trying to achieve here was to take his direct influences - Throbbing Gristle; the industrial scene; Psychic TV, where he himself was actually coming from - and carry them to such an extreme that the very notion of "extreme" would have to be forever reversed. The basic logic behind this album is easily deductible: 'Okay, everything we did before was noisy, defiant, and unlistenable, but it wasn't exactly horrific. If we don't make it burn your psyche down to cinders this time, what are we fit for? Nothing except going back to reading Tibetan scriptures'.

So, for most of its duration, this album here feels like the soundtrack to a really cheesy, really goofy, and at the same time really scary horror flick. You know how some of these flicks are so goofy and silly that it would be embarrassing for you to confess to your pals that you're actually scared by it? And yet deep inside you know you are scared, just because you're a human and being scared is an essential part of the scary human nature. This is what early Current '93 is like. Not scary in a Black Sabbath way, no; Sabbath music might have been quite 'horrific' in concept, but it's hard to imagine even a quintessential Sabbath song (like 'Black Sabbath' itself) actually used to good effect in a horror movie. On the other hand, the "music" of 'Ach Golgotha' is horror-flick music personified (I, of course, mean the "medieval/ Edgar Poe" kind of flicks rather than a Jaws or a Freddie Krueger movie, you understand). And since the latest CD edition pushes the running length up to a bleeding eighty-four minutes, including two lengthy live performances and three more shorter studio thingies, it could just as well accompany your average horror movie flick all the way.

I'll be honest with you: I have not been able to sit through all of the eighty-four minutes in one sitting, not ever. There is music I like, and there is music I dislike, and then there is stuff that physically makes me ill after a while. I do have a high temperance level, I suppose - neither Captain Beefheart nor the Incredible String Band nor even Yoko Ono can push me off just like that. But David Tibet can - the very moment that I make the mistake of concentrating my attention upon any of this sonic nightmare. As long as it's just background music, it's okay. But every now and then you realize that only a well jaded Satanist has any reason to treat this as background music; any normal person putting this in the background is like an average Joe coming home to relax after a hard day's work and popping an old battered copy of Straw Dogs in his VCR while chewing on the burger. "Oh", you hurriedly exclaim, "my mistake! I have to take this as an active artistic statement!" So you push up the volume and start the intensive listening procedure. And if you can take it for five minutes without barfing, congratulate yourself - you are a jaded Satanist, and can revert to using this as background music.:)

Anyway, here's my account of the sonic landscapes (calling this "music" would probably be an offense to Tibet) that did manage to penetrate my ears over several disparate periods of time. As far as I understand, David Tibet personally is responsible for about 90% of this mess, even if on many of the tracks he is collaborating with Steven Stapleton of the Nurse With Wound fame ('The Burial Of The Sardine' is actually credited to Nurse With Wound - apparently, it was taken from an early single with one side Current '93, one side Nurse With Wound), and on a few of the bonus tracks he also brings in John Balance of Coil fame.

And I'll be the first to agree that 'Ach Golgotha' sounds fine and dandy for the first three or four minutes. Tibet's got this really cool production style going on - dirty and dangerous, yet at the same time minimalistic. The only real instrument on the track seems to have been a piano with only the bass notes in actual use, plus all kinds of unimaginable feedback - always dark, doomy, and dungeonish - squeezed out of it, although later on Tibet adds electronic keyboards which he also brutalizes in a way that Keith Emerson could only dream of. And, of course, there's the vocals. Let somebody else, not me, decipher what he's actually pronouncing out there. Mostly some gibberish about a guy named Maldoror (although on other tracks it seems like he's occasionally singing in Latin and adding religious motives or something. Might be singing in Tibetan as well, putting his university education to good, healthy, practical use).

And all this sounds chilling and like nothing else - for four minutes. But the track runs on for a bleeding twenty-five, and I see no reason why I should respect something like that and scold, say, something by Yoko Ono. Granted, unlike most of the Ono stuff, this material makes perfect sense. Tibet just happens to have this vision of the Apocalypse. Not only that - judging from the few interviews with the man I've read, he actually believes in what he writes. Not in a cartoonish Crowley-like manner, of course. (In fact, even if Crowley got the band its name, Tibet had all the ties with Crowley lore severed by the time Nature Unveiled came out, although, as it often happens, not everybody noticed). He just takes it very, very seriously; for him, it's more than pure exercise in "sounding evil". This, I guess, is what makes it work in the end. But working for twenty-five minutes without switching gears for once? This is not vision, this is filler city!

The other mammoth, 'The Mystical Body Of Christ In Chorazaim', isn't nearly as brutal in its essence and actually introduces a different sound, more Goth-influenced and religious-based in form (in fact, I'm pretty sure some people would want to recognize a Bach influence in there - don't tell me Bach doesn't inspire serial killers! He sure is capable). The vocals here are mostly female, provided by a Current '93 associate credited as "Annie Anxiety" (I presume that isn't her real name, but who am I to judge, what with Maldoror lurking in the bushes and all). And again, the same problem: cool sound overall, way too much to go. Plus the high-pitched feedback blasts near the end are ugly and shrill in the worst traditions of all high-pitched feedback blasts.

Not much to say about the studio bonus tracks either - these include Current '93's first single, 'Salt', an explosive combo of world-beat percussion, shrill synthesizer blasts that sound like they had been specially recorded by standing near a power line station, and assorted undecipherable mutterings. However, the two live tracks, 'Maldoror Rising' and 'Maldoror Falling', actually kick the stuffing out of the studio ones, with even harsher, even more vomit-inducing vocals and even wilder feedback.

Aw what the fuck. One thing I'll say to you: maybe all of this stuff is overlong and causes physical sickness, but if you ever wondered what kind of musical accompaniment they really have there down in Hell while grilling the guts out of sinners, take a listen to this. Personally, I get Hieronymus Bosch visions after listening to this crap, and I hope I can save myself the nightmares. I bet ten to one that if some kind soul gave me this kind of music to listen to when I was, say, eighteen years old, without all kinds of "intermediate" stages from King Crimson to Einsturzende Neubauten, my life would have ended then and there. So, considering that you probably haven't bothered to read this rambling from start to finish, I'll end this review with a little capital letter abuse:




Year Of Release: 1984

Beware! The Current '93 flood of albums is known to have only been second in aggression to Frank Zappa's, and maybe even more so if you consider that David Tibet also uses the singles and EPs medium to his advantage. In any case, two or three LPs per year is normal for that guy. And obviously, you're not going to get musical revolutions every month or so, not even with the current state of human progress.

Anyway, this here record doesn't depart that much from its predecessor, but maybe it's just, you know, a little bit more focused (and at least it doesn't come with another forty minutes worth of bonus tracks!). The album's title and song titles like 'Falling Back In Fields Of Rape' pretty much speak for themselves: this is yet another bleak, sinister experience, presenting music to end the world with. However, this time around Tibet more or less avoids such straightforward sadistic brutality as was present on Nature Unveiled - this record prefers to state his artistic message to the world in 'subtler' terms. Don't get me wrong, it's still creepy, but not because it's just a guy wrenching yucky-yuck feedback from his equipment and distorting his voice so that it sounds like somebody kicked Lucifer straight in the balls. Rather because... well, just you wait and see.

We open with a three minute Goth-meets-sci-fi chant appropriately titled 'Christus Christus'; a Current '93 devoted site I have consulted actually stated that some of those early tracks featured bits of real Aleister Crowley chanting in them, and I sure wouldn't be surprised. (I can only imagine the fit Tipper Gore would have if her kids brought in a Current '93 record one day... too bad their stuff never hit the Top 10!). Then there's the monumental 'Fields Of Rape' thing, which is... well, I guess this time around it's pretty much undescribable. There's a very slow, very unsettling drum beat carrying it on, more Gregorian chanting in the background, more goofy sci-fi synth noises... and a chorus yelling out 'WAR! WAR!' with every tact, occasionally replaced by creepy monologs, more hideous feedback waves, and a little kid singing 'here we go round the mulberry bush' while another one chants the name of the track. It's not really music; it's more like an impressionistic sonic picture that presents the world as, well, one totally uncool place to be. And with good results, too - nobody had yet managed to take the dry sounds of industrial music and cross them with the creepiness of Goth.

'From Broken Cross, Locusts' is probably the most gory-sounding of these tracks, but even so the evil distorted vocals are for the most part pursuing you from somewhere above, it's more like a felt, but unseen danger you don't experience directly; the drumbeats here are first-rate industrial, by the way. And this leads straight into 'Raio No Terrasu', with a whole bunch of vocal overdubs - it's like your worst nightmare come true, with ghosts and spirits surrounding you on every side and quietly (sometimes loudly) buzzing and buzzing and buzzing their creepy tales into your ears. One word I certainly can make up is 'AntiChrist, AntiChrist'. BOO! Oh David, you're so lucky not to sell many records, or the church people would be at your throat before you could say "AntiChrist"... again. However, when that stupid whiny falsetto voice starts chanting 'Christos, Christos', it comes across as pretty dumb, you know.

The one track before last actually indicates at the future direction Current '93 would follow, the "apocalyptic folk" one. It's called 'St Peter's Keys All Bloody', but in reality it's just David Tibet "deconstructing" Simon and Garfunkel's 'Sounds Of Silence' - taking the vocal melody and reciting it (instead of singing) in that deep creepy vocal of his. It's flat-out genius: try doing it yourself! 'Hello darkness my old friend, I've come to talk to you again' - but not sung in that pretty sappy voice, but slowly spoken in the harshest, most evil intonation possible. At some point, I suspect there's an actual Paul Simon vocal track used, when Tibet's recitation clashes with an actually sung couple of verses from 'Scarborough Fair'. Goofdom rules supreme.

Finally, the album closes with the short title track, which is supposedly just a bit from 'Raio No Terrasu' reversed, so it's not all that important; and thus the "evil sound to end all other evil sounds" is established. Maybe some industrial purists could get offended at this 'violation' of the Throbbing Gristle legacy by combining it with mock-Satanism, but hey, industrial sounds have never been pretty - they always conjure "evil" associations, so adding the AntiChrist subject in a direct way was pretty much stating the obvious, wasn't it?



Year Of Release: 1986

Put two fingers in a horizontal position, make a hideous face, and say "BOOO!" to a child sitting a couple of feet away. He'll be scared shitless, the little wimp. Now do that one more time. And again, and again, and again. Keep going, old man, as if you were an old scratched record. Eventually, the kid will either start laughing at ya or, more probable, he'll just get bored and go on eating his cereals or whatever.

Apparently, Mr Tibet never had that experience, nor did any of his cult audience. Because HE just keeps going. I'm not sure if this record is really live or what (and if it is, where was it actually recorded); all I know it was originally printed in 1000 copies - which is not that little, actually, because I doubt this world's really got more than 1000 freaks able to sincerely enjoy it all the way through - but since then, issued on CD and guess what? you can probably even buy it somewhere. I won't recommend it, though. I'll be honest with ya.

So the first few minutes of 'Alone Into The Alone' are all right. They're spooky and whatever goes along with that. Of course, if you already sat through the first two albums, you've heard it all, but this might actually be a little bit of a different twist. In case you forgot the essence of the "Gregorian Hell" of Current '93, let me remind you of the three main ingredients - there are the synth blasts and synth loops, which keep creating ugly industrial noises; the angelic vocals, which keep singing religious lyrics in a classic Catholic manner; and the hideous ugly vocals, which probably keep saying 'if you wanna make love to Satan, I'll be glad to help you make an arrangement', but I wouldn't vouch on that.

But then it just goes on and on and on for nineteen minutes, in classic Current '93 ambient manner. I seem to notice similarities between this puppy and 'Dogs Blood Rising', as well as several other lengthy tracks off the two preceding albums, but really, I can't be forced to go back and listen to them again and then return to this one again. Trust me, they all sound similar, not to mention that there's no musical development whatsoever. We end right where we started, and then move on to the slightly more complex 'Only Shadows Of Hooks' (twenty three minutes this time), which differs from its predecessor by actually having some resemblance of melody - this time, the vocal overdubs and the synth blasts are underpinned by what vaguely, very vaguely sounds like a poorly recorded, badly produced synth imitation of an XVIIIth century organ melody. Again, you can click on any particular minute of the track and it'll be exactly the same.

Now if you pardon my digression, I really don't get this thing. Ambient music as such is something I can appreciate as long as it creates a positive or, at least, non menacing mood. I mean, good ambient music, in accordance to Brian Eno's theory, never pretends to be much more than tasteful, "artistically tinged" music for the background. There's no point, really, in sitting down and "getting" ambient music by wiring both your heart and your brains into it - your brains, in particular, won't have much work to do after the first ten seconds or so of any genuine (and by genuine I do mean 'sounding exactly the same at any given position') ambient tune are over. Ambient music is supposed to work as environment while you're busy doing other things. At the very best, it's supposed to work as environment while you're busy meditating or enjoying nature. Something like that.

This stuff, even if fits the description of genuine ambient music, just can't work as environment unless you're a psychopath. I guess it can work as environment when you're exploring the seven circles of Hell, but I'm not sure if you're allowed to actually take your Current '93 albums there with you after you're gone, and besides, you might just as well end up in Heaven instead (although if you're a fan of David Tibet, that's not bloody likely). And as music "per se", it just gets boring very, very quickly. I mean, heck, if you're telling me that the length of those pieces is a vital part of the artistic statement, it's like saying the heavier your fridge is, the better it is for your prestige. I'm not buying that.

The CD fortunately adds two shorter tracks at the end - 'Christ's First Howling' (synths and vocals blaring in unison, but don't expect a crescendo) and a really eerie version of 'Fields Of Rape' - but by the time they're on, I'm so much exhausted by the preceding forty minutes already I can't take them too seriously. In short, a misguided record; maybe if this was really live, the show itself could be fascinating, but the resulting album is tedious. For the diehard, dielong, die and rot in hell Current '93 fan only. Be warned. Oops, I hope that sentence didn't sound too offensive? Nothing against Current '93 fans, as long as they don't trash the Monkees. (There! That should get you thinking!)



Year Of Release: 1986

David Tibet mellows out... who coulda thunk that. This is very different from the early trio of albums, which, unfortunately, is not to say it's any good. In this case, "mellowing out" moslty means abandoning the nightmarish Satanic growling of the previous stage and replacing it with a series of, uhm, expressionist sonic collages that, if you ask me, don't seem to be all that different from the generic existentialist crap that all the snotty pretentious college students were chucking out in the Sixties just to prove they were "special". For some reason, listening to this album makes me think of pre-Doors era Jim Morrison when he was studying cinema in his early days... he probably would have loved this experience. I sure don't.

Perhaps some of this album could work as part of a movie - I don't know, I can't imagine. It fails to capture me as an aural experience, though. Let's see: the first track on here, called 'Sucking Up Souls', runs for twenty-one minutes and for most of the time, the only thing that goes on is the sound of several young girls uttering incomprehensible blabber at the same time, with layers of speech sounds panned upon each other so that some are closer and some are more far away and the general impression is as if you were standing in the middle of a deep underground cave, or maybe in the midst of a vast and acoustically rich Roman bathhouse, and listening to the gurgling of female speech around you. From time to time, something else happens - sometimes you have a bunch of ominous drumbeats, or maybe some horns, or even something resembling a full-blown orchestral section deep in the background, but it's not like it's salvation or something. Yeah, I know the effect is supposed to be mantraic and hypnotic, but it just fails to grab me because I'm not sure what Tibet is actually trying to communicate. Sorrow? Depression? The continuous dragging of life? Whatever. Is making this sonic collage last for twenty plus minutes really such a good idea?

The second part, I'd say, is marginally better - called 'To Feed The Moon', it at least injects a little bit of actual music sounds into the proceedings. This one is built mainly on two repetitive loops: a continuous blues-rockish drum track, actually played with real drums (which is cool - you don't often hear real drums used in tape loops), and a two or three note piano phrase which vaguely resembles the intro to 'Love Reign O'er Me', although it goes away near the middle of the track, only to reappear again later, though. Against these loops Tibet pins more of his speech overdubs - young girls talking again, plus not so young gentlemen in a different channel, apparently some of them speaking on religious themes (the phrase 'remember me Lord' crops up pretty often); and sometimes, you'll have additional synth passages, or the track will calm down and then become loud again, or the drum pattern may change for a little bit of time as if Tibet was introducing a 'bridge' in the middle of his mock-funk composition. In any case, it is this track that earns the album its extra half-star or so, because it is at least adequately creative - to a certain extent, deserving to run for nineteen minutes where 'Sucking Up Souls' never deserved running for more than five at max.

Finally, the last and shortest is 'Killykillkilly (A Fire Sermon)', which finally gives the blood-thirsty listener a little bit of "classic" David Tibet back - through much of the track, there's a grinding gruelling distorted guitar line going on, with some prime industrial clanging and some generic Gregorian chanting on top, in short, yeah, everything we all love so much about Current '93, right? There's also a lot of dialogue going on here, mostly metaphysical crap I have no interest in sorting out, but at one time Tibet actually starts half-reciting, half-singing an excourse about 'pigs on the wall' and other ugly things (hey, I don't want to say that pigs on the wall are necessarily ugly, but... uh... they are in this context). The second half of the "song" is almost all disjointed feedback, isolated piano hammerings, and panned vocals coming out of nowhere, which means we're not happy. Oh yeah, and in case you're interested, the number both opens and closes with pompous fanfares, as if we were actually treated to a nice selection of court ballroom music instead of... this.

All in all, creativity is one thing, emotional influence is another. Okay, so I'm glad Tibet doesn't offer us another hundred-percent psychopath experience here; and I did have some fun sitting through pieces of this stuff the first time around. But as is so often the case, I doubt anybody would like a second helping of this unless you're one really desperate artistic soul.


DAWN **1/2

Year Of Release: 1987

One step backwards, one step forwards; namely, this album is clearly separated in two more or less equal halves (the worse one is just a wee bit longer in the end), one of which may not be all that listenable - as usual - but is at least cool as an independent experience and the other one of which is, well, the usual shit.

To be more precise, I sure wish the Tibet guy would drop the Maldoror crap already. But noooo, turns out we're not ready for that yet: eighteen minutes of the album are dedicated to the sprawling 'Maldoror Est Mort' (yeah, big fucking surprise out there). And it's nothing we ain't heard before - just another take on all the 'Maldoror Rising' and 'Maldoror Falling' deliveries of the past. See, working with minor underground labels sure has its downside: there's no quality control at all, so you can just take the exact same sonic tool you'd milked for all its worth earlier and reuse it as many times as you wish. The two and a half dedicated fans will buy it anyway, so why bother coming up with something new all the time?

The good news is that the other long track, 'Great Black Time', is much more interesting than that. 'This destiny does not tire, nor does it falter', a grim gothic voice welcomes us as soon as we push play, 'and its mantle of strength descends upon those in its service'. Not that you have a lot of time to ruminate on what this might actually mean in the world closest to our own, because the intro fades away in a nightmarish mess of dozens of church bells all clanging at the same time and, on top of them, guitar and keyboard feedback a-plenty. It is, of course, a sound collage as you might guess, not unlike the ones Tibet already did on the preceding two studio albums, but certainly adding some new elements to the mix.

Namely, there's a lot of "oblique melodicity" going on here. Way too often, the noise and cacophony of it all kind of makes me remember 'Revolution 9' with a certain fondness, but even the weirdest noises on here are much more coherent, and the fun thing is, there's lots of real melodic stuff going on, too. One minute you think you're stuck in the middle of Metal Machine Music with attached churchbells, then the next minute all the feedback goes away and there's a delicious, if unmemorable, chime melody being played. Then, around the sixth minute, a female voice comes in and starts chanting something like a cross between a psalm and a nursery rhyme (too bad I can't make out the words, but I get the feeling that the line 'out comes the head, out comes the head' is being repeated way too often), and then, for some reason, out of the mess you get faint glimpses of 'California Dreamin' - actually, Tibet plays the whole song, verses, solo, coda and all, it's just louder at times and quieter at others.

I mean, one can only wonder what exactly the Mamas and Papas are doing on a Current '93 album - did the guy think the morose atmosphere of the song suited the general mood of 'Great Black Time'? Or was it a Zappa-like mockery of a naive hippie classic? Or maybe (and most probably) he just had the song stuck in his head for some reason while mixing the final masters and so decided to add it in just for the fun of it. It's a hard and ungrateful task to try and read the minds of all 'em avantgarde freaks - you never know what might be relevant and what might simply be the chaff.

And this "alien melody mixed with noise" idea gets later carried over into the first of the two shorter tracks, 'A Day In Dogland'. This one opens with a tape loop of Chopin's funeral march and then incorporates bits and snatches of all other kinds of classical melodies which I'd have a hard time trying to identify even if they weren't so brutally treated. It does sound kinda cool anyway for almost all of its six minutes - before giving way to 'Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus' ('No salvation without the church', you understand - ah, the motherfuckin' blasphemer!), which basically is just 'Maldoror Est Mort' repeated for six more minutes. No thank you very much, Mr Tibet. Not again.

Anyway, maybe it's just that against the background of the rejuvenated Maldoror bits the other pieces seem like God's creations, which is why I'm not dismissing the album altogether? But then again, surely 'Great Black Time' took a little bit more effort to create than 'Sucking Up Souls' (even if it's about seven minutes shorter on the whole)? Isn't it at least more novel when you run into 'California Dreamin', whereas in the past you wouldn't run into anything past the "girls babbling in the bathhouse" effect? I suppose it is. So there you have it: fifty percent recycled shit, fifty percent moderate sonic innovation. Hey, no wonder Current '93 never really hit the big time.


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