Label: Coptic Cat (NIFE004CD)
Format: CD+DVD - CD - Double LP
Invocation of Almost
On Docetic Mountain
26 April 2007
Aleph is the Butterfly Net
Not Because the Fox Barks
As Real as Rainbows
Also released in a Monophonic version as –
(The monophonic version of ‘Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain’)
Tyranny of Stars
Small of Destroyer
Oh Microwave, Oh Galaxy Kill
Six or 3 Suns
Rise of the Butterfly (We are not the Disco)
Queen Morning (Kissing Rain, Killing Stars)
Written by John Kealy
Sunday, 17 May 2009
Words like armageddon and visionary get tossed about around David Tibet (for good reason) but with this latest album, these words seem too small and meek. As hinted on Black Ships Ate the Sky and the split EP with Om, David Tibet has embraced a blistering rock aesthetic for his apocalyptic visions. Sounding as psychedelic as Of Ruine Or Some Blazing Starre or The Inmost Light trilogy, there is also a heaviness here not heard since the noisy tape loops of Current 93’s embryonic period. Tibet sings of Aleph (an Adam-like character), murder, and destruction as a huge cast of musicians and vocalists create a backdrop worthy of his vision.
Tibet’s mythology grows more and more esoteric with each album, a blend of his own internal imagery and biblical terror (stemming from his ongoing obsession with scripture and study of Coptic in order to get closer to the source). “Almost in the beginning was the murderer” states the child’s voice at the beginning of the album. From here on in, everything explodes as one of the best line ups yet for Current 93 let rip. Alex Neilson’s drumming sounds like thunderclaps at the end of the universe as layers and layers of guitars, feedback and distorted vocals tear through reality. During “On Docetic Mountain,” fragments of the familiar folk strains haunt the works of Current 93 swim through the surging pulse, creating a thick and disorientating experience which brings to mind Thee Silver Mt. Zion at their most raucous. Bill Breeze’s viola and John Contreras’ cello sound almost regal amidst the grinding fuzz that the rest of the group are pouring out. Later on, the rock swamps everything; guitar solos that can only be described as shambolic, face melting blasts of white heat cut through a doom-laden riff on “Not Because the Fox Barks.” There is a first time for everything in life and playing air guitar along to Current 93 is one of them.
With no particular focus beyond a general feeling and Tibet’s vision(s), Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain sticks out like a monolith in Current 93’s canon. Fears that this album would be a disparate work breaking under the weight of Tibet’s many collaborators were completely unfounded. Andrew W.K. and Sasha Grey may be famous for things quite different to Current 93 (as every single article or Internet discussion related to this album seems to dwell on) but they sound as home here as any Current 93 regular. Grey’s detached vocals on “As Real As Rainbows” are a world away from her usual performances (researching for reviews can be a very tough job) and she provides a sober and melancholy ending for such a vivid and energetic album.
Aside from some of the electronics and effects dotted throughout Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain and the knowledge that it is just out this week, it would be difficult to place this album in time. It could easily be one of those obscure gems that was on the Nurse With Wound list; in fact it sounds almost like the perfect lost treasure from rock’s past. “26 April 2007” has a desert rock vibe but instead of the The Eagles and images of the great plains of America, the music instead conjures up visions of dusty vistas in northern Africa with wanderers trying to find their way back to Eden.
James Joyce once said: “It took me ten years to write Ulysses, and it should take you ten years to read it.” While I am not going so far to say (yet) that this album is of the same magnitude as Ulysses the principle holds true here as Tibet and his colleagues have put two years of hard work into making this album the monument it is. Steven Stapleton and Andrew Liles have worked their wizardry in post-production to create the layers of sound that form the base of Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain, the level of detail buried in the mix is astounding. With each listen there are further revelations, a warped David Tibet as backing vocalist here and a loop of noise there. I imagine that it will be some time before I have exhausted all of the album’s secrets.
With an album as epic as this, it is virtually impossible to sum it up succinctly. It is awesome in that from the opening moments to the dying seconds, I am taken aback by the intensity and conviction. As a listener, Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain drains and exhausts; that Tibet can pull so much emotion from his soul and still function is nothing short of astonishing.
DROWNED IN SOUND
Their reputation precedes them, and trepidation often greets them. Current 93, the sonic child of David Tibet and a permanently open door of musical collaborators, has existed for the best part of 30 years at the abrasive fringes of several genres – noise, industrial, psychedelia for three – without ever being defined by a single one. Perhaps the biggest turning point in the C93 career arc came in the late Eighties, when Tibet became entranced by English folk music (most importantly, Shirley Collins) and used this as a launchpad to link threads of sonic ritualism attempted by few, if anyone, previously. The apogee of this splicing, often dubbed ‘apocalyptic folk’, arrived with 2006 album Black Ships Ate The Sky – by some length Tibet’s greatest critical success. It’s conceivable that Aleph At Hallucinatory Mountain, an often captivating album evidently borne of a unique vision, might surpass it.
As usual with Current 93, there are a healthy scattering of guests. Some names here could legitimately be deemed well-known by people who aren’t underground music dorks – one is Andrew WK, if he still satisfies this criteria, another is venerable American songstress Rickie Lee Jones and the third, Sasha Grey, is one of those ‘indie porn’ figures who apparently fronts her own noise band. Jolly good. As usual, it’s a cheerful mixture of those vital to the outcome – the near-everpresent Steven ‘Nurse With Wound’ Stapleton, and avant-drummer to the big avant-guns, Alex Neilson – and pals who Tibet was content to let moan away on backing vox.
Aleph… is not relentlessly abrasive, by any means: ’26 April 2007’ opens with clean, chiming electric guitars that could be straight off a Nineties post-rock album. Moreover, the folkisms ring through with as much clarity as Black Ships…, maybe more so. The backbone of ‘Poppyskins’, near enough the whole of ‘UrShadow’ and the concluding coda of ‘Aleph Is The Butterfly Net’ broadcasts airy, courtly folk guitar that – minus explicit credits – one assumes to be the work of James Blackshaw, British 12-string guitarist who’s had praise stacked on praise of late for his work in this field. And yet some of the riffs here are huge like canyon walls, believe. Straight from the off (‘Invocation Of Almost’) it’s a riot of wrenching fuzz guitar, gleefully upfront phasing, the endlessly brilliant drumming of Alex Neilson coming on like a distant thunderstorm trying to play along to a Grand Funk live album, with Tibet’s intense intonations and invocations spooling atop the gnarlout: “Asteroth is blushing, cursing, smiling…”
Tibet, following a split EP with Om a couple of years back, continues to forge links between scenes and genres that even a decade ago would have seemed distant. ‘Not Because The Fox Barks’ explores that strain of slow, clanging, rust-ravaged basement rawk guitar which calls to mind all sorts of private-press Seventies longhairs, and late Eighties/early Nineties bands like Slint and Bitch Magnet who were taking their hardcore beginnings and making them intricate and creepy. Again, not names you’d necessarily expect to find in a C93 review, but this is pretty much the background of Matt Sweeney, guitarist here and former member of Nineties indie cultists Chavez (and, latterly, Zwan).
The temptation to look at Aleph At Hallucinatory Mountain in terms of its ‘accessibility’ relative to Current 93’s back catalogue ought to be staved off, for the most part, by the understanding that this is a faintly comedic narcissism of small differences. It’s another in a long line of esoteric outpourings and knotted mystic visions – with a crypto-Biblical slant betraying Tibet’s reputed Christianity; the album’s opening lyrics runs “Almost in the beginning… there was a murderer!” – from a man who has never been obliged to compromise his artistic vision in over 25 years. It will reach an established and deeply dedicated fanbase, of this Tibet can rest assured – if, however, there’s scope for a new and curious morass to chance upon this music, it’s likely because of the swollen popularity of figures ranging from Sunn 0))) to former labelmates recording artists Antony & The Johnsons, rather than anything Current 93 are aiming for themselves. Hard to begrudge a climate where people like these can vacuum up fans like those without having to change anything they do.
Four tracks into Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain, David Tibet finally relaxes his draconian, dramatic voice: “My teeth are possessed by demons and devils/ And I was by myself but not myself,” he offers calmly through a patter of circular jazz drumming and a stout bass throb. For Tibet, who’s spent many of the last 30 years pushing against reductive self-definition in Current 93, these two lines might be as close to an artist’s statement as we’ll ever get. Tibet has long written from the troubled threshold between his mind and God, juxtaposing images of himself as a heretic and an acolyte while sorting through interpretations of Christianity, mysticism, the occult, and the inane. In Tibet’s gnostic vision, none of us– God included– is perfect or beyond reproach, so Current 93’s oeuvre serves as a tool for self-flagellation and self-assessment. On his 1992 masterpiece, Thunder Perfect Mind, Tibet suggested that, “In the dark, you must look in your heart.” With Aleph, Tibet– a devout Christian who reads the Bible in Greek and occasionally writes and sings in the ancient Coptic language– recognizes his troubles in another moment of solitary desolation. This time, he’s asking for help.
Behooving a sinner, Tibet’s rarely been alone for his most personal explorations: From Antony Hegarty and Ben Chasny to sound artist Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and Nurse with Wound’s Steven Stapleton, he’s amassed a revolving army to provide sounds worthy of such intimate and existential conflicts. Aleph is a charging, rock’n’roll appraisal of Tibet’s central concern– living with respect to himself and to God– supported by one of the best casts yet. Stapleton, improvisational drummer Alex Neilson, Chavez’s Matt Sweeney, and harpist Baby Dee return, along with Andrew W.K., Rickie Lee Jones, guitarists James Blackshaw and Keith Wood, and the artistically ambitious porn star Sasha Grey. Carefully orchestrated beneath Tibet’s uncanny voice, they create not only Current 93’s most rock-oriented album to date but also a fine, fitting crown for Tibet’s prolific decade. A surprisingly tuneful, consistently compelling mix of industrial stomp and folk grace, Aleph offers both a career-spanning capitulation for newcomers and a bold push forward for zealots.
As with most of Current 93’s albums, specifically 2006’s sprawling, apocalyptic dream-state manifesto, Black Ships Ate the Sky, Aleph is a concept album of connected scenes and themes. At its center stands an exploration of the archetypes we often reduce into binaries– good and evil, dark and light, God and Satan. Aleph, the murderer, and Adam, Eden’s original innocent, personify the warring factions of Tibet’s mind. Instead of opposites, he makes them equals, where the existence of one implies the other: “Almost in the beginning was the murderer,” two children chant by way of introduction, Tibet reverting to his decades-old trope of letting the most innocent of babes reveal the most difficult of truths. Purity doesn’t last long, and anything less would be unbearable, the album posits. For instance, during its triumph, “Not Because the Fox Barks”, Aleph has given into goodness and is “creating starlings with brightness.” Bored and brooding, he hates it. Tibet understands: “This is Terminal Eden/ A killer of dreams/ Of hopes/ Of galaxies.” Aleph rages again against Adam.
Aleph’s music synthesizes many of Current 93’s directions over the last three decades into a potent, relatively lean 54 minutes. In the early 1980s, Tibet emerged from a stint in Psychic TV with a handful of audacious industrial albums, in particular 1984’s Dogs Blood Rising. Though certainly not formless, Rising bent barbaric howls and noise floods into long tracks that treated traditional song structure and quiet as anathema. In the late 80s, inspired by a nascent interest in English folk, Tibet shifted to vaguely song-oriented music written largely for acoustic instruments. Aside from various electronic pieces (see the excellent Faust and I Have a Special Plan for This World) and several heavy exceptions, Tibet’s long kept his intensity but foregone the early cacophony. But Aleph unites those extremes imaginatively, plating rather pretty arrangements with slabs of distortion. Serrated drones slowly overrun the 12-string Blackshaw array that opens “Poppyskins”, while blades of cello knife through the lumbering metal of “On Docetic Mountain”. Drummer Neilson bridges both aesthetics, pushing the songs forward but complicating with nuance. It’s arguably the most populist music Tibet’s ever made.
Unfortunately, no amount of explanation or influence can move many beyond the hurdles of Tibet’s chilling voice or his earnest quest for religious revelation. And, sure, Tibet can sound like the Devil himself, and any lyricist that’s as wont to reference Reese Witherspoon or Tupperware as he is to recite scripture or quote in Coptic is bound to frustrate the majority. Perhaps the rising stars of writers like the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn or Destroyer’s Dan Bejar– both wild-voiced poets who compose in hypertext, connecting ideas across multiple releases while incorporating rapacious literary minds– have expanded our collective interest in singers who sound like no one else and write with something bigger in mind than the next hook. If so, David Tibet’s got approximately 50 records waiting in his back catalog, with the latest– the excellent Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain– suggesting he’s still a long way from the Omega. Grayson Currin, July 7, 2009
Along with Nurse With Wound, Current 93 have enchanted, infuriated and sonically entertained in equal measure, as mainman David Tibet weaves his preoccupations and obsessions into compelling cobwebs over music that oozes, trickles, grinds, sears and permeates like a thick but not unpleasant odour.
Three years after Black Ships Ate The Sky, Current 93 return with an album that’s the equal to that widescreen blockbuster. Opening track Invocation Of Almost features grinding guitars that support Tibet on his metaphysical pronouncements; Poppyskins melds acoustic guitar tingles with minimal percussion and harsh guitar mixed to a murmur that serves as a pillow for Tibet’s vocals. Urshadow is another meditative track that, because of its musical restraint, gives the melancholy lyrics a perfect frame. Better still is 26 April 2007, opening with a subtle guitar hook before the pliant bass line allows Tibet to unfurl his thoughts like a Lovecraftian narrator, complete with great references to the likes of “crowns with cats heads on them”. A wonderful track, it ends with a spooky dog howl no doubt warning of the approach of Cthulhu. After nearly 30 years at the coalface, Tibet still mines a very rich seam.
Written by Lee Powell
There are a small number of bands out there that have comfortably transcended the status of being just another musical group. And of this small number, even fewer are truly worthy of this accolade. Yet I’m sure there are very few people out there who have been seduced by the compositions of David Tibet’s legendary Current 93 who would disagree that they are wholeheartedly a group which is deserving of such highly esteemed status. So with the release of their latest album, Aleph At Hallucinatory Mountain, it will come as no surprise that there is something of a gigantic wave of excitement and speculation surrounding it, especially as it follows in such close proximity to their last, critically acclaimed masterpiece Black Ships Ate The Sky.
There has been a slight taster or precursor to this album, if you will, in the form of their studio and live Birth Canal Blues EPs (both of which are reviewed here: studio, live) which showcased a more rock infused flavour to the band’s sound. Now although this has crept into some of their earlier work (Horsey and Lucifer Over London are a couple of examples), on this occasion it touched comfortably on the more avant-garde recesses of the doom and drone genres which have become the domain of Stephen O’Malley’s Sunn O))), Boris, Om, and Neurosis, along with touches of psychedelic rock and elements of the bombastically intense post-rock delivered by the likes of Japan’s Mono. So the idea that this shift in musical direction may become more prevalent on this new album seemed a safe assumption, and the opening seconds of ‘Invocation Of Almost’, with its ferocious explosion of fuzzed guitars, immediately proves this to be the case.
Introducing the album, the opening line, ‘Almost in the beginning was the murder’ is set against a fragile vortex of electronic textures and thunderous guitars that build slowly before exploding into a mindblowing cacophony of guitars, percussion and Tibet’s wonderfully delivered vocals, which intertwine with one another throughout the nine minutes of the opening track ‘Invocation Of Almost’. With epic proportions that come cross like a warped mixture of doom metal and the psychedelic, this is a wonderfully engulfing track filled with an intense passion and emotive power. Complex juxtaposing elements of instruments take on an occasional free-form or improvised feel, whilst all the time keeping one foot firmly rooted within the heavier recesses of dark, impulsive, guitar-driven music, framing Tibet’s vocals which are delivered with the passion of the most dedicated of preachers. These two elements of vocals and instruments work incredibly well and do nothing but complement one another perfectly. As an introduction to ‘Aleph..’ it’s a powerfully evocative track that frames the intensity and passion of the album brilliantly as well as showcasing the talents of the supergroup-like collective that makes up this assemblage of Current 93, which on this occasion comprises of William Breeze, John Contreras, Ossian Brown (Coil / Cyclobe), Baby Dee, rock god Andrew W.K (yes, him of ‘Party Hard’ fame), Nurse With Wound’s Steve Stapleton and Andrew Liles, Andria Degens of Panteleimon, Kith Wood of Hush Arbors and Bonnie “Prince” Billy collaborator Matt Sweeny amongst others, with each musician adding their own layer of sound to this wondrously structured album.
‘Poppyskins’, the album’s second track follows, and displays one of the other dimensions, sound-wise, of the album. The atmosphere and pace of the track is much more subdued than its predecessor, with Tibet’s vocal delivery being a lot more settled and controlled. Here, he’s joined by a layered accompaniment of cello and viola that is set against a backwash of off’kilter percussion and a distant swirl of guitars that produces a heady density which pushes the track along at a slow, meditative pace. It seems as if it could erupt at any second into a harsh barrage of noise, yet it never does. Instead, it pensively holds the listener spellbound whilst Tibet delivers his vocal commentary.
And so the album progresses, with track after track ebbing and flowing between complex washes of guitars, percussions and waves of electronic drones and the more pensive, folky, ambient-esque compositions which have a more chilled-out, head-swimming atmosphere, like that of a drug-induced haze. Often, the style changes numerous times in one track, making the structure and delivery of each one a complex affair, giving the appearance of an album in a constant state of flux and progression, with its development taking on an improvised jazz type of feel. In fact, it’s almost impossible to try and pinpoint a sound, genre or tag which fits even one track here, as this constant progression in sound never stays in one place for long enough.
This is exemplified perfectly by the likes of ten minute-plus opus ‘Not Because the Fox Barks’, which starts with Tibet’s voice accompanied by washes of dark electronic sound-sculptures and the hauntingly mournful strings of the viola, which are abruptly dominated by a pounding bass strum which sends the tranquil aura created spiralling into the distance. The bass sound increases in pace and tempo before erupting into a ferocious explosion of guitars and pounding drums. The atmosphere is pitch-black, immensely powerful and intensely threatening. The guitars build to booming proportions which are matched only by Tibet’s vocals, which push themselves to the forefront of this sonic attack and maintain an edge of fragile balance during the proceedings. And then, before your senses and ears are completely shredded, the track rapidly deconstructs itself, until Tibet’s vocals are joined solely by a bittersweet piano and string accompaniment which slowly carries this track into the next, the wonderfully moving ‘UrShadow’ which is perhaps the most folk-oriented piece on the album. However, as you’d expect when you’ve got this far into an album of this nature, it’s not quite that straightforward, and once again the structure and delivery morph through a variety of cut-up sounds, so it becomes something distantly removed from its origins.
The album’s final track ‘As Real As Rainbows’ is the most subdued track here, containing heavily accented female vocals which I believe are those of Sasha Grey, who may be better known to some of you as a very nubile and world famous adult movie star. She is accompanied by piano and organ, leading the listener delicately by the hand to the closure of what is one of the most surprising, impressive and stirring albums to have been recorded. And then, with the whispered line, ‘Beloved by the seas,’ it’s over.
Silence. The swirling swim of nothingness after almost an hour of breathtaking music and head-bobbing guitar and percussions is deafening. The only option is to sit and ponder what you’ve just heard. And then press play again. And again and again.
Current 93’s music has always proven to be immensely fluid in its delivery and has been a vehicle which Tibet has steered on a path of his own choice. Its sound has always been on a constant flux of evolution, and although this more avant-rock may seem a million miles away from the canon of folk-tinged work that Current 93 have released in the past, one only has to explore a small cross-section of their work, even over recent years, to realise that it’s never been so clear-cut as to sit comfortably within one genre or another. And looking back ever further along the timeline of Current’s history, listening to the progression made from the likes of Dawn and its complex soundscapes and the hauntingly fragile Imperium to the apocalyptically esoteric folk of Swastikas For Noddy , it’s possible to see how the evolutionary path of Tibet’s musical vision has progressed. Aleph At Hallucinatory Mountain is another change in direction which, although it is deeply rooted in the lineage of its historic predecessors, also shows another side of Tibet’s multifaceted work, whilst delivering a diversely different sound to what has become normally associated with Current 93’s output. So much so that those of you who haven’t yet indulged in the Birth Canal Blues EPs may find this new direction a little bewildering and a tad less welcoming than you may have imagined. However, if you’ve been fortunate enough to explore the luxuriously complex and difficult post-metal that formed Faking Gold And Murder by Aethenor, which featured the distinctive vocal talents of Tibet throughout, then you may have a fair idea as to the direction, flow and output that Aleph… produces.
That said, even those who have stringently followed Tibet’s career and the ever-evolving parameters of Current 93’s output may well find both Faking Gold… and to a lesser extent Aleph At Hallucinatory Mountain somewhat less accessible and immediately inviting than a lot of the band’s other material. So much so that it’s not until you’ve worked at the album, persevered with it, wallowed in its depths, then been seduced by its complex and evolving nature that it really starts to bed into your soul. However, once it does this, there’s no moving it, and with each and every listen the intensity and profound nature of the album grows almost tenfold.
It’s safe to say that with Aleph At Hallucinatory Mountain Current 93 have safely entered into another phase of their life-cycle which is, perhaps, even more remarkable than anything else which may have come before it. And with a band that has such an expansive and impressive history as theirs, that’s really saying something.
So take your time with this album, experience it. Let the atmosphere and mood that emanate from its biblical tomes touch your very being and you will adore it like no other, as it truly is as remarkable as this. If this is the shape of Current 93 to come, I can guarantee that it won’t be too long before legions of old and newly converted fans are breaking down their temple doors for a chance to worship at their feet.
And yet I still can’t help think about the infamous Monty Python line from the Life of Brian: ‘He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy,’ and smile just a little, although with such a roaring, captivating and emotive album, you may have to question this.
God Bless David Tibet