Explosions in the Sky, "The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place"
While their debut album was equal parts all-out guitar assault and plaintive resignation, Explosions in the Sky plumbs the depths of their oeuvre by digging within on their second record, even in its first moments. The quietly played notes that begin the first track eventually join with a heartbeat of percussion that builds into a carefully blended swell where all instruments feel like they're being played with someone's life on the line. When it all finally combusts, it's not at all like before: it's better. The relentless touring; the stigma associated with album covers and titles; the strife that comes with any band meeting this much popularity this soon all have served to teach this band what it is exactly they possess, what hold they have. They've pulled out the stops on their growth, and become one time and time again over this at once triumphant and sad record. The quiet-loud-quiet dynamics that were there before are less extreme in variation, but where some might miss these moments it has actually strengthened their ethos considerably. There's no fear in this music. The members of the band have surrendered themselves completely to this art, and the end result is radiant. The first half is the triumph, where "First Breath After Coma" and "The Only Moment We Were Alone" display a renewed hope and vitality. These are the songs that say "We've been through hell, but we're all going to be okay. We're not out of the woods yet, but we're still here." For the ones who didn't make it, like the poor sailors on the Kursk who inspired the songs' creation, there's "Six Days at the Bottom of the Ocean" and "Memorial," two sad but gorgeous numbers that represent the mourning and pain that can devastate. Then, in the midst of it all, comes "Your Hand in Mine," the closest thing to an honest to god love song Explosions may ever give up. "Your Hand" brings everything full circle, and, like the rest of the album, shows the real beauty in what this band can accomplish. Their US tour has already begun, and if you've never seen them now is the time. - Rob Devlin
Charalambides, "Unknown Spin"
Tom and Christina Carter's work as Charalambides improves with every release, and now with the addition of Heather Leigh Murray Christina's bandmate in Scorces on pedal steel and vocals, they are a force to be reckoned with. Kranky is generously reissuing several Charalambides releases that were never widely available. Unknown Spin was originally released on the band's own label in a CD-R pressing of 300. With this particular reissue, Kranky is righting a colossal wrong: that this music was relatively unavailable for so long. These songs are a real step forward for the band, as they work more into each other's patterns, with the expansive nature of the music benefitting from an odd start/stop quality that intensifies the whole album's aura. The opening track, also the title track, is thirty whole minutes of minimalist joy, haunting in its need to take so long to build. Little pieces of music are repeated, but spaced out in an almost mind-altering pace. Eventually all parts join together, build, soar, and chill to the bone. With not a track under eight minutes, and given their history, this track sets the tone for the whole release. The songs approach pure beauty here and there, but is is the final track, "Skin of Rivers," that pulls it all together. With Heather and Christina's dueling vocals and little else until about five minutes in, there is a pure fear and isolation in place that just decimates. It's probably the best Charalambides track ever, and the album as a whole is quite an accomplishment. With more to come from Kranky, perhaps this fine ensemble will finally get the respect they deserve. - Rob Devlin
DIMMU BORGIR, "DEATH CULT ARMAGEDDON"
Somewhere there exists a Metal Valhalla, an otherworldly paradise where all of the head-banging Vikings, beer-swilling Satanists, fist-pumping Klingons and face-painted Odinists are slam-dancing under the dark crimson moonlight to the pure amplified glory of the heaviest sounds in the Universe. For all we know, this Guitar Nirvana might be completely out of reach of mere mortals, at least in this lifetime, but that doesn't stop people from trying time and again to invoke it right here on Earth. For the past two decades, as American and British metal bands have crept uncomfortably towards soulless rap-metal, middle-of-the-road alt-rock and hair-metal parody, Norway's legion of Black, Neo-Black and Blacker-Than-Thou Metal bands have gradually asserted themselves as the most extreme, experimental and creative force still untainted by irony and trendspotting. The scene made headlines in 1993 when Count Grishnackh of Burzum burned down a few churches then murdered his former Mayhem bandmate Euronymous, in a bid to prove that his virulently radical and amoral views were more than just a stylistic pose. Since the recent decline of Mayhem and Emporer, the Scandinavian scene's acknowledged godfathers, Dimmu Borgir have taken the gilded Viking helmet by the horns, releasing several masterful albums of megalithic death-rock that stand up to the best heavy classics of the past. Death Cult Armageddon is their strongest effort to date, a Dionysian explosion that comes on like a nuclear assault and relentlessly pummels forward on its own twisted momentum. Dimmu Borgir are inspired by three demonic familiars known as Speed, Power and Majesty. Speed comes in the form of the primal, high-speed drumming of Nicholas Barker and the savage technical mastery of guitarists Silenoz and Galder. Power manifests in the growls, groans and operatic screams of vocalists Shagrath and Vortex. Majesty is provided by the symphonic keyboards of Mustis, who wields the entire Prague Philharmonic Orchestra to provide the final Wagnerian piece of the puzzle. The production on Death Cult Armageddon is precise and deadly, achieving an impressive balance between the symphonic backdrops and the vicious bombast of the band. The album is filled with moments of dark orchestral intrigue, punching up the action. Mustis has clearly been influenced by the gothic symphonic film scores of Danny Elfman, as well as John Williams' space fanfares for Star Wars. "Progenies of the Great Apocalypse" builds a twisted tower of epic Hollywood intensity, quickly exploding into a monolith of speed-damaged brutality. Shagrath's growling vocals are phased and mutated, joined on two tracks by the powerful gut-wrenching of Abbath Doom Occulta of Immortal. Yes, it's overwrought, and unquestionably goofy, but it's also an amazingly entertaining listen. I've never heard another band that puts quite so much visceral energy into scaring the hell out of their audience while simultaneously blowing out their eardrums. There's not a dud among the 11 tracks on Death Cult Armageddon, but the album certainly builds up to the dual orgiastic climaxes of the two lengthy final tracks "Unorthodox Manifesto" and "Heavenly Perverse" where soaring symphonic swells are unashamedly wielded to devastating effect. The songs willfully change tempo and direction, dipping into industrial rhythms, gothic drama and Slayer-style debauchery, pausing every now and then to reinforce their violent virtuosity. This is the Close to the Edge of the Black Metal genre; revelatory progressive metal for a post-apocalyptic millennium. - Jonathan Dean
Omid's Monolith is a platter of underground hip hop that could easily be an overground hip hop record in most respects, which begs the question: "What separates indie hip hop from its corporate older brother when commercial records are more experimental than their indie counterparts?" That's the prevailing question that Monolith raises as I listen, which is not to say that it's not a fun and engaging record. The instrumental cuts placed on the oddly numbered tracks are nicely twisted, thought-out and groovy collages that never sound too stilted in the 'cinematic downtempo' tradition. The even numbered tracks (and yes, the album's sequencing is distracting) feature a host of guest vocalists from Hymnal, Buck65, Slug and others and like most hip hop records that team up a producer with a slew of voices, some tracks work more effectively than others. "I'm Just a Bill" with Spoon's quick, dark delivery evokes a heavier, less retarded dirty south sound while Hymnal's contributions are more akin to deft spoken word spewed over laid-back beats. Love or hate Buck65's raspy Tom Waits of hip hop routine, his rhymes on "Double Header" are some of the record's funniest moments. However, the remainder of the album's vocal-centered tracks and about half of the instrumentals just don't seem to take the album as far. When producers like Timbaland are twisting tabla and Hindi vocal samples into crazy funky beats, the same kind of sounds with a more straightforward approach here on "Sound of the Sitar" are almost too obvious, although they do create a nice bounce. So, what keeps this record from being a major-label, minor-name act instead of an underground collective? What divides those who can't quite compete with Puffy and Outkast from those who aren't even trying? The answer for Omid comes on the album closer, "Club Apotheosis," an intelligent, poetic and unbelievably pleasant track that is both hip hop and everything that hip hop isn't at once. The difference is all in the attitude, which on the best tracks of Monolith shines through just fine.- Matthew Jeanes
The world of drones is necessarily deceptive. The successful drone is always an illusionyou wind up being drawn into a special perceptual state that I call the zone, believing that you're listening to a complex world of fractional detail, motion, drama and beauty while it's perfectly obvious to the casual observer outside the zone that it's just a bunch of tones, quite possibly rather unpleasant ones. The conjuror illusionist's skills can be explained, understood and taught but the inner workings of the convincing drone illusion are, to me at least, very mysterious. The same mystery is at the heart of minimalismit's unbelievably easy to be a minimalist but very few have made good minimalist art and I doubt that anyone can explain the key ingredient. This is my excuse for not being sure what it is that doesn't quite work about Texturizer. Everything is lovely in theory, Coti K. provides slow mellow electronic tones and noises and Nikos Veliotis plays bowed harmonics and other cello sounds on top of that. But somehow it doesn't quite gel and doesn't get me into the zone. The electronic part itself is hard to fault; it has nicely unstable resonances that sound like they might come from feedback loops fed with ambient sounds, perhaps street noise. The cello part is perhaps the issue. My all time favorite musical instrument is the cello and I love what its overtones can do but here I don't get the sense of a cohesive effect playing. Live improvised drone playing (I presume is what's happening here) involves a generative process of discovering the perfect sonority and then working it, holding it, keeping it and moving it around. There should be a balance between the freedom of the autonomous discovered sound to behave under its own volition and the control of the musician. Too much control and all we hear is the performer, too little and the sound's lack of intrinsic aesthetics will show through. Veliotis is tending to the former. It's as though he never quite finds his perfect sonority, passing over several good opportunities and dwelling on inadequate ones on a trajectory of his own that also fails to make sense as a cello improvisation. As wallpaper Texturizer is entirely functionala really rather enjoyable and unimposing accompaniment to ones work. But close listening reveals the absence of illusion. - Tom Worster
10 Ft. Ganja Plant, "Midnight Landing"
Don't be fooled: this isn't some silly pot-worshipping reggae group come to praise the benefits of marijuana use to the masses. This is a body-swaying group of musicians fusing "acoustic" reggae with the best elements of dub. The sexiest horn combo this side of the universe blows through "Kneel At the Feet" and slithers through a sax solo hell-bent on turning these cold days into humid, fire-lit nights in a steamy bar. There's the moon shining over the mountains just outside the open window of the bar and the smell of salt-water splashes up through my senses with every drum POP! and guitar stroke. The music isn't just sexy, though: 10 Ft. Ganja Plant recalls the best of classic reggae with upbeat and playful rhythms, bass-led melodies, and, especially in the case of "Let the Music Hit," outstanding lyrics celebrating the power of great reggae tunes. The best part is that each track sounds distinctly different: the production is never the same between two tracks and all the instruments have a unique voice that bursts away and stands alone as a shining beacon. If that beacon isn't shining, though, it's pulsing and moving like the waves on the ocean: it's hard not to tap a foot or get caught up in the melodies. With each track being a surprise both musically and production-wise, it's an album that moves along quickly and leaves a hunger for more. The chiming, foreign, and exotic "Midnight Landing" stands out like a lone dancer on the beach: the strange bells used that form the center of the melody couldn't be more whimsical and yet they stand at a paradox: they're a sharp contrast from standard reggae instrumentation but they keep in focus with the soul of the album. I could spend hours talking about the imagery this album throws at me every time I listen to it. I don't think I've ever heard a reggae/dub album quite as diverse as this. In fact, even putting a name like "reggae/dub" on Midnight Landing is unfair: this isn't just reggae or dub and this isn't just some combination of the two. Between the vocal-pieces and the instrumentals there is an amazing variety of styles employed and it's hard not to stand back and look at it all and wonder: this is one of the most creative albums I've heard all year. It's diverse, fun, risky, experimental, creative, and entirely unique. This goes beyond its stylistic marker and shatters into something entirely new and beautiful without forgetting where it came from. - Lucas Schleicher
"Motion: Movement in Australian Sound"
Like the 23Five label's recent success, Variable Resistance: Ten Hours of Sound from Australia, this new two-disc compilation from Preservation seeks to document a burgeoning sound art/experimental electronic scene among Australian musicians. "Scene," however, may be inappropriate given the variety available here. Motion: Movement in Australian Sound does distinguish itself by veering (slightly) away from headier sound art pieces into a more repeated-listener-friendly zone. This is understandable given the label's undistinguished focus, with previous releases including Sun's dazzling, though unabashedly pop debut. The same understated beauty Oren Ambarchi and Chris Townend achieved on that record is present throughout Motion, suggesting there is truly something in Australian water that is sorely missed across the sea. The tensest, busiest tracks here exude a calm that uniquely connects them, digital majority included, to the pastoral. Not the nostalgic, fairytale pastoral championed frequently by European musicians?his sounds of the rural, the sprawling, the Australian pastoral. Inventive and satisfying combinations of organic/primitive sounds with austere glitch landscaping help to create the unique and emotive music so prevalent here. Guitars dominate several tracks, predictably unrecognizable in Oren Ambarchi's weightless contribution, while chiming a struggling joy across Chris Smith's fragile "Plates Shift." A nice surprise on the first disc is Ray Diode's cleverly-titled "Even Diodes Get the Blues," a subtle composition of humming drones, layered hiss, and muffled piano, faded in on a bed of field recordings and clicking static as if wafting in on a phantom frequency. Motion'ssecond disc is the real prize, beginning with Alan Lamb's comatose "Fragment of the Outback," which leads into a beautiful new track from Mush recording artist Clue to Kalo. His "Clock Taps its Face" is simple, skeletal pop, half-spoken vocals over looped piano that succeeds in the kind of haphazard, back porch brilliance that so often falls flat. Laptop/turntable noisemakers GCTTCATT also contribute what sounds like moment of chance-melodicism, a nicely digestible piece composed primarily of one swooning piece of feedback. Scott Horscroft's "Eleven Guitars" is one of the treasures of this second disc, also one of the only tracks to deal, in more explicit fashion, with the comp's vague theme, that each track must explore ideas of motion through sound. "Eleven Guitars" follows minimal, rapid-fire guitar loops as they evolve glacially over the song's six minutes. The tension between the swift, skating motion of the loops themselves, and the miniature progression of the whole, is as peaceful as it is stimulating. The disc's final triumph is an extended closer from Sigma Editions/Tonschacht artist Minit, a patchwork of synth-laced drones and machine hum, understated through a minimalism of means, but immense in its effected catharsis. New listeners should find many agreeable discoveries in Motion, most importantly that of Australian sound itself, a movement that is only getting stronger. - Andrew Culler
This is a mysterious piece of music. At times rising above nothing more than a series of simplistic drum patterns and a possessed guitar, the effect is radiates is eerie and strange. It's as if the whole architecture that the sound rested upon was made up of a liquid mass subject to change at anytime. Symphonic washes of melody that sound adrift on the sea are meshed with the sound of metal or wood being ground into a pulp and then recycled into a series of hypnotic rhythms that move each track along in a soft but drunken manner. On a track like "Random Hiver" the spectacular residue of this combination is nothing short of enchanting, but the hollow and vaccuous halls of sound sometimes become too plain and uninvolving. This is especially true for the middle third of the album. Vocals samples are used early on in good taste to provide a sense of voyeurism within the music, but in the middle portion of RI.T it just serves to stretch out tracks that weren't meant to be stretched out. "Aritec" and "We Watch Over You" are both far too alike to be enjoyable back to back. If it weren't for "Random Hiver," I might have become sick with the album too soon and missed the promising conclusion. A series of sucking sounds (think snot) lead "We Watch Over You" into "Cheyenne," a tune that creates an empty and strange embrace between keyboards and drums. The drums never quite sync up with eachother nor with the self-destructing melodies fading and buzzing out of the sound spectrum. The end of the song is a mess of alien sound and instellar noise that dissipates into thin air before the escapist "Enron State" topples into being and blows itself out on its own gust of wind. Yes, the song has a bit of a political tint to it, but nevermind such a distraction: the music is lovely. The end leaves me feeling lonely and somehow depressed: the entire album just feels like a byzantine cathedral that echoes to the point discomfort. It's gorgeous, without a doubt, but there's something about that void that is unsettling; it's a space that's hard to look into without being absorbed by it. - Lucas Schleicher
The Vegetable Orchestra, "Automate"
Vienna's Vegetable Orchestra is one of only two vegetable music projects worldwide. They make music using only instruments crafted out of vegetables and various kitchen appliances. No sampling or looping is involved, and all songs are composed for live performance, the sounds gathered by what must be some of the best contact microphones in the world. The group protests that this is no "just-for-fun project," and such a claim is easy to believe after listening to this, their second full-length release. Trying to decide just how this record, sounding like a nice enough mix of spacious glitch-tronica and the windblown, percussive sound of early Kraftwerk, was rended from curiously altered radishes, carrots, and eggplant, is at least a unique experience. The orchestra's stated goal is "the interpretation and reconstruction of electronic music with organic means," the first part of which is an astounding achievement. With the aid of microphones alone, an incredible range of drone, crackle, and even straight noise travels the short distance from vegetable to ear. They do house; they do dub; hell, they even cover Kraftwerk's "Radioactivity" with an amazing amount of clarity. The large number of sounds and reference points within Automate keep the novelty cooking for far longer than one would expect. The album falters, however, in accomplishing the "reconstruction" proposed in its concept. True, the element of surprise enters first as the realization sets in that these are all vegetable sounds, then again when it's clear that none of the sounds have been run through computers or looped. But the music, taken alone, is nothing shocking. Some strange, noticeably unique sounds emerge every now and then throughout Automate, but no archly organic vibe is launched. In a time when computers can reconstruct and often augment any sound under the sun, vegetables that merely replicate computer noise, and do so somewhat derivatively, fail to make a lasting impression. That said, the Vegetable Orchestra's first album may not be directed at a reinterpretation of electronic music, and therefore may not find the same shortcomings as its successor. Also, the orchestra's bimonthly performances are surely spectacles to be reckoned with; at the end of the show, the group's own chef cooks the instruments into a soup that is shared with the audience! - Andrew Culler
COCK ESP, "HURTS SO GOOD: THE COCK ESP REMIX CD"
If brevity is the soul of wit, then the 99 remixes of Cock ESP on Hurts So Good must be the wittiest music ever produced. Close to none of these songs exceed the two-minute mark, most of them averaging about 30-45 seconds. It's an album tailor made for noise lovers with ADD. Cock ESP is another one of those aggro-noise outfits with a wicked sense of humor and a predilection for transgressive fun. V/VM Test records is certainly an appropriate label for this stuff, as much of their humor derives from brutal parodies of pop music and pun-filled song titles, poking fun at pop culture clichés and other easy targets. This adolescent satire has the potential to wear out its welcome quickly, but when it comes in such tiny little disposable half-minute packages, it's hard to resist. Just reading down the list of the 88 band names and 99 song titles that make up the album is a fucking riot. A sampling of some of the more ridiculous band names: The Edible Scab Package, DJ Enormous Genitals, U Can Unlearn Guitar, Obscuration/Albee Featuring the Mellow Oaks First Grade Choir, Uncle Fatso, Kid666 and DJ Smallcock. The song titles: "Don't Stop Bleedin'," "The Pursuit of Crappiness," "Enjoy the Violence," and "Hologram of Balls." The music runs the gamut mutated voices, perversions of pop music, sampled media cut-ups, harsh blasts of industrial noise, aggressive drill n' bass techno, clarinet solos, a children's choir, field recordings and drugged-up fucking about some of it hilarious, all of it annoying, but certainly that was the intention. As an unexpected side effect, listening to this disc on random repeat mode all afternoon has given me the strange ability to read the minds of people's genitals. In fact, your dick just told me that it wants this CD. - Jonathan Dean
Black Audio, "Louisiana"
The future of indie rock mixed with electrorock funk is definitely in doubt. Black Audio are a Finnish pop outfit with a mission to be the best club band ever, or so it seems listening to their slick productions on this release. The sad thing is that their beats are derivative, and every track is ruined by the mispronunciation of a word, or a strange effect that throws everything out of balance. There is a lot of creativity in their music, no question there, but it has very little substance that can be called originality. This single, composed of one undisturbed track off their debut album and two remixed versions of album tracks, is enough to give a taste of the band and their flavor, but there is precious little here that would give me any cause to want to listen to their full-length at all. "Louisiana" is keyboard funk with scratch guitar and a steady programmed beat, but it's crippled by the flatulent keyboard bassline, and the repeated phrasing of "Yamaha" as "Ya-MAH-ha." "Rock 'N' Roll Egos" starts off fairly strong, with a labored rhythm and guitar bend, but it's the lyrics that ultimately do this one in, as well: "Yeah I hate the rednecks, dislike hipsters even more/Getting along with mean morons for the sake of business makes me a whore." It just shows that subject matter only gets you halfway there; next you have to carry the concept to the masses on your words and feelings. Maybe something is lost in the translation here, and that's part of the problem. "Mockba 1980" is a tribute to Finnish Olympic medal winners of the past, but the remix here just plods at first, then annoys at the end with its bland keyboard sounds and rapid-fire for no reason beat. It's a good attempt, and maybe there would be more on the full-length for me to enjoy. With this as an appetizer, though, I have very little stomach for the main course. - Rob Devlin
Jono El Grande, "Fevergreens"
Rune Grammofon is known for releasing consistently excellent records while at the same time convincing listeners that all their music comes from Norway. One would think, given the output of this label alone, Norway should have long ago become the new Iceland
or something. Rune's reputation for continually thwarting audience expectations will not be tarnished by Fevergreens, the second release from outsider-composer Jono El Grande. Next to Arne Nordheim's abstract electronics, Supersilent's dead-city jazz, and Spunk's inimitable improv, Fevergreens occupies a territory of its own; problem is, the territory isn't so thrillingly exclusive this time around. While El Grande's playful blend of easy listening, exotica, and soundtrack styling may stand out in Norway, there is a "tried" quality to this music that makes the disc less than impressive. Fevergreens is enjoyable; the exuberance of these tracks is certainly palpable, the pathos-ridden moments gripping even. El Grande's forays into easy listening and a kind of quasi-exotica are written well, never drifting into (more-than-appropriate) parody. The disc fails, somewhat admirably, in its ambitious nature. The music operates under a classically informed, theatrical guise, bookending prologue/epilogue sections and all, with the soundtrack-influenced vibe fueling the listener's vivid journey through the crests and denouements of an elaborate, though abstract tale. Such a framework clashes with El Grande's interest in jazz and the progressive rock sound bearing the mark of people like the Mothers of Invention and Henry Cow. The avant presence is subtle, isolated to bursts of rock drumming, spastic synthesized melodies, and a more pronounced jazz edge, but relevant enough to pull the stoicism out from under what would otherwise be a rather refined musical achievement. The short lengths of the songs, each packed with enough mood changes to make one's head spin, likewise detract from the latent seductive quality of this music. I find myself wishing the avant-rockist bits were allowed to flail and degenerate freely, or the moments of a more classical resolve given more room to breathe. The former would provide Jono El Grande a welcome (and still unique) spot on Rune Grammafon's intimidating roster, while the latter would still make him the best Norwegian making such interesting music (which, to be honest, could mean the best worldwide). - Andrew Culler
Electrelane, "On Parade"
Those familiar with Electrelane may not recognize them now. Where before they were apt to formulate long, dire instrumentals with murky bass, flamboyant keyboards, and fuzz guitar, these four ladies from Brighton have apparently decided that less can be more, provided that the energy is right. On Parade is a sample of what's to come from the band on their debut full-length on Too Pure, and has an intriguing concept given their past. Three songs weighing it at a little past eight minutes is a little shocking. The Bruce Springsteen cover ups the oddity level, though they've played it live in the past with good notices. But the punk-injected sound takes the taco, as the Electrelane of before has been replaced by the bastard daughter of Snowpony and Sleater-Kinney (recent tourmates = coincidence?). At any rate, it's a fairly by-the-numbers EP: new sound on track one, strangely appealing though out of character cover on track two, and a more traditional-sounding (read: instrumental) track three to prove to fans they haven't completely lost their minds. It's fairly mediocre, but not in that it-almost-stinks kind of way. It's just nothing all that special. Verity Susman has that husky Johnette Napolitano quality in her voice that always sounds like it can't do much more than it is right now. The music is catchy and has a certain ulterior groove to speak of, but at the end of the day I'm left wanting to give it all the old heave-ho on days when I want to trade in old CDs for new at my local. The jury's not out so far that I wouldn't listen to the forthcoming debut, but I'm suspect nonetheless. - Rob Devlin
"THE BELLS SHALL SOUND FOREVER"
Tribute albums can often be enlightening. They can also be excruciating. It can be illuminating to hear differing interpretations of a songwriter's back catalog. A cover version can give you a fresh perspective on a familiar song, or place it in a new musical context that may lend itself brilliantly to the original material. In the past, I've heard wonderful collections of artists interpreting the songs of singer-songwriters Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Lee Hazlewood. The Bells Shall Sound Forever collects 15 tracks from 15 artists, paying tribute to the songs of Current 93. From the beginning this project is doomed. David Tibet's work as Current 93 is so irredeemably idiosyncratic, and is performed and produced in such a specific way, that any reinterpretation necessarily runs the risk of diluting the meaning and power of the original material. Current 93 albums do not contain songs; they contain stanzas. Each album is a poetic cycle, weaving together Tibet's musings on Christ, cats and apocalypse with sparse and evocative sound settings. The very idea of isolating a track and reinterpreting it seems, on the surface, to be a ridiculous venture. Tibet's dramatic spoken-word vocals, Michael Cashmore's haunting instrumental backdrops and Steven Stapleton's mindbending soundscapes and production acumen: all of these elements are vital to the sound of Current 93. David Tibet can't play any instruments, he can't read or write musical notation and he can't write a song. Therefore, the idea of covering a Current 93 song seems just as pointless as covering a Wesley Willis song. The European and American artists on Bells are largely obscure, often amateur, with a clear emphasis on bedroom industrial and neo-folk musicians people who have had their brains twisted by constant exposure to Sol Invictus records. Sonne Hagal's limp take on "Death of the Corn" is made comical by the thick German accent of the singer. Dorien Campbell turns in a capable but unremarkable rendition of "A Sadness Song." Vequinox manage to make the already boring "Earth Covers Earth" even more lackluster, sounding like a middle-aged, pot-smoking Wiccan couple recording on a four-track in a dusty tool shed in their backyard. German industrial band Engelsstaub attempt to transform "Happy Birthday Pigface Christus" into one of those faceless EBM club tracks. What an outrageously bad idea! Hungary's Cawatana contribute a hilariously corny version of "A Song for Douglas After He's Dead", complete with silly pan flutes and broken English. "Crowleymass" is an embarrassing mess it's hard to tell what Storm of Capricorn were thinking with this annoying cacophony of multi-tracked vocals and dull Casio keyboards. If you've ever wanted to hear a heartbreakingly beautiful song turned into utter shit, listen to Der Feuerkreiner's self-consciously "gothic" reading of "Soft Black Stars." Pancreatic Aardvarks turn in a seven-minute dark techno track clearly influenced by Coil, but it appears to have nothing in common with the Current 93 song that it purports to be a cover of. The tracklisting contains several glaring errors, mixing up the order of the tracks 12 through 14, which is fine with me because I'm sure I won't be searching for these songs in the future. I actually liked O Paradis' psychedelic flamenco version of "Calling For Vanished Faces I," if only for the amusement of hearing the lyrics sung in Spanish. Apparently, David Tibet donated a Louis Wain painting from his personal collection for the sleeve image. If this means that he is giving his stamp of approval to this project, I would question his judgment. All I felt after listening to The Bells Shall Sound Forever was an overwhelming desire to dig out my old Current 93 records and listen to these songs in the proper context. Perhaps that was David Tibet's plan all along. - Jonathan Dean
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