Julian Cope’s Album of the Month
AOTM #22, March 2002ce
Released 2002 on Southern Lord
- Pieces of Quiet (13.22)
- Skin Coat (9.36)
- Torching Koroviev (3.38)
- Under Rotting Sky (18.18)
- No Joy (11.32)
Altaic Shamen have crossed the Bering Straits
I got it. I finally got the fucking sludge-trudge death-march I been looking for these past coupla years, and I’m so grateful. Grateful to put on the stereo, so great to know it exists. Great to grate on your trickster self — this music is Loki burning Odin’s asshole and not even bothering to run. Hit me, motherfucker. I’m more than a ghoul — I’m the vege-fucking-tation, the very soil. If you ever wondered why Dylan Carlson called his band Earth, well now you know - it’s because the shaman of the nomads could only lie in rotting sentience once he became the shaman of the agriculturist. Wandering suddenly had its limits.
Commencing in guitar feedback worthy of pure microphone feedback, insultingly loud slow slow refusenik longhairs stand and kick the living shit out of each other for 56 minutes. When I shocked this CD on to my hi-fi, this stuff seeped into my room and ruined my black carpet, climbed the walls and graffitised my framed Kiss sleeves, oozed hideous colourless mung over the carved head of my intolerant horned god Bu, then mated with my herd of doublenecks as they stood proud and erect in their shrine. Keep the bedroom door shut, for Non’s sake, or they’ll ruin the fucking bookshelves in no time at all.
Ever felt that Alice’s "Black Ju Ju" was right on the money but "I Love the Dead" was vaudeville Vincent Price. Me too. But not anymore. Alice was just struggling (20 years too soon) for words when there was not yet a vocabulary. Ever wished that Sabbat had slowed down not just a bit but so far beyond that they Approached Standstill, that every one of Martin Walkier’s words became a painful dental operation just to articulate his erudite Wodenisms? Yeah, fucking me too! Well, U-Goddit!
Make no mistake, this band is one bunch of learned know-just-what-they’z-doing psychonauts. You don’t name your group after thee most successful period of Mongol rule without have tapped (consciously/unconsciously) into the historically-provable fact that the shamen of the Altaic mountains were tying their horse to precisely the same kind of tree as proto-Woden before his tribe of Asir left their homelands and made the trip north-west to Scandinavia. And you surely don’t call a song "Under Rotting Sky" without having tapped into the actual well of Urth itself.
Khanate call themselves proto-dirge and this is the 1st sludge-trudge supergroup of the 21st Century. Taking a temporary break from the once Earth-obsessed ambient doom grunge of SunnO)))1, Stephen O’Malley has brought his magnificent guitar and sheer healing vision to Khanate. Steeped in album sleeve design and sonic installations, O’Malley is a truly ever-rising occult force.2 Blind Idiot God’s Tim Wyskida provides the kind of antirhythms which Hansel & Gretel woulda created if they’d wandered through the woods leaving a trail of Ziljian cymbals instead of breadcrumbs, and Old’s Alan Dubin is massively un-credited with ‘vokills’ (for me, his range is somewhere between Okinawa assault weapon through to Spina de Mul music box, via the wind, the sea, and the Black Mass). All this rage is somehow battened down by the telegraph wired bass of Scorn’s James Plotkin, who contributes both form AND formlessness. Throughout the album, it’s like he’s stopping the music from returning to its proto-SunnO))) state by erecting makeshift sonic walls — the musical equivalents of beachfront canvas wind-breaks.
Slow is the New Loud
So what does it sound like?
It sounds like orchestrated root canal.
It sounds like Speed, Glue & Shinki digitally slowed down to cloud speed.
It sounds like gloss paint shrinking as it dries over a haplessly incautious housefly.
It sounds like Gene Simmonds’ vocally accompanying his own live bass solo whilst being injected with industrial-strength doses of largactyl.
The bass is a meditation on Dennis Dunnaway’s intro to "Guttercats v, the Jets" from the School’s Out LP. I’m so romantic. I’m so off the beam. But it’s that bass tone, played by the awesome James Plotkin, which holds down and underpins everything. Fuck, everything else goes out of the way to undermine everything else. Stephen O’Malley’s guitar always returns homing-pigeon-like to its subterranean roost. Braaaaaaanggggg! Then off it goes again to hammer the sky with the same sniffy arrogance and rejection of 4/4 rock’n’roll as Flower Travellin’ Band managed to show on their version of Black Sabbath’s proto-trudge epic "Black Sabbath". Hey, now that’s a more-than-fairly-accurate point of reference come-to-think-of-it. The drums I love to death for their Rooster Cosbyan refusal to use the snare as anything but an armrest. Hell, even Tim Wyskida’s credit just says "hammers". Thor? Tork? Tarawn? Nere, all of the three and simultaneously.
"Pieces of Quiet" opens the album with 13-minutes of the kind of mythological events which the Christians must have unceremoniously and very hastily erased from their translations of the Norse Myths. You quickly get the feeling that the Wodenist temple at Old Uppsala would have been strewn with lyrical notes such as these pinned to the hanging bodies. It has the same grisly humour as the part in King Gautrek when the successive generations of relatives are each one committing suicide by diving over the well-named ‘Family Cliff’ on ‘the way to meet Odin’ rather than put themselves through anymore pain. Like Gautrek, this is definitely post-Christian in both its humour AND its irony, yet it’s miserably human and true all the same. The riff sounds like some digital nutcase tape-stretched one of those Black Sabbath 1971 contemporaries into some under-exposed 60% half-world ("Future Shock" by Bang/"Dogman" by Monument3/"Watching You" by Kiss/"Woman Tamer" by Sir Lord Baltimore4 are the types of song which immediately come to mind).
"Silence while I strip… bones (big space)
Dark (space with no singing) and quiet we go… into… quiet time
Dark… and quiet… we go… into quiet time… quiet time"
By the opening strains of "Skin Coat", they’ve broken through the doors of perception into some cold storage for sarcophagi. The vocals shiver and shake like Dubin’s been shut in this place so long he’s been reduced to a kind of amphibian form armed only with its own mirror, purring and gibbering in solipsistic jubilation — I exist, I exist, I exist. Everything disappears at 5.14 seconds to reveal O’Malley’s brilliant introverted and inverted arpeggio’d guitar coda, low key and self-serving as Loki as (gradually and very slowly) in comes the sibilant vocal refrain:
"I’m wearing a human shield — I put you on, I’m wearing… a human shield."
I’d guess this is my favourite song of the album. Poetically brilliant, it shines like some dark beacon in the surrounding dark age fug, and uses the wonderful image of the flesh of the body as being the ‘human shield’. It’s post-Sadam imagery is so damn’d Pop Art, you just feel there should be a whole other music invented calling itself just that.
Then they’re off into the brief wordless interlude they call "Torching Koroviev": a "Horse Latitudes" for the New Age of the New Age. The libretto calls it an instrumental, but that’s just the applaudable hang-ups of Alan Dubin breaking through. From the listeners’ perspective, sounds such as ‘ssssssssssnnnnnssssssnnnn’, ‘ttthhsssssss’, ‘norhhhhhhhhhhhhhh’ and ‘aflehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!’ count just as much as any of the other sonic gurning which permeates the fabric of this record. And I guarantee that all Japanese rock’n’roll translators with any self-respect whatsoever would conjure up at least a half-page of lyrical possibilities from these three Dubinal minutes of primal grunt during "Torching Koroviev".
And then we’re off into the 18-minute descent into Groa’s mound which is "Under Rotting Sky". Blazing feedback gives way to ever-lowering widdershins de-spiralling Bronze Age guitar, as the Dubin’s voice summons up scorched pig-Latin ritual words. Around 5-minutes in, the whole gives away to the slowest of slow guitar chord breaks… as … Dubin… breaks into… Well, he calls them ‘pseudo latin Ramblings’ but I’d strongly disagree. We’re in Kan Mikami territory here and Alan Dubin is deep toning some kinda Ur-Sanskrit from beneath the canopy of Indo-European culture. Ain’t no such thing as ‘pseudo-‘ anything when you get this deep in. On my own shamanic crawl-trawls, I would absolutely lay claim to have touched my amphibian self — and these Dubinal vocalisms are trustworthy, dangerous and brazenly-confident. Officially, the libretto reads:
"Now I’m under rotten sky… Now I’m under rotten sky…
Choke, choke, want you choked . Change, face to blue
Sky empty, blanket of you — blanket of nothing
Choke, choke, want you choked
Blanket of nothing covers your face change — it’s blue
We’re choked, me and you
Sky empty, blanket of me — blanket of nothing
Our face change, it’s blue
We’re choked, me and you…"
Sure, that’s what it looks like in western script. Reality? Uh-uh, each word is a ceremonial code-word bellowed out ever ten seconds over some ur-stockbreeding ‘tween-time, punk-chew-ate-ed by bullish freerock powerchords... "Choke, choke, choke, choke, want you choked, choke choke, choke, want you choked, choke, choke, choke, want you choked, choke choke choke, want you choked."
Does it get plainer than this? Or do their live shows feature a centrally-placed Yggdrasil on which to garotte the audience? The only way they could be more in yer face would be to call the track "King Vikar", and half the fucking audience would still be none the wiser.
After that, we can only expect Khanate to maintain their trip into the lowest consciousness. Any more and we’d probably be asleep or our cultural automatic disengage alarm systems would spring into operation, and we’d find ourselves outside in the street waiting for the emergency services. And so, on the mantra they call "No Joy", Khanate becomes a hunting party of ghouls which has decided to split up in order to smoke out their prey. Now, they are four separated aspects of the same spirit circling the churchyard at 4 a.m. determined to bring down the walls and force the lofty heights of the a’spire down into the dust. The guitar takes one route and we travel with it, as the Dubin brays coyote-like in the lychgate. Suddenly, we’re right in there with the Dubin, as he pisses under the bleeding yew. To our west the bass and guitars undermine the walls of the kirk. And all this time the drums of Tarawn clatter across two horizons, yet the cymbals remain inside our heads. An almost imperceptible movement, but I’m sure I saw the walls beginning to sink. Round and round and round anti-sunwise ploughs the guitar and bass, like the stockman undoing all of the farmer’s work — but slow as slow and controlled, always controlled. Until… like the last rays of winter sunset, the stone kirk sinks inevitably into Urth … Urth …Urth … Urth … Urtha … Urtha … Urtha … Urtha … Urtha … Urtha … Urtha … Urtha … Urtha …………
I Gots to Tell Ya
How to use this music is of paramount importance. Take your headphones and discman and give yourself to the hillside. Lie amongst the soil in a sleeping bag for the safety of your bodily self. This ain’t music to enjoy — but we ain’t Christians and we ain’t about to martyr ourselves, either. Use this music like a prescription and let it work for you. If you have the facility, wear headphones AND have the speakers playing on full bass. Also remember; this ain’t music to free the spirit. This is for the forward-thinking Motherfucker who accedes to George Clinton’s: Freedom is Free of the Need to be Free. Like the Normans said to the newly-vanquished Saxons: "You ain’t our slaves. You’re just Un-Free." Same with the Golden Horde-period which inspired this group to name themselves Khanate. Indeed, the Khanate t-shirt should probably take the Coca-Cola logo and simply replace that single word ‘enjoy’ with ‘Endure!’
- SunnO))) have a newly-released LP out now on the Southern Lord label, called Flight of the Behemoth. If anything, I prefer it to their wonderful album OO Void. It sounds like two longhairs in a WW1 biplane towing a rainbow.
- Stephen O’Malley is also responsible for the Fungal Hex soundtrack, which accompanied last year’s installations at the Jeleni Gallery in Prague. For those of you with a love of Ambulent sensibilities, this is another CD to get yer mits on. I think the serial number is GZ MC1203 (I’m not being stupid — the only place it appears is on the inner ring of the CD itself).
- Regarding Drone Syndicate’s reissue of the Moses album, I gotta tell you it’s a fucking smoke-screening waste of time. Keep well away. Even buying a patchy heavy album like the first Monument LP will yield two monsters in "Dogman" and "Gimme Life". But the Moses LP is fucking Arrows without the TV series!
- It may be unfathomable why, but it’s still true that two of Baltimore’s three greatest sludge-trudges are both on their appalling second LP Sir Lord Baltimore. Besides the ultra-trudge "Kingdom Come" title track of their brilliant and amphetamined first LP, that second album weirdly comes to life only at the end of side 2 in the form of "Woman Tamer" and "Caesar LXXI". And how!