Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

Ramesses - The Tomb

Ramesses
The Tomb


AOTM #69, February 2006ce
Released 2005 on Invada Records
THE TOMB was released on picture disc vinyl in 2005 by Invada Records.

Ramesside
  1. Black Domina (11.10)
  2. Witchampton (8.59)
Skull Side
  1. The Tomb (7.02)
  2. Cult of Cyclops (9.14)
  3. Omniversal Horror (6.14)

Note: Please excuse the particularly personal nature of this review, brothers and sisters, but this record has occupied a strange position in our household since last November. Indeed, I tried writing about this disc before X-Mass and just couldn’t get the sentiments into words. So it’s a bit long winded, but heartfelt to the max.


The Nothing Out Of Me

These were the beginnings of my history, siblings, last November, quite different a night on a Friday evening, and spent in the company of shaggy hillmen and vamps of the half-life, sonic missionaries from the sub-basement, who finally had cracked open the granite pavement that seals the floor of the underworld, bringing forth hordes of trolls from under the bridge between Nevermind and The Melvins’ solo LPs. Several strange hours when insight is to be burned, watched from behind my own mask as searing comprehension interfaced with slack-gobbed oblivion, and bovine bull-roarer delinquency held hands with sweating post-coital nostril flaring amphetamine ingestion; the right kleine nacht for a little death, as it turned out, and all because Khanate had just turned up. Turned up? Ye Gods, they was loud… on eleven and then some. As I entered the mead hall masoned in wood that Bristollians call The Croft, I espied the radiant flames of Stephen O’Malley at the other end of the bar, not the yellow blaze I’ve listed previously but a deep subterranean blue. Above his beard, those jewelled Irish eyes of SOMA gripped mine and we saluted our re-engagement in a junk of ‘Motherfuckers’ and other ardent but outwardly incomprehensible semaphore slanguage. “Dubin’s become the Nightshitter” muttered SOMA cryptically, but I gained his metaphor immediately. Indeed, anyone who has already saw Khanate in concert would have done the same, for Alan Dubin’s dedication to the looping bark could grasp where emanates his seat of power. I saw the outwardly-affable Dubin soon after, but gravity pulled The Nightshitter inexorably towards the bog, and soon the four Khanates at their place upon the low stage blew our minds and ritually enslaved our minds with strategic moves, and those great tectonic collisions of sound that only the Khanates can fashion. Seeking refuge, I moved into and occupied then squatted a deep doorway, accommodating my high German WW2 peaked cap, but could not applaud the merciless rage of the four Khanates. Entranced and informed by Hell below, I only could low as cattle low, whilst the others of the audience adopted the English tradition of opting not to notice my bovine boos. Ecstasy rose up and out of me with each tectonic collision brought forth by the four Khanates, and by the conclusion of their concert I was the riddled one full of questions and more questions.

Rear of picture disc

On the street hours later, the rear of my Chevrolet 4x4 was packed to the hilt with SOMA’s gear and we blasted off into the dim night down the M4 corridor to my Yatesbury home, upon Marlborough Downs. “I booed all night”, I explained, for this had not been the lowing of failure but of almighty and rigorous success. The clapping and the exuberant cries of ‘Awl Right!’ were inappropriate for such perpetrations of ruin. But the punishing gruel served up by the four Khanates had precipitated them into a deep underworld of gloom, and I feared for their mental health on the roads of English rock’n’roll. I articulated to SOMA that the well-being of James Plotkin, Tim Wyskida and Alan Dubin could be at stake if all they had with which to combat their demons was lukewarm moto-slop and local beer. For SOMA I didn’t hang from such fears – his career in Sunn0))) and his wonderful marriage to the marathon athlete Anne Kugler and his now-famous design of grand LP sleeves altogether exhibit a pragmatism of the long term quester knee deep in excelsis. But I was still happy to guide SOMA down from his Khanate world with a roadtrip to Holy McGrail’s place in the Yorkshire hills and the fashioning of some ur-drones at Doggen’s Nottingham studio. And when in a thunder storm I handed over SOMA to Heathrow’s Terminal 3 under one week later, I felt - as I once more navigated the M4 corridor headed west - that these were still early days in the experiment. Yes, the Heathenising Process of the West is now well underway, but its major protagonists still write them rules, and shall do so for the next decades.

Exhausted from driving hundreds of miles in a torrential downpour in prescription shades (my new soft contacts shrivel up in my eyes like the bollocks of a New Year’s Day swimmer in the Serpentine), I disrobed and was about to sink lifeless into the bath before realising that the fury of the rain would take its toll of the contents in the un-watertight rear compartment of the Chevrolet 4x4. Hastily donning my all weather gear, I staggered across the cobbles as Thor’s mighty platform boots stomped across my path. Throwing open the tailgate in the vicious wind, I grabbed my sodden overnight bag and noted several distinguished articles that swirled around in the twisting waters of the unlit rear compartment. I collected up all of this hitherto unknown loot and rushed indoors. Inside the warmth of the kitchen, I realised at once that Khanate’s Bristol promoter – Invada Records’ CEO Fatpaul – had, at the load out one week before, very kindly plied me (unsolicited) with all kinds of vinyl goods, LPs, 7”, 12” singles, all of which had been shaking about in the soup of my 4x4 for over 120 hours. I gathered them all up and gingerly separated each element, leaving them to dry slowly in our Jockeyhouse annex. But when, next morning, I beheld each piece, a piece of each item had returned to the primordial ooze whence it originated and I reluctantly consigned all to the trash. Everything, that is, except one lone warrior – a 12” picture disc whose survival had depended not on the strength of its easily-warped cardboard sleeve, but whose entire vibe was contained behind clear plastic sheeting, and whose three band members stared out at me from a wooded location. Moreover, the designer had specifically centred the photo so as to place the central hole right between the eyes of the central figure. Pleasant details, methunk, and I gived him a spin…


Pastor of Muppets

THE TOMB (CD version)

Slowly at first, but right from the off, I warmed to this sound that these backwoods boys made. With no idea whence they originated and still recumbent with exhaustion, I laid me on the bed staring up at Kentucky Jim Bennett’s fine art depiction of the doubleneck guitar as Horned Pan. These first opening bars of the soul surviving picture disc put me in mind me of Joy Division playing the chords of Yes’ Kraut-styled instrumental “Wurm” or even Amon Duul 2’s more overt Peter Leopold-propelled metal graspings during DANCE OF THE LEMMINGS, and my pampered spirit tap-danced with the lightness of its touch. That reggae rimshot drumming was something else again… But then, 69 seconds into the track, as a mighty upsurge of sonic wind caught me off guard, the great cloven-hoofed Iron Horse kicked off from its starting gate and, with all the mythical power of Sleipnir - Odin’s eight-legged steed – the track climbed a full 12 decibels in volume, as vocals of the Uber Cookie Monster variety declared undying Undeath to the inbred members of its shortbread audience. What the? I was soon drowning under the avalanche of sound as the previously twinkle-toed drumming multiplied into umpteen mighty Burundi warriors on acid. Where was this tsunami of a band from, who was this, did I know them already, I’m sure they’re called Ramesses on the sleeve, wasn’t there a band called Ramesses in the ‘70s on Vertigo? What the fuck is going on? Meanwhile, in its simple elliptical lyrical declaration, the enormous and monolithic ur-gollum vocals appeared to be – over and over and fucking over again - describing nothing less that merciful Allah himself selecting a young believer for service to the sacred crescent as a human bomb with which to wipe away the infidels:

“Step into the white light,
Move into the white light,
Step into suicide.”

It was the most Godlike vocal I’d heard in years, literally Godlike, and… scary as the God must be. Furthermore, the harshness of the Martin Hannett-style production and the imbalance of sound all contributed to this grand feeling of being in the presence of truly uncompromising evil. The genius of the lyric repetition was simply this: in repeating those same words over and over, the libretto was (no more and no less) simply an instruction, nay a demand from a cosmically higher force made to a reluctant minion. The lyric gave no room for questioning, and the mantric manner in which the order was barked left us in no doubt that the song would have continued for however long was necessary to get this simple order over to the ‘victim’. Now, the solipsistic and overly-demanding metal ur-growl of Cookie Monster that once was sole realm of Sabbat’s Martin Walkier and his ilk has long been appropriated successfully by most every metaller worth his rock salt, from the rurally acoustic C&W death metal of Austria’s wonderful Cadaverous Condition1 to such sonically separated modern young bands as Trivium, Marzuraan and The Chariot. But nothing but nothing had prepared me for the sound of this song that I would later discover to be entitled ‘Black Domina’. And I sunk obliterated into the mattress itself, skewered on the tightly turned springs and physically oppressed by the weight of this band unknown. Incognizant of the realms whence they’d sprung, I languished a further full twenty minutes on the bed, incoherent, drool-smeared and gonzoid as the diamond needle dragged itself around the vinyl gutter, seemingly caught forever in a locked groove of its makers’ own device. It was – in half the time - as exhausting, obliterating and complete as Venom’s side long “At War With Satan”, just as dynamic and sure-footed, but in a whole new league of heavy. In order to achieve the epic nature of “Black Domina/Witchampton’, Ramesses seemed to have put VOLUME 4’s ‘Cornucopia’ through a dark Scandinavian Joy Division filter in much the same way that Finland’s Reverend Bizarre had put VOLUME 4’s ‘Snowblind’ through the same dark Scandinavian Joy Division filter in order to achieve their massively hypnotic doom ballad “Strange Horizon”. Finally, I struggled upright for just long enough to take the only option open… and spun that sucker for a second time…

‘We Are All Doomed’

WE WILL LEAD YOU TO GLORIOUS TIMES

… as the twenty minutes concluded once more, at last I shifted my delicate frame off the bed and beheld that shitty wipe-yer-arse-on-it cover Invada Records has the nerve to call ‘a poster’! With simultaneously Orwellian-Crowleyan poetic thoroughness, my copy was number 101/666 and the name of this LP was THE TOMB. The single track to which I had become so attached was actually two songs that segued together, and were entitled “Black Domina” and “Witchampton”, the latter title being the name of a Dorset village I know not far from the Neolithic henge at Knowlton, the one with the Norman church built at its centre and with yew trees on its banks. The music, the vocal delivery, the lyrics, the production, all had conspired to create in this “Black Domina/Witchampton” piece a timeless and menacingly barbarian classic; an underworld season ticket with guarantees.2 Successive multiple rotations of this single LP side convinced me that Ramesses had captured herein one of the great heavy rock classics of all time, literally a new height in low brow culture; an “Into The Void” for the early 21st but, in its epic nature, even greater and even more useful to the Pragmatic Motherfucker. No, this was not quite Sleep’s “Jerusalem” but it certainly transcended even Om’s “On the Mountain at Dawn” in sheer navigational usefulness. And my need to play the song 20 times a day was the evidence, motherfuckers. And I could go to the other side of our house and find my missus punishing the same song at all hours and on that same heavy rotation.

Then I done me some research and digged the fullness of my discovery, ladies’n’gentlemen, and what a confusion these Ramesses boys present – almost as psychedelic and confusing as their music. For a start, this lot was almost Electric Wizard, except without singer Jus Oborn. That is, they were the Wizard but they weren’t. Birthed in February 2003 after the mysterious demise of their legendary former band, bass player Tim Bagshaw and drummer Mark Greening had searched out another like mind from their Dorset heimat, the foul-mouthed singer Adam Richardson, whose manimal presence on the Ramesside had so captivated me and created such initial confusion as to where they wuz coming from. I’d never been a massive Electric Wizard fan despite my late mate the highly esteemed King of the Underground Trevor ‘Harmonia Mundi’ Manwaring blasting me with them any moment he got the time. It wasn’t an antipathy I had, just that they never really grabbed my by the poopoo – made all the right noises (the Geezer MASTER-period bass especially, and the Bill Wardian drumming) and the long songs were nice but maybe the vocals weren’t quite it for me, I dunno. Anyway, Ramesses’ story was a super-convoluted thing, to be sure – the drummer was the same M ark Greening as before, but the Wizard’s Geezer bass player, the aforementioned Tim Bagshaw, had now jumped ship and become the Ramesses guitarist, with obvious and immediately stratospheric FX. But most pivotal of all was the introduction of this Adam Richardson, Ur-Priest of all Cookie Monsters and Pastor of Muppets, on whose vocals Ramesses’ sound so depended. More so, indeed, cause this motherfucker could play the bass too, and therefore kept them in power trio mode – the most lovely of all the rockband forms, methinks… nay asserts.

Side Two or Thereabouts

But why am I reviewing a picture disc LP and not the similarly-named CD release, too? Well, the vinyl sounds better, is more analogue and, therefore, is more sonically graspable (natch). But here it gets even more complicated because… (pause for breath) having settled into the Ramesside for about two weeks, it was disconcerting to have to approach the Skull side of this LP. Absent was the boxy sibilant thrill-seeking garage sound of side one, here replaced by a pristine gated thunder recorded with typical bombast and thoroughness by doom legend Billy Anderson (for whose work on every other record I’ve heard, I’d willingly ritually sacrifice Chelsea players. But not here). Everything that had spilled over on the Ramesside and left my bedroom walls coated with an icky past-its-sell-by-date stomach churning mystery had here on the Skull side been banished by a Roman Andersonian thoroughness, so that the vats of raw yawp that had so defied my ears was here replaced by clearly clinical destruction. It was as though the slow messy devastation of the Somme had been superceded by precise and all-pervasive atomic warfare (you know how shockingly hi-fi Sabs’ VOLUME 4 had at first appeared when you were still in bed with the cassette copy-from-hell that was MASTER OF REALITY) and I struggled to get a grip with the other material. For myself, this other side is still pale in comparison to “Black Domina/Witchampton” precisely because it’s not as MUCH as it should be. Ja, mein hairies, the riffs are still fucking evil and pointlessly epic rushes into massed bayonets, but I want them to be twice as long, Om length at least, Orthodox-style preferably and then maybe even some more. However, I was then disconcerted to discover that my favourite tracks had already appeared on CD on the December ’03 release WE WILL LEAD YOU GLORIOUS TIMES. Collected herein, the two tracks were even more outstanding, head and shoulders above the much shorter ‘Ramesses II’ and ‘Master Your Demons’, though the two at least possessed the same sound and sense of over-recording. But weirder is that those of you who buy THE TOMB CD will miss out entirely on the flagship tracks, because they were on the earlier release. So you have to buy the 12” picture disc because it’s a far better sound, far better package, and far better mix of tracks. Got me? No, I doubt it too, but what the… Hey, ultimately you just gotta get your collective asses down to the padded seats of the Bournemouth Opera House to enjoy these wolverines in a barely semi-upright position. At ROME WASN’T BURNED IN A DAY, I managed to present Sunn0))) in a sumptuous theatre where layabouts could lay and endure in comfort (and I still gotta do it for Khanate), but this Ramesses trip is obviously barely into second gear, and I reckon we’re gonna see some huge huge stuff that will, one day, even relegate the pitch black Bible-burning of ‘Black Domina/Witchampton’ to a footnote in their history. Rite on!



FOOTNOTES:
  1. All of Cadaverous Condition’s releases have much in them to be recommended. However, their seamless moves from thunderous electric music to rural acoustic is perhaps a bit much for casual tastes, and I would suggest investigators begin with their LP THE LESSER TRAVELLED SEAS (Perverted Taste 2001). That said, their 1993 debut IN MELANCHOLY (Lethal Records) is also superb, as is their forthcoming (as yet untitled) 2006 LP. But for sheer acoustic mythical drama, cop a copy of the split 10” all acoustic mini-LP that they shared with the American band Changes, released in 2004 on the Eis & Licht label.
  2. And in small lettering, set aside from the main information text, were the simple words “We Are All Doomed”. Yes, yes, yes, these guys knew precisely what they were doing. For this was doom in all its barbarian splendour, doom at its most finely drawn, doom not as death but doom as judgement – true doom. For the Doom of the Scando-Germanic tribes of the Dark Ages – the Normans, Vikings, Jutes, Saxons and Danes – manifested most clearly in the Domesday Book of 1086, which the victorious William the Conqueror used to make a list of everything Saxon that he now considered to be his own. To the Scando-Germanic tribes, doom always meant judgement and is the reason that the Russian Viking-informed culture still calls its parliament ‘Dooma’; why the Icelandic law seats are called ‘doom rings’; why the high law seat of the Orkney Isles was situated at the geographical centre of a lake called Loch Doomy; why I concluded my 1993 LP AUTOGEDDON with the lyrics: “All love is doomed, all love is doomed.” Of course, love is not all destined to die… but it IS (I believe) all destined to be judged.


Discography

WE WILL LEAD YOU TO GLORIOUS TIMES (This Dark Reign 2003)
THE TOMB (Invada 2005)