Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Shub Niggurath - Live 13/1/89

Shub Niggurath
Live 13/1/89

Released 1990 on Auricle
Reviewed by aether, 12/10/2010ce

Shub Niggurath – Live (Aurical AMC 035)

Recorded Live in Paris on 13/1/89

For a concert recording made, fittingly, on Friday 13th, this certainly lives up to the superstitiously tense nature of such an auspicious date. Indeed I’m sure the band were cognisant of the fact; hoping to willingly channel (as if consciously manipulating) certain dark forces. Such a band are Shub Niggurath - the legendary RIO/Zeuhl band who began their career in the mid-80s with the macabre Les Morts Vont Vie – an absolute masterpiece of poised, dark Crimson-like, chamber-progressive with that typically French/Zeuhl feel underpinning it.

Live is a concert recording from Friday 13th January, 1989, put out on the Freeman’s Auricle cassette label sometime soon after. [It has to be said, today’s retrospectively-focussed, “post-Cope/Krautrocksampler” interest in all things oddly progressive and psychedelic have a lot to thank those brothers for!]. Apparently, Live, proffers some of the earliest material put together by a newly configured post-debut line-up – debuting some of the tracks eventually found on their second 1991 LP, C'etaient De Tres Grands Vents – namely “Ocean” and “Promethee.” As to the fidelity of these early live run throughs to their eventual sudio versions, I cannot say as I do not have anythng else by Shub Niggurath, apart from their contribution to Musea’s famed late eighties Zeuhl compilation Enneade (maybe an Unsung review of this would be a worthwhile undertaking)

“Ocean” starts the LP as it means to go on - ominously (there’s a surprise). Dark clouds gather, as insidious, multi-instrumental, timbral mists coalesce into a general fog of dread and dissonance akin to the clamour of David Lynch’s Eraserhead soundtrack, as Henry roams the industrial netherworld. All sounds distant at first as if in another room. Icy blast of guitar noises and feedback and guttural, throaty bass groan as if under some immense gravitational pull. Soon, boxy-sounding drums clatter away – trying in vain to bring these winsome sounds under some sort of restraint. Already this is Shub Niggurath – certainly THE most experimental of the RIO scene (and that’s saying something) – at their darkest and most eldritch. As if spectral terror and abject fear are being wrought and distilled into some sort of musical structure through ancient alchemy and archaic rituals. It’s as if a huge musical viscous liquid is being churned in some massive cauldron, (by the bass, of course!) Mixed suitably thick, the stirring stops as a lone trombone farts out some sighing melody into the now silent decaying atmosphere. The rancid bass of Alain Ballaud falls into some sort of conversation with it – now and again cymbals fly around like bats flitting momentarily by this portent meeting. Soon they flee, however, as the rumbling picks up once again – the conversation between trombone, bass, and now guitar, sort of getting edgier and more argumentative. Its certainly Shub Niggurath at their most experimental, if not their most sinister, as they sounded on their debut LP, or Present, for example, sounded on theirs. Here, it seems the live situation has awakened their improvisational impulses somewhat. The track gradually dies on its knees, groaning under the weight if it’s own strangeness. Russ Abbott, it is NOT!

“Promethee Foudroye” is my personal favourite – as it begins with the abstract soprano voicing(s) of Sylvette Claudet – who chants away as rubbery Third Ear Band-sounding drums are beaten monotonously behind her. It certainly adds a clarity to the band’s sound – Claudet as SH’s very own Diamanda Galas – her throaty exhortations are crystal clear and sharp as steel – her melodies wringing out dark chromatic clusters and sudden impacting octave leaps. If there is a criticism it is that they don’t use her enough of her on the track, and generally.

“Phineos - Part One” closes the side – beginning again amid clattering and rumbling with the scratchy, rusty sounding bass strings of Ballaud always dominating and flying around the fretboard in typical Zeuhl-ian style. One is reminded intently of the most out there experiments on Magma’s Inedits Lp. Here, Claudet tries to insinuate her voice as an instrument amidst this musical maelstrom. In a similar fashion to the opener, the track quietens down into more (ill-)bient soundscaping then finishes to (very) muted applause. Not a home crowd, maybe;). Another useful signpost would be the Nazgul Lp (put out on the Pyramid label – maybe being European some member managed to get their hands on one – I’ve yet to see any of those mythical pyramid label albums in their original flesh and don’t think I ever will).

“Phineos - Part Two” (obviously one track in the performance) awakens side two suddenly into a rather disconcerting musical mush in which the guitar of Jean Luc Herve momentarily appears - articulating screams of spectral banshees. This gradually forms into a rather structure-less guitar solo/performance of sorts – the bass mechanistically mashing away in the background as Herve pulls screams, groans and bleeps all types of sounds from his instrument – until the song dies away.

“Variation” is obviously the big improvisation – starting with perhaps the whole LP’s only actual stable drum rthythm – like huge pumps and pistons banging away amidst (Collapsing New Buildings!) – this forms the background for a bass solo that literally scuppers the bowel of the earth with its low-reaching frequencies. Its then that we get a male chant of sorts – cannot tell what language it’s in, but it’s a rather lacklustre performance – and much to low in the mix. Klaus Blasquiz would laugh his little black and red socks (with the magma sign embroidered on them probably!) off at this one.

It literally sounds like the male vocalist is being gradually consumed by the huge swell of growing atonal sound. Akin to one of Lovecraft’s creatures, its form seems to mutate and be in constant flux, as if guitar and bass fight and intertwining like vicious snake-beasts until, at song’s climax, they seem to have mutated into one unnameable entity. And all that’s left to hear are the dying cries of the now ex-human – swallowed up by the musical beast known as Shub Niggurath.

Musically, Shub Niggurath are legendary for being the most out there of the Zeuhl-influenced/RIO bands. And Live certainly defends such a position, It’s a question of personal taste as to whether one would listen to this purely for musical enjoyment. But – like Coltrane’s Ascension LP – although I’m not compelled to pull this out often, I’m glad it exists, and I’m glad a band like Shub Niggurath exist and have media platforms in which to articulate themselves without the slightest concession to commercialism or populism. Long may their sinister music prosper!

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