Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Skullflower - Carved Into Roses

Skullflower
Carved Into Roses


Released 1994 on VHF
Reviewed by alKmyst, 19/03/2003ce


1. Pipe Dream
2. The Rose Wallpaper
3. Shiny Birds of Doom
4. Silver Glove Puppet
5. Metallurgical King
6. GE4050

Matthew Bower: Guitar, dita, banjo
Stuart Dennison: Drums
Russell Smith: Guitar, radio, recorder
With guest appearances from Philip Best (vocal) and Simon Wickham Smith (casio & dita)

Skullflower are a London based band who, according to their website (which can be found at http://www.monotremata.com/skull), were one of the first bands "playing the kind of freeform, bass-heavy, feedback-driven improv noise-rock favored by the likes of Earth, Sunn O))), Gravitar, Boris, etc". If you love Acid Mothers Temple or Red Noise then you will love Skullflower. Their sound, driven by feedbacking guitars and thunderous drums, is fifteen miles wide and twenty miles tall, floating past like a looming, brooding mountain. Soul-expanding shamanic rocket fuel.

Carved in Roses begins with the warm keyboard-driven harmonies of Pipe Dream, a track which is both tuneful and discordant as though its ecstasy was too much to bear. This melodic burning, this molten river of music, is a pleasure so exquisite that it plays on the edges of pain. Feedbacking slashes of wah-wah guitar scream with the intensity of the burning, melting beauty. Fountains of colourfully flaming nectar honey the skies, falling in drooping, graceful arcs. At the very heart of this music is an intensely felt, yet quiet and tentative, sense of hope. The liquid burning of Acid Mothers Temple's "Heroin Heroine's Heritage" fused with the warm glow of Spirulina's "The Message".

Next is the Rose Wallpaper, and it is at this stage that the faint of heart will depart. This track begins with a drill-like sound, a screech of metal-on-metal like the brakes of a runaway train. It soon develops into an echoing maelstrom dominated by a steady, primitive drumming and shimmering swathes of cymbals. The percussion is reminiscent of Ash Ra Tempel, and has all the violence of "Amboss" despite its slower rhythm. Yet this is a far more discordant sound than that, like the sound of tearing metal, as though your body was turned to lead and you were plummeting through iron skies, sparks flying in your wake. There is a power in this music like the screaming of the furies. Such a tremendous level of energy is built up so quickly, the piercing feedback of heavily distorted guitars blending with the thrashing of a freeform, tuneless brass/wind instrument*, that it leaves you breathless that they can sustain it. But sustain it they do, and for over ten minutes. And more than that even, they slowly, relentlessly intensify it. This is a rocket ride through stormy skies, a music that burns away the chattering of thought to expose the vaster depths of silence beneath. Such momentum is built up that it takes time for this track to end, and it eventually squeals to a halt in a desolate, windswept place, slowly swallowed by silence.

Shiny Birds of Doom is an iron behemoth. Monolithic and ritualistic like a torchlit funeral procession, heathen solemnity. It is driven by just two notes played on trombones (I think!) and looped endlessly. Processive and stately they sound like heralds of eternity, mighty horns relentlessly sounding into the depths of the universe. There is a mystery like the obelisk in Kubrick's 2001, a feeling that this music has always existed somewhere, without beginning or end, only temporarily intersecting with your awareness. The characteristic howl of feedbacking guitars slowly builds, mingling with subterranean thunder-bursts of drums and a pained human screaming, the iron hot in his flesh. It has a feverish emotional intensity, raw grief bleeding naked, wordless but so expressive and deeply, deeply human. Like Odin, pierced upon the world tree, shrieking as he siezes the runes. Like Loki, chained beneath the serpent, the venom dropping hot on his face. The sound of shamans summoning the dead only to discover that they can raise nothing but lost and restless souls.

Silver Glove Puppet is a whirling turbulence, a hurtling giddiness. Guitars scratch with hairy thrashing. A flanger wheels and turns, scraping a cylinder through it. Inarticulate shouting begins to lurk within it as the intensity builds, a primal scream on the very edges of the primitive beginnings of language. This music screams like a banshee, like the wind at night. Drums flutter like lead butterfly wings, cymbals hiss and crash all around. Drawn out feedbacking vapour trails arc slowly through the restless maelstrom like streams of pulsing quicksilver, traversing this violent space from its depths to its heights, hanging in the air like untouchable ghosts. This is frenzied and Odinist, whirling like a dervish, like 10,000 dervishes. As though you were lost and alone in the midnight desert, the relentless sandstorm cycloning all around you. Eventually the drums resolve into a steady rhythm, only to be quickly cut down with slabs of molten lead bass that fall from the sky, felling it where it stands. And so it ends.

Metallurgical King is dominated by the throbbing of a bassy keyboard whose repetitive and powerful mantra is potent to alter your state. Each throb is a pulse of warm energy to drive your shamanic flight, an astral stepping stone. Growling guitars seethe metallically, and the characteristic restless feedback/brass combination screams wildly like a pulsating tempest of squids (so to speak). The Ash Ra Tempel drums dominate, once more, spacious and shamanic, rolling, uncurling and constantly shifting rhythm patterns unravelling in endless chains. This track has a power as potent and untamed as dark lightning, an uncontrolled outpouring. Dark echoes scrape the depths beneath, like vast shapes barely glimpsed in the deep places of the sea. The sound is not pained but extremely powerful. High-octane shamanic rocket-fuel.

Lastly we have the impersonally named GE4050. This has a gliding rather than a driven sound, soaring, eddying. The usual thrashing wah-wah distortion feedback (!) is cut through by long clean tones that hang suspended, immobile, hanging inert and latent, their purity a sharp contrast to the restless, screaming background. These drawn out audio streamers are reminiscent of some of the sounds from "Avebury: The Arranged Marriage of Heaven and Earth" on the first Queen Elizabeth album. Their purity is emphasised, in the later stages of this track, with a lonely recorder melody that weaves around them. Like the dead calm in the very eye of the storm, an inert point that makes the whirling tempest all around seem somehow distant. The music ends suddenly, unexpectedly, vanishing with just a slight echo, spitting you back into the "safety" of the "real" world.

* I believe this may be called the Dita, but cannot confidently say that it is!


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