Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Urthona -

"I Refute It Thus"

Released 2008 on Head Heritage
Reviewed by Rust Phimister, 05/01/2009ce

I have been getting deeper and deeper into Drone music in the last year. After first having my mind blown by Cluster 71, the great, planet-sized electro-drone masterpiece by Krautrock duo Cluster, I quickly found myself craving more. Drone was the new great psychedelic music, as far as I was concerned, and I was hooked. Soon I had moved on to Zeit by Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze's first two masterpieces (staying in Germany), The Taj Mahal Travellers (and their leader Takehisa Kosugi's monstruous voice-and-violin epic Catch-Wave), Sunn O))), Earth and The Dead C. Not forgetting Nurse With Wound and Metal Machine Music (for the noise side of Drone), Stars of the Lid or underground Dutch meister Machinefabriek, whose free-to-download opus Stuip/Staar is well worth checking out (http://www.machinefabriek.nu/).

Yet, if I thought I had seen it all as far as Drone was concerned, after venturing backwards to check out LaMonte Young, Steve Reich and Tony Conrad, I was wrong. I Refute It Thus stands as one of THE greatest Drone albums ever made.

It is shrouded in mystery, even by Head Heritage standards. It's hard to tell who is making this music. Is the man who's picture's on the front cover the sole purveyor of the insane sounds held within the CD's grooves (can we say grooves when talking of CDs?)? Is he really doing all that with just one guitar? We know Cope himself was involved in the creation, conceptualisation and of course release of this album, as boos of Head Heritage records, but it doesn't look like he appeared on it. So, how to describe it? How is it possible to pinpoint the nature of the supreme mind-melting rock that is contained inside I Refute It Thus?

Well, for starters, it's worth checking out the album's artwork: a man with a guitar stands in the distance, surrounded by massive monoliths, overlooking a vast, barren plain. Man and machine, standing buffeted by the winds of time, and in the shadow of nature's splendour. Like I said, this is an album only a friend of Julian Cope could make. It's like latter-day druid music, something old, and powerful. Yet, it also, fundamentally, rock. After all, it's made with a sodding guitar, and, as far as I can tell, not much else. But Urthona knows his/their way around his/their six-string, fuck me! Opener 'Urthona Cannot Be Destroyed' kicks off with a staccato burst of guitar noise, like Jimi Hendrix (circa 'Machine Gun') filtered through Lou Reed's amp and extremist approach. It shudders and stutters, before more guitar kicks in, a sort of keening wail that whistles out of the speakers and keeps screaming for the duration of the track's ten-plus minutes. And the crazy thing? It's not long enough. This the kind of guitar pyrotechnics that allowed Jorma Kaukonen, Hendrix and John Cippolina to freak out whole audiences by sound alone back in the sixties, yet for all that it never sounds retro. The absence of drums, keys or even bass (so I can tell) propel 'Urthona Cannot Be Destroyed' either into a post-modern industrial world, or a Moorcock-ian fantasy landscape. Maybe both! It's psychedelic yet hard, natural-sounding yet modern. Decades of history (hence the Whitman and Blake quotes in the package), nature and rock have been channelled into 10 minutes of pure guitar drone. Can there be a more awe-inspiring sound than this?

Well, if there can't, Urthona sure gives it a good shot before the album pans out. Each track is longer than the last. The second, 'The Bright Burst of Morning', has a more industrial-metal feel, echoing Throbbing Gristle at their loudest and most psychedelic, as well as American drone-metal lords Sunn O))) and Earth. The guitars are heavier (more cliched, maybe?), and the piece ambles along at a drak, funereal pace. Sudden sound effects pop up: a babbling brook, the wind, birds, but this one feels less successful than the first track. The third, however, is a beast, twenty-one minutes of droning feedback and long, empty moments where the sound recedes, leaving a microsecond of silence to gorge on before the guitars return, sometimes screaming, often growling, mostly "humming" (for want of a better word). After the pyrotechnics of the opener and the heavy natural/industrial crunch of the second track, 'Sun and Moon So Heavy' seems the perfect synthesis of everything Urthona has been distilling up until then: it's metallic, rock, guitar-driven. But this is also a folk album, of sorts: an album stepped in its natural setting (in this case, the wilds of Dartmoor), an album at one with the elements, transported by rock and tree and fallow. And by guitars. Like early Klaus Schulze, natural elements collide with the machines, and leaves something that will swallow you whole, transcending science, transcending machinery, transcending nature. The sound, I guess of a black night sky that you stare at for hours on end, wholly swallowed by its infinite size. Can I get an "Amen"?


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