Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Throbbing Gristle
Mission Of Dead Souls


Released 1981 on current CD: Grey Area of Mute
Reviewed by Serotonin, 13/12/2001ce


As a long-time listaholic, in my top ten live albums of all time this is the big numero uno. Almost all the elements of late-period TG are at their most potent: Chris Carter's harsh, grinding machine rhythms and genuinely disturbing shards and echoes of unholy noise, Sleazy's electronic and tape work, Genesis in excelsis, alternating between demonic evocations of the abyss and satirical asides ("yeah...we're the ones they tried to ignore"; taking the piss out of a shout for "What A Day"). Only Cosey Fanni Tutti is for some reason a notably restrained presence here, but anyway, on to the record itself...

Recorded in a basketball arena in San Fransisco on May 29th 1981, MODS captures TG's final live appearance for posterity. By this period, their early group solidity had crumbled into the two elements they were soon to finally divide into: Chris & Cosey, with their emphasis on synth manipulation and electro-rhythms, and early Psychic TV, with their focus on Gen & Sleazy's occult interests and ghostly atmospherics. On stage in San Fransisco, Genesis' dominating presence leans the set's seance-like atmosphere in the latter direction, but recurring jackhammer blasts of rhythm and spindly noise make sure that Chris's presence and importance to TG doesn't go unnoticed.

Proceedings begin in a hushed, eerie mood, with Genesis surveying the "stadium of dead souls" before him and going on to relate the story of observing a stray dog's untimely demise under the wheels of a car. Murmuring quiet incantations as the spine-chilling electronics establish themselves, Gen takes the first piece to its climax with the chant "calling the spirits...calling the spirits...Calling...calling....CALLING! CALLING!" The demons have been evoked; the ritual has begun.

"Guts on the Floor" is the first rhythmically driven track, Gen's vocals consisting of the phrases "There go my guts on the floor" and "We are the ones they ignored". Exorcising critical hostility to both TG and his extreme performance-art actions at the helm of COUM Transmissions? It's been said "There go my guts on the floor" is a reference to Gen's COUM action "Scenes of Victory", where he drank a bottle of whisky and made himself vomit using rusty nails, but don't quote me on it...

"Circle of Animals" is another atmospheric piece, and is definitely not, as TG-offshoot Coil recently put it, "Musick to be played in the dark", unless you're an experienced Crowley or A.O. Spare obsessive. Otherwise it'll just freak the shit out of you. But do so pretty damn seductively and breathtakingly, listening to some of Carter and Christopherson's playing on this one. More occult themes are apparent in "Looking For The OTO", a reference to the sex magick sect Ordo Templis Orientis. It's a shame about the ending though, where Gen tries to end on a mantric accapella fade, only to be largely drowned out by crowd noise. Closing the original Side 1 of the vinyl is "Vision And Voice".

The set continues with "Funeral Rites", and sounds like exactly that. The track is a long, stately funeral march with a slow rhythm. It's perhaps the least noisy and most musical (ugh, sorry to all TG fans for using that word in a TG review) track in the set, and the highlight of it for me.

Then follows the most amusing part of the set. An audience member calls out for "What A Day" (from "20 Jazz Funk Greats"). Genesis, not the sort of man you'd expect to take requests anyway, rises to the occasion by sarcastically yelling "Wot a day? Wot a duuuuulll day!" sounding not unlike John Lydon, before Chris starts the thundering "Spirits Flying" rolling. This bizarre interlude amongst all the spirit-calling darkness isn't over yet though, as Sleazy offers a completely contrasting mood to the dark TG track with a piece of porno soundtrack which sounds like it's being spoken by an Irish coalminer. Gen's mantra of "spirits flying, spirits flying, flying low" soon re-establishes the occultic status quo over this track though. It's the longest on the album and another highlight.

The set draws to a close in more familiar territory, with versions of "Persuasion" and "Discipline" being linked by an extremely brief wall-of-noise interlude titled "The Process". "Discipline" is uncharacteristically brief, as if the disintegrating group couldn't wait to get it all over with. But as the set ends with the traditional TG motif of a tinkly muzak tape, you can't help but think they've gone out in style.

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In addition to the gig, the Mute CD adds the bonus tracks "Distant Dreams (Part 2)" and "Something Came Over Me", released on singles in 1980. The former is a lengthy Chris Carter instrumental with a brief epithet from Gen at the end, sounding tired and disillusioned in the manner of the D.O.A. track "Weeping". The latter finds him in good humour though, with the lyrics sounding like a young schoolboy discovering masturbation. It rolls along on a bouncy Carter rhythm, sounding a bit like "What A Day" in its repititious structure.


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