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Current 93, "Black Ships Ate the Sky"

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When I saw the latest incarnation of Current 93 in performance last June, I made it a point to personally tell David that it was by far my favorite lineup and show that I had ever seen of the group, and I meant it.  This album is perhaps the most anticipated Current 93 release ever, and it is easily one of, if not, the best.


Durtro /Jnana

Current 93 - Black Ships Ate the Sky

Current 93 has not released an album of this magnitude, with all new material, in 10 years.  Like All the Pretty Little Horses, Black Ships Ate the Sky resembles a theatrical production.  It is well-calculated and sequenced and has a dream team crew: a core featuring stellar musicians (like the addition of Six Organs of Admittance/Comets On Fire guitarist Ben Chasny and cellist John Contreras to the recurring players Michael Cashmore, Steven Stapleton, and Bill Breeze) along with a supporting cast of brilliant guest vocalists and noisemakers.  Additionally, like All the Pretty Little Horses, Current 93 are not afraid to tackle a traditional folk piece multiple times.  

Marc Almond opens the album with "Idumea," an 18th century hymn, which reappears later with other vocalists. His voice shines in top form here.  This version serves two purposes: accompanied only by a simple acoustic guitar, it remains quite faithful to the original; additionally, its magnificence sets the bar high for the rest of the record.  "Sunset," which originally came out on that one-track/two-song CD single sold last year in Toronto is David's first appearance. I can't help but think it's a subtle nod to the loss of band member (and more importantly a close, dear friend) John Balance, most explicitly by the line about not seeing "chalice or graal" (remember the short lived Threshold House offshoot Chalice, whose catalogue titles all began with "Graal").  Tibet goes from calm to fiery as the music picks up in pace and intensity with the multiple guitarists and driving drones on the following "Black Ships in the Sky," returning to a more reserved delivery on "Then Kill Caesar," which is accented by the haunting viola of Bill Breeze, echoing the sorrowful sounds he's performed during Coil's seasonal single series.

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's version of "Idumea" ushers in the next act, accompanied by a banjo and Indian drone sounds.  It's followed by two more Tibet-sung standards before the next version of "Idumea."  Baby Dee's take is as jaw-dropping as just about any of her own harp recordings, accompanied only by a quiet viola.  "Bind Your Tortoise Mouth" follows, the perfect marriage between the respective styles of Six Organs and Current 93.  The acoustic playing is distinctly Chasny's and the baroque verses speaking of God and kittens are unmistakably the lyrical obsessions Current 93.  Antony's "Idumea" is perhaps one of the only things on the record I'm not completely floored by: while it's passionate and pretty, it's brief and only features his multitracked voice, and not his beautiful piano playing that I adore so much. 

Veteran Irish folkstress and child star Clodagh Simonds (Mellow Candle, Mike Oldfield) accompanies herself on harmonium for her incredible version of "Idumea," ushering in the 11+ minute opus of "Black Ships Were Sinking."  Here's where it seems Steven Stapleton has taken over, chopping up strings, vocals, spinning things backwards, and stretching them out before Cosey Fanni Tutti's time-stretched take on "Idumea" seamlessly and quietly segues from the chaos into Antony's second contribution, the song "Dancing Dust."  A piano and vocal piece, "Dancing Dust" is indeed one of the album's highlights, but, at under one minute, it is far too short! Pantaleimon's "Idumea" follows like a beautiful soothing lullaby a mother would sing while stroking her child's hair as they fall asleep, and the serenity ends.

The next act is basically the nightmare trilogy and climax: the angry dissonance of "Vauvauvau," as blistering distorted noise battles with Tibet and acoustic guitar; David Tibet's painfully direct version of "Idumea," where we actually finally believe the lyrics which address the singer's own mortality; completing with the chugging, metal-edged "Black Ships Ate the Sky," rock guitars pounding away as David gets it all out, screaming over the death of friends, the dogma of duality of messiah versus destroyer; David as the protagonist, losing control while screaming for answers: "Who will deliver me from myself?"  It's an utterly frightening and cathartic track.

Peace follows with the final songs, Tibet's reflection and resolution on "Why Caesar is Burning II," ending with Shirley Collins' version of "Idumea," which is appropriately the version which sounds most like a finale.

It seems as if everything is in line for Current 93: as if their time has finally come.  The musical trends of modern folk have exploded in popularity in sequence with Current 93's mastery of the genre.  David Tibet and Current 93 are the true leaders and have set an almost impossible example to follow.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 12 April 2009 13:13  


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