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Current 93, "The Inmost Light"

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Current 93 hit the hight point of their career with the album at the center of this trilogy: 1996's All the Pretty Little Horses was and is the most perfectly rendered artistic statement that David Tibet and company have created. This will sound like blasphemy to the legions who jumped aboard the apocalyptic folk train with last year's Black Ships Ate the Sky, but trust me: I know what I'm talking about. This album is much, much better than Black Ships, and I unreservedly consider it to be one of the finest albums ever recorded.

 

Durtro Jnana

In 1992, Thunder Perfect Mind exploded everything for which Current 93 had been known. Up to this point, Tibet and company had always been reliable purveyors of grim, post-industrial soundscapes: noisy loops punctuated by sinister nursery rhymes, possessed chanting and the occasional, quasi-satirical dip into traditional English folk. However, TPM was an inestimably huge advance for Current 93, a stunning concept album that finally gelled in its sincere and heartfelt recreation of British psych-folk, with lyrics that were fully invested with Tibet's now familiar blend of cryptic poetry, existential musing and teleological obsession. The bar was set very high indeed, but remarkably, 1994's Of Ruine or Some Blazing Starre upped the ante once more, a gorgeous song suite that married Michael Cashmore's brilliant and minimal arrangements with Steven Stapleton's hallucinatory audio wizardry, with a set of texts that were the equal or better of TPM's finest moments.

David Tibet was creating his own world, with a sound to call his very own, laboring away in relative obscurity, but slowly building a loyal fanbase that would hang on his every word. This fanaticism would pay off with Current 93's next release, an album so well conceived and executed that it can take its place among the masterpieces which clearly inspired it: The Incredible String Band's The Hangman's Lovely Daughter, Comus' First Utterance and Shirley Collins' The Power of the True Love Knot. In 1996, Current 93 released the conceptual trilogy The Inmost Light, consisting of two EPs bookending the centerpiece album All The Pretty Little Horses, each part released separately over a span of months.  This new triple-disc foldout digipack reissue on Durtro Jnana unites all three parts of the trilogy, giving them the remaster treatment (which, incidentally, is virtually undetectable), and including a full lyric booklet and gently modified artwork. If you've already got all three CDs in their original World Serpent incarnations, there is not much to recommend this set, other than the opportunity to experience anew the many treasures of a timelessly great album. 

Where the Long Shadows Fall, though it is haunting and affecting, is in many ways the weak link of the trilogy. Upon repeated listenings, the loop which form the backdrop of the piece—Alessandro "The Last Castrato" Moreschi's fragile falsetto voice singing "Domine"—threatens to become a bit aggravating. Tibet repeats the EP's title with an elegiac sincerity, with occasional, jarring intrusions of droning sinfonie and sampled children's choirs, as well as haunting bits of wobbly old records of parlor music. This sidelong piece sets the scene, introducing the predominant themes of dream, death, childhood nostalgia and spiritual yearning which will find full expression on Horses. I got the chills as the piece faded out and realized that I could just barely make out the voice of John Balance intoning the improvised phrase: "Why can't we all just walk away?"

Forming a perfect continuity, Horses opens as Shadows ended: the droning of the sinfonie, the tinkling of delicate bells, the just-out-of-reach loop of Moreschi, and Balance's sad mantra, this time very audible. This segues directly into one of the most lovely and bone-chilling moments in the Current 93 oevre, Tibet's whispery vocal take on the titular Appalachain lullaby, transforming it from an innocent bit of childhood whimsy into an eerie meditation on the tragic disparity between our dreams and our reality. The next three songs contain the indispensable creative stamp of Michael Cashmore, who uses the figerpicking method he perfected on Starre to sublime effect, creating gorgeous melodies for Tibet's possessed vocals to wrap around. One of the things that undoubtedly stands out about this album, more than a decade later, is the amazing and inventive production: each plucked string vibrating perfectly, Tibet's voice bouncing between the stereo channels, forming a strange call-and-response with himself to haunting effect. For all of its eclecticism, Black Ships did not sound nearly as rich and evocative as this record. Far be it from me to speculate, but I can't help but feel that the superiority of Current 93's 1990s work is indicative of a certain manic-ness on Tibet's part, a darkly glittering intensity geared towards the perfection of his own self-expression that has faded over time, as success and relative comfort and stability have increased. 

Whatever the case, it is hard to deny the power of this album, especially a track like "The Bloodbells Chime," a tribute to cat artist Louis Wain, containing a fragile, off-kilter piano melody joined by Cashmore's resonant acoustic guitar, climaxing in a moment that can only be described as utterly disarming. If you've heard the album before, you'll know what I'm talking about: "Thereohthere/The Inmost Light/The Happy Children rise from all their pools/Eyes still sealed/With mud and night/It's their Inmost Night." It is here that I begin to notice Stapleton's hand in the album's sound, as sample upon sample is layered and mutated to devastatingly psychedelic effect: children laughing, children crying, lysergically mutated vocal snippets creating a bubbling undercurrent of dread that will reach its apotheosis on the eight-minute "The Frolic," as a bloodcurdling sample comes swimming out of the murk with the staccato, accusatory scream of "Dead!" Tibet seems particularly fixated on the idea that his enlightenment, his desire to cleanse himself, to unmake his past and be born again, may have come too late, and that eternal salvation is forever out of his grasp. Thus, the return to images of childhood, to the signifiers of an innocence irrevocably lost, to vivid dreams and simple piety now sedimented by unhappy years of spiritual malaise.

The darkambient centerpiece of the album "Twilight Twilight Nihil Nihil" is a perfect stopgap before the next epic vocal track, "The Inmost Light Itself," containing one of Tibet's most dreadfully pessimistic lyrics: "Our hands tumble towards the skies/To block visions of The Inmost Light/And if I pointless arch/And spit whitenothings at the sky/Oh Bigboys - check it out: too fucking late." This against a lovely Cashmore arrangement of strummed guitar and Joolie Wood's clarinet, which constantly threaten to be drowned out by a frightening sample that sounds at first like children playing—with all of the characteristic yelling, laughing and chattering—but begins to seem as if it might be the sound of children in the midst of some terrifying holocaust, screaming and writhing in pain. It comes as a relief to hear Nick Cave's soulful, deep-voiced rendition of "All the Pretty Little Horses," followed by the album's coda: Cave reading Blaise Pascal's uncompromisingly dark and apocalyptic Pensees over a ghostly sampled choir.

With such a perfectly lovely and dread-filled conclusion, it is almost unfortunate to have to follow it with the concluding part of the trilogy, The Stars Are Marching Sadly Home. Although it is one of Current 93's most complex and fascinating works, indispensible for its inclusion of Shirley Collins, it ends up seeming like the superfluous gilding of the lilly when heard directly after Horses. Taken on its own terms, however, and as a conceptual third part of the trilogy, Stars is a terrific sidelong track. The creaking of a great wooden ship (a Black Ship?) sets the stage for Tibet's final prayer, an ominous sea shanty followed by a deliberately paced text so apocalyptic it achieves a Book of Revelations-style grandeur: "These days shall not come again/The stars are marching sadly home/The seahorse rears to oblivion." Tibet's words are artifically time-stretched, smeared, blurred, cracked and mutated, spinning out over a warbling sample of a vintage 78 so disintegrated and distorted that it seems positively alien. Andria Degens of Pantaleimon reads the final part of Tibet's text as the track becomes noisier and more discombobulated, climaxing with a squall of white noise and Shirley Collins' singularly melodic and matronly a cappella rendition of "All the Pretty Little Horses," by far the most emotionally penetrating take on the song across the trilogy.

Here it is, back in print. One of the best albums produced by one of the most fertile and creative minds of underground music. An album that, though it is so intense and emotionally draining, I never get tired of listening to. Right around this same time, the other two World Serpent-distributed projects most frequently mentioned alongside Current 93—Coil and Nurse With Wound—were also producing some of their most masterful and magickally-charged albums. Perhaps it was something in the water.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 25 March 2007 06:06  


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