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Current 93, "Earth Covers Earth"

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cover image Earth Covers Earth was the first Current 93 album I obsessed over. I acquired it not long after I found a copy of Emblems for $2.89 in a bargain bin at a record store where none of the clerks had ever heard of David Tibet or Current 93. It was a godsend. When I first heard Emblems it was like being drawn towards a black hole, and when I finally sealed my fate by listening to Earth Covers Earth I was pulled beyond the event horizon. One of the things I love about this album is the mixture of Tibet’s own lyrical songwriting, traditional tunes, and the obscure metaphysical poetry set to music. Pervaded by a vitriolic melancholy, I listen to it when I want to evoke the intermingled feelings of sadness, hope, futility, anger, joy and faith.

 

Durtro

Current 93

World Serpent, now defunct, distributed the disc that I have. Among the 12 songs collected are the six from the original LP release of Earth Covers Earth on United Dairies, as well as an additional version of “The Dilly Song.” The second song on the disc “Hourglass (for Diana)” immediately spoke to me on my first listen, and it still speaks to me today. Seventeenth century poet John Hall speaks through it across the centuries with David Tibet as his living mouthpiece. Simple but elegant guitar tracery forms the perfect propulsive backdrop for the quavering violin, at first just sliding out a slow line, a force that builds in tandem with Tibet’s impassioned recitation. When he sings the words, “how senseless are our wishes / yet how great! / with what toil we pursue them / with what sweat! / yet most times for our hurts / so small we see / like children crying for some mercurie” the song kicks in with the violinist sawing hasty circular notes across the strings, as Tibet continues to spit forth his lyrical invective against the works of mankind.

At the same time the words show compassion and understanding. I had a gut reaction to the paradoxical lyrics for the song, taken from the poem “On An Houre-Glasse” and my obsession led me to look further into the works of John Hall. Many were only available on microfiche in the rare book room at Cincinnati’s downtown library. The song is repeated on the sixth track as “Hourglass (for Rosy Abelisk)” and here it is even more haunting with a lisping child’s voice reading it nearly deadpan. Accompanied by an eerie accordion drone courtesy of Steve Stapleton, and echoing female screams placed low in the mix, it is very disconcerting to hear the young child read lines like “issuing in blood and sorrow from the wombe / crauling in tears of mourning to the tombe.” The same voice also sings the title track, which is beautiful in its simplicity as the piano and guitar meld together striking poignant chords. The lyrics are taken from Henry King and again grapple with mans impermanence and the transience of all his efforts and works, the dominant theme of this collection, and a recurring one throughout all of David’s work. “Time Tryeth Truth” is another setting for the same words. Here the boy, David, and Rose Macdowall sing joined by a pensive flute in the foreground.

While David’s lyrical performance on “Rome (for Douglas P.)” is probably my least favorite on the disc, the song does have a nice murmuring drone coupled with guitar distortion that recurs with the chorus. The theme of Rome as a corrupt spiritual Imperium overlaying this world is characteristic of Tibet’s work. His visionary conception of Rome, while highly personal and idiosyncratic, also puts him in league with other cultural heroes of mine like William Blake, who believed that Roman art was destructive to the natural imagination, and Philip K. Dick who believed that history stopped in the first century A.D. the Roman Empire never having ended. Though less refined on this song, the motif finds its apogee on Black Ships Ate the Sky from 2006 where his conjuration of Caesar as Antichrist reaches tangible perfection.

The disc also brings four songs recorded in Tokyo and originally intended for release on a Japanese album that was never completed. In my opinion the lyrics for “At the Blue Gates of Death” are where David began to tap into his authentic voice as a poet, though the first version of the song is cluttered and suffers from the extra noise. The children singing in the background are interesting but his penchants for using their voices is used to a more satisfying effect on All The Pretty Little Horses. The bass guitar, played backwards, is what muddles up the mix, taking attention away from the words, which are the songs strength. His voice is also less sure of itself than it seems on “At the Blue Gates of Death (Before and Beyond Them).” In the second when he sings along to a simpler accompaniment of guitar and Rose’s vocal harmonies he is at his most vulnerable, and his most durable, which makes it all the more endearing. It is a song that I have returned to again and again over the years. The symbolism and allegory that I’ve come to expect from David are all present, but here he is more accessible because he has let the guard of overly cryptic lyrics down.

The closing “The Dreammoves of the Sleeping King” is a great example of the combined genius arrived at when Steve Stapleton and David work together. Again, the music shares methods of working and common motifs that pop up repeatedly throughout Current 93’s discography. This twenty-minute barrage of somnolent madness is quite similar to that heard on Faust. Both contain the voices of children reading fragmentary bits of the Lord’s Prayer, as if it alone would protect them from the nightmarish and otherworldly forces the sounds invoke. Melted they smear across the audio spectrum in hazy blurs of thickly swathed vibrato. Ever malleable, it contains moments that appeal to both my darker and more whimsical sensibilities. Stapleton and Tibet had this material in mind for a film they wanted to make about the land where dreams go to when they die. The film was never made, and some of the other music for it, as yet unreleased, still remains lurking in their archives.

Pictured on the cover and in the inlay are colorful photographs of a strange cast of characters: Rose Macdowall, Tony Wakeford, Douglas P., Ian Read, John Balance, Tibet, Steve Stapleton, Diana Rogerson, and children. As I started to trace David Tibet’s influences and the various connections making up his musical family tree I was initiated into a whole new world of listening, and of literature. The music on this disc opened me up and in the process I was transformed. In 2005 the Free Porcupine Society reissued the original six tracks in a limited vinyl run. It would be nice to see the 12 songs from the CD reissued, remastered, repackaged and remixed. I’m sure some related material could also be scrounged up for inclusion. David and his friends at Coptic Cat have already done so with a number of other albums from Current 93’s extensive back catalogue. Earth Covers Earth deserves the same lavish treatment.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 07 February 2010 13:30  


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