Current 93, “Nature Unveiled” and “Dogs Blood Rising”

NATURE UNVEILED

After 24 years David Tibet’s debut full-length as Current 93 has been reissued in its original form on compact disc. The audio has been completely re-mastered to great effect, but the additions available on the 1992 release from Durtro are gone, replaced only in the first 1,000 copies by an icy Andrew Liles remix. That remix rounds the album out quite nicely, but the omissions are nonetheless annoying.

In England’s Hidden Reverse David Tibet compared the sounds on Nature Unveiled to the appearance of shadows cast by a candle’s flame. The exaggerated dance of figures projected by the fire is an excellent metaphor for the reverberated moans and chants that jump and teleport throughout “Ach Golgotha (Maldoror is Dead).” Steven Stapleton’s ability in the studio helped to translate the entire record into an exaggerated and frightening play of monumental blocks of sound. The way different samples are lumped together and cut irregularly is dizzying, causing no little amount of disorientation. That image of slowly undulating figures above describes the entirety of Nature Unveiled partly because of Stapleton’s talent and partly because of Tibet’s monstrous and lucid vision. The first groans of sound are as a rising curtain and what follows is a nightmare puppet show of light, wherein the Antichrist is summoned only to be cursed and rejected by an adamant and frightened Tibet. As various samples begin to clash and blend into a supreme panic the effectiveness of Current 93’s approach on this record becomes plain. Annie Anxiety’s truly awesome performance in “The Mystical Body of Christ in Chorazaim (The Great in the Small)” is one of her most memorable and it heightens the play of human cries, treated pianos, monastic chants, unidentifiable stereo oddities, and defiant vocals that populate both songs. The details are made more powerful thanks to Denis Blackham’s re-mastering job and remarkably this album sounds more clear and robust than many modern recordings made by artists with similar palettes. It has been 24 years since Nature Unveiled was released, but it sounds more powerful to me now than it ever did.

Tibet’s preoccupation with Christian imagery, apocalyptic narratives, and both surrealism and mysticism is evident throughout the record, something made doubly clear by the revamped liner notes. These same topics are eventually addressed with greater maturity later in Tibet’s career, but conceptually Nature Unveiled is surprisingly accomplished. The dual authorship in the liner notes helps to emphasize the dual nature of the record’s subject matter, drawing the album’s many themes together in the characters of Ducasse and Christ 777 . By reifying man’s potential for evil in the character of Maldoror and by emphasizing the hope in Christ’s return Tibet manifested the phenomenology of fear and redemption with a fairly amazing depth, even if immature lines like “Fuck you, Maldoror” rear their head now and again. The tension between Isidore Ducasse’s anti-God-man and Christ the God-man bares fruit in the end and grants credence to Tibet’s synthetic approach. All of this plays out, of course, with respect to “nature,” a thing I can only imagine Tibet associates with man. Indeed, closer inspection of the conceptual work also makes clear some still relevant political and social commentary, which are couched in religious expectancy and a sense of hopelessness concerning man’s fallen state. Current 93’s early output is often sandwiched into the industrial category due to its abrasive qualities, but clearly this recording was unlike anything else being made at the time either sonically or ideally.

It is unfortunate that this reissue is missing the additions from the 1992 CD version of the album; with them it would be a near-perfect release. In that 1992 edition six extra songs were provided: “LAShTAL” and “Salt” from the LAShTAL 12″ on L.A.Y.L.A.H., “No Hiding from the Blackbird” and Nurse with Wound’s “The Burial of the Sardine” from the 7″ originally given away with the record, and “Maldoror Rising (Live in Amsterdam 1984)” and “Maldoror Falling (Live in Brighton 1984)” from two then extant bootlegs. To my knowledge these songs are not widely available and though they are of a lesser quality than the principle material, they still compose an interesting part of the early Current 93 canon. To Durtro/Jnana’s credit, the first 1,000 copies of the reissue come with a remix of the album by Andrew Liles called Nature Revealed. In some respects this remix deserves a review all its own, especially considering the massive alterations Liles makes to many important parts of the record. His style brings an odd iciness to the whole affair as he freezes many moments on the record and casts them into an uncomfortable stasis. He also increases the presence of pure noise on the record, which provides an increased anxiety and semblance of destruction. Liles manages to summon the Antichrist with bravado, but unlike Tibet he seems happy with allowing his evil to brood. Unfortunately this remix is only available to the first 1,000 people that buy the reissue and so in some time I imagine Tibet will have to give due consideration to all the material associated with Nature Unveiled.

DOGS BLOOD RISING

Released the same year as Nature Unveiled, Current 93’s second full-length record is more uneven than its predecessor and less coherent. Time has been kind to Current 93’s debut, but Dogs Blood Rising feels a little like Tibet’s leftover thoughts and ideas forced onto record. It nonetheless boasts of several outstanding moments and marks Tibet’s first obvious movement away from the trappings of the so-called industrial culture.

Everything Nature Unveiled expressed with brevity and eloquence is unnecessarily confused and extended on Dogs Blood Rising. All the familiar symbols and references to Christianity, Satan, redemption, fear, human impotency, apocalyptic trauma, and positive biblical fables are present, but without the strength of a unifying esthetic. “Christus Christus (The Shells Have Cracked)” begins well enough with looped chants, abstract and breathy tones, and a sense of direction. It is an invocation of Christianity’s dark side, a dimension characterized by death, burning, God’s terrifying judgment (who will be saved?), and humanity’s capacity for evil. “Falling Back in Fields of Rape” continues that promise of a new direction by solidifying it with a distinct meter, evenly recurring and reversed percussion loops, and a seductive chant deep in the background. Nature Unveiled was not without its structure, but at the beginning Dogs Blood Rising seems more thoughtful and coherent by virtue of its more conventional form.

Steven Ignorant’s opening lines a few minutes into the song arrive unexpectedly, breaking the song’s established vocabulary, and with his words Stapleton simultaneously increases the audio frenzy. The sequence of audio events presented in a short time is impressive. A metallic and vertiginous crash realizes the act of falling suggested in the song’s title, then there is a moment of near silence before the now familiar words “In a foreign town / In a foreign land” are delivered. Ignorant’s tone is initially narrative-like and it maintains the structure suggested by the song’s opening moments. However, his delivery is quickly made ferocious, his voice reaches a feverish pitch, and in no time at all the music becomes equally crazed. The song is then transformed and a child’s voice becomes the focal point, and then again another change occurs as a deranged and slightly forced growl makes its way into the mix, and then yet another change. This time a woman recites various cruelties to which humans are subjected while an organ slowly drones away beneath her voice. Over and over again the song mutates without warning, almost as though it were punishing the listener for expecting any kind of order. An unnecessary drum machine briefly makes an appearance before Tibet’s dry and unnerving voice enters the fray, calling to mind his performance on I Have a Special Plan for this World. Unfortunately the song attacks the listener almost too literally, inspiring frustration more than fright, sympathy, remorse, or any other emotion. What could’ve been a new direction for Tibet and Stapleton instead devolves into a less powerful version of everything presented on Nature Unveiled.

Neither “From Broken Cross, Locusts” nor “Raio No Terrasu (Jesus Wept)” improves the album much. The former is a consistent song in both tone and structure, but it quickly becomes dull. For much of the song Tibet simply repeats “Antichrist” over and over again; his voice is amplified, distorted, and extended in various ways with little more than a mock-martial and repetitive drum-beat to accompany him. The latter is, for some reason or another, dedicated to Japanese author, playwright, poet, philosopher, essayist, nationalist, and imperialist Yukio Mishima. Perhaps Mishima’s literary and personal emphasis on the body inspired Tibet, but making any definite connection is nearly impossible and suggests that Tibet was, at the time, juggling too many influences to make anything definite and powerful of them. Most interesting is the concluding piece, “St. Peter’s Keys All Bloody.” In a conversational tone Tibet greets darkness by way of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence.” It’s an especially interesting musical reference considering the song’s topic, which touches on the absence of love in public life and lack of communication between individuals, public or private. In any case, the song also signifies Tibet’s interest in more structured music, especially folk music. As the lyrics to “Scarborough Fair” while away beneath Tibet’s scathing delivery I’m reminded of Tibet’s synthetic sensibilities on Nature Unveiled. Simon and Garfunkel were almost the complete antithesis of what was happening in London’s more underground venues in 1984, yet their influence appears on this record. That Tibet reached out for such a musical reference only confirms that Current 93 never really belonged to the so-called industrial culture with which it is so often associated.

Also included in the first 1,000 copies of this reissue is a complete album remix by Andrew Liles titled Dogs Blood Ascending. It is in every way an improvement upon the original. The sudden and unappealing shifts of “Falling Back in Fields of Rape” are transformed into a unified and explosive expression of anger at the loss of innocence. The song, in its remixed form, begins with the child-like voices that populated the middle portion of the original and then proceeds to Ignorant’s spite-filled diatribe. It’s as though, by a simple rearrangement and some improved atmospherics, the entire album is given a perspective and force that it originally didn’t have. War is clearly declared on the evils of the world, the pounding of drums that were previously wimpy synthetic thuds assume a meaningful force, and the rampant dynamics that bogged down the original are granted an energetic dimension by Liles’ determination to maintain some semblance of unity throughout the piece. The percussion on “From Broken Cross, Locusts” also benefits from Liles’ careful hand. Instead of being monotonous and ineffective, they achieve a truly martial and fascist status, bringing to mind images of perfectly polished and black boots marching through the street . Tibet’s Antichrist-chant is invigorated by various effects and benefits from being truncated slightly. The whole song is thus made into a whirlwind of hatred, which I suspect it was intended to be. “Raio No Terrasu (Jesus Wept)” is most radically transformed. On Dogs Blood Ascending it is a quiet, subdued meditation, emphasizing the somber quality of Christ’s sacrifice. It’s a real tribute to Liles’ talent that he managed to latch onto the record’s major themes and improve upon their presentation without rendering the album completely unidentifiable. The remix ends with “St. Peter’s Keys All Bloody,” but this time a musical accompaniment that approximates “The Sounds of Silence’s” melody is the main feature. Tibet’s vocals appear, too, but the contrast between the toy-box melody and his pronounced groans adds a notable depth to the song. No doubt work like this will gain Liles many new fans and draw them to his original work.

Both re-issues are available on Durtro/Jnana.

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2 comments

  1. Andrew · · Reply

    Sorry to be annoying, but a couple of clarifications are in order. In regards to ‘Nature Unveiled’, Nature is no doubt associated with man, but the title itself is a reference to the Marquis de Sade’s last written work, which was destroyed (no doubt due to its offensiveness to its finder) before it could ever be published. Also, the line is not “Fuck you, Maldoror.”, it is “A shark shall fuck you, Maldoror.” This is a reference to the event in ‘Le Chants du Maldoror’ wherein a shark becomes Maldoror’s lover after eating drowning sailors (witnessing this event, he falls in love). You should read the ‘Chants’ if you haven’t. A meteoric and surreal work.

  2. I’m discovering C93 discography and it is amazing. I think I never heard anything as scary as “Maldoror is dead” !! Great reviews by the way.

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