The Bells Shall Sound Forever: A Tribute To Current 93
~reviewed by Matthew Heilman
As with nearly every tribute CD that I have ever encountered, this one also means well, but is ultimately, wholly unnecessary. The legacy of material associated with a project as prolific and as complex as David Tibet’s Current 93 is best left in the hands of its original executor, and other interpretations only cheapen and distract from the achievements of the original author. Perhaps the most fitting ‘tribute’ a band can receive is for their fans to enjoy their music, understand it, appreciate it, and champion it to others; rather than attempt to reproduce it with their own skill (or lack there of). In this case, as with other recent ‘Goth’ oriented tributes to The Doors, Cocteau Twins, and Tool – it makes me wonder why the folks in charge of compiling these compilations do not enforce more ‘quality control.’ Does this new interpretation honestly hold a candle to the quality or impact of the original song? More often than naught, the answer would be a glaring NO. But yet these releases continue to pile up, and rather than waiting for a few YEARS if need be, before an adequate amount of material stacks up, the CD is released anyway, and one has to wade through so much amateur muck before they stumble upon one or two memorable interpretations.
So it is with The Bells Shall Sound Forever. There are indeed, a few striking contributions, but most of it, I am afraid, just smacks of the amateur basement project ethos that is currently accepted as underground ‘gothic/industrial’ music: poor recordings, sour musicianship, adolescent atmosphere, and a limited comprehension of the ideas that have been a central focus for Current 93 for many years.
The few memorable moments appear very early, and it’s a wonder I even got far enough to hear the two gems that appear toward the end of the disc. Sonne Hagal’s “The Death Of The Corn” is musically quite solid, but the mechanical vocals are a major distraction. Imagine Tony Wakeford monotonously singing for Funker Vogt and you can adequately discern the style of vocals used here. It sounds like an unintended parody. O Paradis’ “Calling For Vanished Faces” is one of the gems to appear here. An hypnotic number, with a slow slinky drum loop at its core, comprised of delicate acoustic guitar plucking overlaid with what sounds like Spanish, French, and Italian vocals. All this fuses in unison to create a very exotic and classy interpretation of the song. Of all the songs here, I believe that this one might be closest in spirit to Current 93.
Dorien Campbell (of Sumerland) contributes a fantastic and faithful version of “A Sadness Song,” led by his lugubrious baritone vocals (almost too stereotypically Gothic here but forgivable because of his flawless and fluid execution) and echoing acoustic guitar strums, culminating in a powerful rendition of this dramatic ballad. Vequinox’s rendering of “Earth Covers Earth” beautifully captures the volatile existentialism of the original; the dramatic melodies still weep with the same demanding density but have been given a more exotic flair with the use of traditional instruments (bowed psaltry and hammered dulcimer). The female vocalist (Lisa Smith) illustrates the same degree of charming fragility as Rose McDowell, and the male vocals (performed by Chad Porch) reverberate with an aching passion, characterized by an exquisitely vulnerable delivery. The overall effect is undeniably arresting, with both vocal performances coming across as unwaveringly strong despite the pinch of anxiety and subtle despair. Vequinox has deviated very little from the original track, but have put their own creative spin on in with their wholly organic and exotic instrumentation. This appears to have been exactly what Sweet Farewell had in mind when compiling this tribute it seems. The devastatingly melancholic atmosphere of the original is left firmly intact, and is perhaps even more accessible because of the uncharacteristically strong male vocals.
Engelsstaub’s offering on the other hand is just an outright mess. The vocals all across the board are weak, and the decision to incorporate an electronic ‘thud’ to substitute for the militant drive of the rowdy folk rock original is in very poor and confused taste. It’s simply an awful interpretation of the song. Cawatana’s primarily synthetic take on “A Song For Douglas After He’s Dead” is marred by garbled ‘vampyric’ vocals and what sounds like a computerized or MIDI generated accompaniment. Storm Of Capricorn’s pointless rendering of “Crowleymass” is just a collage of samples and minimalist experimental effects, while Der Feuerkreiner’s “Soft Black Stars” consists of a distanced female voice reciting the lyrics over top repetitive droning militant symphonic minimalism that makes Mortiis’ early work sound like the most exciting symphony since the days of Hector Berlioz.
The Well Of Sadness continues this exercise in futility, with more meaningless minimalist droning, the result, like the previous four tracks, is a complete waste of time. Then suddenly, Pancreatic Aardvarks appear. Still as minimalist, even more so, being that the music here consists of nothing more than a soft, muttering male vocalist and very delicate, quiet guitar, touched with deep, surreal and hushed reverbs and delays, echoing like a wine-drenched nightmare on the eve of a suicide. The song is gorgeously evocative, true to the original, and beautifully depressive. The sheer weight of this song is produced by its yawning, abysmal emptiness. Never has minimalist music made as much sense than in the hands of this obscure solo artist.
“Immortal Bird” as conceived by Leisur Hive is a fine effort, but ultimately a bit awkward, with strange electronic based arrangements that very well might have had a more effective impact had they been produced by more adequate, fleshy hands. Not as much of an abomination as the other tracks on this release, but not worthy of Current 93. Lisa Toulouse mistakenly takes what she claims is “Christ & The Pale Queens” into the realms of trance-techno and I have yet to see the relevance.
Weihan reinterprets the lullaby “All The Pretty Little Horses” with grace and spooky charm, the result being altogether faithful to the original. It deviates very little from the original, other than its synthetic shortcomings. It’s cool…but so what? It sounds like a demo of the original, not quite at the peak of its eventual perfection. Exit’s version of “Blue Gates Of Death” translates the songs into its Polish tongue (I think) and basically recreates the strange little ditty verbatim. Its cool, but I never really liked the original and the same qualities I disliked originally are here. It’s just a kind of light and odd repetitive piece that stirs nothing but impatience within me. A poor track choice for a band that is capable of more, if the review of their own release I did a few months back can attest to. There is not much decadence as there is beauty in Decadence’s version of “Ach Golgotha” – the final track here serves as a neo-classical epilogue and is well-arranged and draws the entire disc to at least, a favourable close.
Ultimately, this disc was not, in my humble opinion, a very worthwhile tribute to an EXTREMELY important dark music artist. The Sweet Farewell folks that compiled this disc offer this word of caution in their press release: “please keep in mind that every artist has tried to interpret their chosen tracks by keeping the essence of their own project, because hearing replicas of the tracks will have been pretty pointless.” This is fair. But my critique is this – exactly 2/3 of this disc is compiled by projects that must have barely ANY essence whatsoever to their sound. Its not so much a matter of my opinion, but more so that there is not much to musically digest on most of these songs, they are merely poor synthetic tinkerings that cling to the artistic freedom associated with the ‘experimental’ tag which ultimately translates as a mere excuse to pass off a lack of organic musicianship. It’s crap. Don’t buy into it and don’t encourage these artists to continue passing off their art as having any long-lasting merit or perceivable value.
My final words on this tribute are this: Buy as many Current 93 albums as you possibly can afford. Research the info about the albums by reading the websites, reviews, etc in order to determine which ones will be to your taste. Email me, I would be more than willing to help you. Then, investigate O Paradis, Sumerland, Vequinox, Pancreatic Aardvarks, and Exit to learn more about the few bands that appeared on this disc that DO appear to have a discernible “essence” to their project. Links are below.
Sweet Farewell Records:
Current 93 – Official Site:
Current 93 – Brainwashed Site:
O Paradis – Official Site:
Sumerland – Middle Pillar Site:
Vequinox – Official Site:
Pancreatic Aardvarks – Official Site:
Exit – via FURIA Music (Poland):
Buy this and other great releases from:
Strange Fortune (for the best prices on
Current 93 CDs!)