Thursday, April 10, 2008

Best of 2007 - #6

6. the angels of light - 'we are him'
Michael Gira and Jarboe have taken very different paths ever since the dissolution of the Swans, who are, along with Neurosis, the most seminal, important and underlyingly influential band of the last 20 years. Of course, being part of something so essential is both a blessing and a burden, as none of them will ever be seen outside the Swans context for the rest of their careers, especially by Swans loony-fanatics like yours truly. However, both are talented enough to not let that lingering shadow cloud their subsequent projects in a negative way. Jarboe has proceeded with her harrowing solo work, as well as collaborating with some of (alt-)metal's most gifted visionaries of today, like Neurosis themselves, Justin K. Broadrick (of Godflesh and Jesu fame), Cobalt and even Attila Csihar (Mayhem) and Phil Anselmo, who will guest on her next record. Gira, for his part, has wandered further into the left-field, both on the artists he signs on his wonderful Young God Records label (he discovered, among others, Devendra Banhart and Akron/Family) and on his own work. Although he has also collaborated with several people on other projects, as well as maintaining his brilliant solo career (his concerts in Portugal were one of the most intense musical experiences I have ever witnessed - and photographed), The Angels Of Light are nevertheless his main musical output these days. Quite close to the Swans on the first couple of albums, the project has veered towards a psychedelic folk direction with the inclusion of the Akron/Family members on the line-up, and the last album 'The Angels Of Light Sing "Other People"' was rather uncharacteristic of Michael's usual sound and mood, despite being a very good record. Not so with 'We Are Him', which is where the personality that this band has taken meets the horrifically apocalyptic feeling of the Swans, with gigantic results. Although I harbour quite a soft spot for 'Everything Is Good Here / Please Come Home', there is no doubt that this is the most accomplished Angels Of Light album to date - on it, Gira sounds absolutely in control of his talent and vision, draining himself to the bone of heavy emotions that are as intense as they are genuine. The opening pair of songs is one of the most potent in recent discographic memory. 'Black River Song' is a thundering pitch-black anthem, where Gira, prophet-of-doom-like, howls black river runs beneath this ground / black river flows forever but he makes no sound over a repetitive guitar line and a rhythmic drum pounding. It's eerie and there's no escaping from it, as 'Promise Of Water' delivers a similarly uneasy ambiance, despite the more acoustic calm of the song. 'My Brother's Man' is one of those disturbing family songs where murder and love are interweaved in the closest of ways, a theme that is revisited occasionally throughout the album, which see-saws between haunting gospel-like movements and Gira's alternatively spooky or apocalyptic howl. When the whole thing is over, you'll feel emotionally drained but also affected by the skewed beauty that every song seems to offer, for those that know where to look. At 54 years of age, Michael Gira still evolves, changes, mutates and innovates as an artist as few have ever done before. For all this, he deserves the highest praise.

The Angels Of Light - 'Black River Song'

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