Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Black Ships Ate The Sky

David Tibet, the primary creative force behind Current 93 describes his newest album “Black Ships Ate The Sky” as “the closest I have come to picturing what I hope, and feel, and love, and fear.” It takes a certain amount of guts to do something like that, to tear down every shred of a protective barrier around your core and expose it to the elements and see what the end result is. What if no one cares? Or even worse, what if when you train that deep of an eye into the deepest recesses of yourself, the end result bores you? Luckily for us what resides inside of David Tibet is something so awe-inspiring, frightening, and magnificient that it’s resulted in the best album these ears have heard in the past 5 or so years. “Black Ships Ate The Sky” is the latest of Tibet’s prolific work with Current 93, released on his own Durtro-Jnana record label. The songs on this album are distinctly divided into two categories. The central theme is a rendition of Idumea (a hymn written in 1793 by the brother of the founder of the Methodist church), interpreted by the likes of Marc Almond, “Bonnie” Prince Billy, and Shirley Collins. Idumea is an interesting choice of a song to cover. It’s lyrical content is similar Tibet’s own lyrics (death, the afterlife/spirit world, eternity) but even more so when you consider the history of the song and who he chooses to interpret it. Idumea made a transatlantic journey and became a staple in Appalachian folk hymns (versions of it appeared on the Cold Mountain soundtrack) and by choosing both American and English artists to cover it, Tibet creates a musical bridge spanning oceans and centuries and left his own mark on an ever evolving art form. Even though this song appears 9 times on the album it never feels repetitive because each artists’ interpretation of it is quite different, the highlight being the almost a capella version sung by Antony. His voice is too beautiful to be human, it sounds like it’s coming from from an impossibly perfect blank eyed marble statue with angelic vocal chords. A modern day Pygmalion. The other half of the album is a song cycle concerning the mysterious black ships. At the peak of his song writing powers, Tibet is on par with the poetry of William Blake. The lyrics paint strange and wonderful and disturbing images of copper kings, umbrella ladies, and black ships devouring the clouds in your head, set to delicately picked folky acoustic guitars and the deep mournful tone of a cello. To the ever changing roster of musicians in Current 93, Tibet has added Ben Chasny. His style meshes so well with Tibet's that it's a wonder it has taken this long for it to happen. The album climaxes towards the end lyrically, musically, and emotionally with the title track, with corrosive, distorted guitars pounding the same chord repeatedly while the cello squeals and wails like John Cale's viola on "Heroin", with an impassioned David Tibet intoning “Who will deliver me from myself? “ over and over. At this point you're so far caught up in the web Tibet has gently spun, lulling you with soothing tones, that the industrial overtones of this song are rather jarring. After Tibet destroys the entire world he had created in the span of those 4 minutes, he uses a reprise of Why Caesar Is Burning as its requiem, and to ease your re-entry back into the "real world". I'm not exactly sure what the black ships are supposed to signify. The one theory I keep returning to is that it's symbolic of humanity's propensity towards self destruction. Of a fate we're almost certainly doomed for if we stay the present course. It's almost as if Tibet is hoping that there is in fact a deus ex machina to deliver us from ourselves.

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