Drummer and singer Alex Neilson declared that, for ‘Big Nothing’, the 62-second opening track on Dungeness, the band’s seventh album, he wanted the plangent chords “to sound gigantic and degraded, like a building collapsing in slow motion” as well as capturing the parched, flat end of the earth landscapes of the Kent headland from which it takes its title.
It’s a sonic description that extends to much of what follows, brooding reverb bass, wah wah pedal, drums and keys providing the introduction and bedrock to ‘Knockin’ On The Coffin’ with its dark, mutant cosmic medieval feel and Lavinia Blackwall’s soaring echoing soprano held back in the mix as the song, inspired by Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, explores the twin poles of destruction and desire, sounding as though it’s been disinterred from some 70s psychedelia crypt.
Nodding to Incredible String Band and Bowie influences, as well as Ted Hughes and WB Yeats, ‘My Father Was A Collapsing Star‘ has descending scales and a wonky singalong chorus either side of sonic storm midsection while, Simon Shaw’s bass again laying down the bedrock for the galloping rhythm, ‘Death Knocked At My Door’ offers a disorienting amalgam of folk, samba, freakbeat, glam and pop.
Although the keys and guitars seem to be charting a different course, the melody, fiddle crescendo and Blackwall’s singing in ‘Christ’s Entry Into Govan’ are more in tune with traditional Scottish folk filtered through their early Fairport influences.
‘The Prophet’ is a sparser, doomier affair more akin to stoner metal with its sludgy, lumbering riffs and Blackwall’s howls, giving way to the angular riffs and mantra-like Eastern flavoured feel of the melody and vocals of ‘Devil In Dungeness.’ Following this, Neilson on vocals, the rhythmically fluid ‘This Is How The World Will End’ strikes a distinct contrast, not least with the inclusion of a country rolling bridge spanning the otherwise Scottish folk elements before taking off into the skies for the distortion heavy, anthemic finale.
Blackwall again to the fore, the swayalong ‘I’m Coming’ is the album’s most immediate musically accessible track, although the sexual imagery involving erotic auto-asphyxiation and “the blood rushing on my tongue” that co-mingles with spiritual cues and lyrics about the abuses of power probably won’t find it on mid-morning Radio 2 anytime soon.
It ends in formidable form with the Early Music (the sleeve image is firmly Renaissance) and ISB influences of ‘Rebecca, Dressed As A Waterfall’, Celtic drone, hurdy gurdy, trilling recorder, synthesised birdsong and Blackwell’s high flying folk soprano eventually giving way to a chaotic instrumental swirl with improvised drumming that gradually builds to a climax and gently fades. Folk music for the closing night of the apocalypse.
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‘Christ’s Entry Into Govan’ – live: