Halloween Reviews – Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy, Current 93, Magma, Louise Huber, Nat Friesland, Alex Sanders, the Wicker Man, Aleister Crowley, Black Widow

It’s been a hectic few months for anyone looking to recreate the early eighties gothy collection that they enthusiastically disposed of when CDs came along… those old Sisters, Joy Division, Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees vinyls all fetch a pretty penny on the collectors market these days (as you’ll see from the upcoming ninth edition of Goldmine’s Standard Catalog of American Records.)

1So all praise the powers at Rhino, who at least allow us to tick a few things off the old wants list, with some really rather nifty repackages for the full (original) Joy Division catalog, and the first (so far) two Sisters albums, all restored to their original glory, deluxe quality packaging and inserts included.

Joy Division first.  Just two albums, Unknown Pleasures and Closer, populate the Manchester band’s own long playing canon, with two more, the rarities-stuffed Still and the Substance best of following in the wake of frontman Ian Curtis’s death.  It’s a tiny legacy but a significant one – critical and cult favorites throughout their brief lifetime, Joy Division are another of those bands about whom Brian Eno might have said “not many people liked the, but everyone who did went off and formed a band.”

He didn’t, of course – he’d already made the same observation about the Velvet Underground.  But it’s true, all the same.  Plowing through the plethora of bands that stood poised on the precipice of British punk rock as it prepared for its next musical convolution, the droning minimalism of Joy Division was probably the least-likely direction in which things could have gone.  But both synthipop and Goth owe a signal debt to Joy Division, and of course, we would never have had New Order had Curtis’s bandmates not decided to carry on.

The music on the four albums, of course, needs no introduction; take Iggy’s The Idiot and Bowie’s Low, then mix every trace of joy and salvation from the sonics, and you’re close to where Joy Division started out.  “She’s Lost Control,” “Isolation,” “Ice Age,” “Dead Souls,” “Shadowplay,” “Disorder,” “Decades”… the song titles speak of the desolate beauty of Joy Division at their best, and if the posthumous hit “Love Will Tear Us Apart” itself is deceptively buoyant and bouncy, still Curtis’s vocal remains locked in a vault of its own design.

The reissues do the band enormous justice.  Safely repackaged in heavyweight reproductions of the original artwork, the vinyl is hefty enough to exorcise all memory of the flimsy plastic wafers that hallmarked a lot of eighties records, and though the sound quality is necessarily limited ever so slightly by the use of digital masters, the remastering comes close as Christmas to packing the old waxen punch.  Plus, a little compression and icicle atmosphere is scarcely something that Joy Division would not have strove for themselves.

2Likewise the Sisters.  First and Last and Always and Floodland are the albums we are returning to (with Vision Thing hopefully next in the pipeline), and after all the sonic injustices that the CD age has wrought upon this band’s catalog, and the disappointment of the Mobile Fidelity reissue of Floodland itself, these two collections more than remedy the situation.

For starters, you are not merely buying the albums themselves.  You are buying two moments in time – the first, with lead Sister Andrew Eldritch accompanied by the men who would soon go off to be the Mission, effectively blueprinting the sound of Gothic Rock for the remainder of the eighties (and beyond); and the second, with Eldrtch now accompanied by Patricia Morrison and producer Jim Steinman, showing how everyone took the wrong role model to begin with.

Neither is that all.  First And Last And Always arrives smartly boxed with three 12-inch EPs from the same mid-eighties period: Body And Soul, No Time To Cry, and Walk Away; Floodland is bolstered by the 12″ Versions Of “This Corrosion,” “Dominion” And “Lucretia My Reflection,” and no matter what your opinions of the musical genre that the Sisters did so much to midwife, it’s nigh-on impossible to deny the sheer glorious bombast that that latter album represents.  Choirs, orchestras, soaring choruses, endless majesty, Floodland is arguably the album that every technological development of the anthem-hungry eighties had been waiting to make; play it loud, and nothing will sound the same again, play it louder and your head will fall off.  Probably.

First and Last and Aways is less stupendous, primarily because it’s not Floodland.  But like the Joy Division albums, it thrills as much for its influence as for its contents – “Walk Away,” still an eighties radio favorite today; “Black Planet,” “Marian” and the title track all stand out, while the closing “Some Kind of Stranger” will forever rate among the Sisters’ signature moments, a cut that would have fit in with, and dignified, both of its successors.

Again, the packaging is superlative, and the sound quality too – there’s an extra crispness to the percussion that could never be more welcome, and a wider range of sonics to hallmark the band’s ambition.  Plus, you get hefty boxes keep everything in one place.  One day, all vinyl reissues will look (at least) this good.

3Remaining in the realm of the eighties’ outer limits, and arriving with seemingly no fanfare whatsoever, a double album package brings together two of Current 93’s most captivating albums –  1988’s Swastikas for Noddy, and its 1989 doppelganger Crooked Crosses for the Nodding God (The Spheres) – a self-styled “remixed, re-structured and re-recorded version” of the earlier album, the pair conceived on either side of David Tibet’s so-influential visit to Iceland.

Of the pair, the latter is the most digestible, although in the realms of Current 93, that is still a concept fraught with caveats.  While Tibet was firmly moving away from the industrial stylings and storms of his earliest recordings, embracing song form and lyricism around the sometimes startling cacophonies of instrumentation, Swastikas for Noddy is nevertheless a harsh and challenging listen if you are not in the right frame of mind; Crooked Crosses, while scarcely any calmer, does have moments of delicious calm and atmosphere.

That said, the highlights remain the same – a supremely spooky reading of the Child Ballad “Two Magicians”; the triumphant folk dance of “Beausoleil”; the increasingly sinister children’s chant “(Hey Ho? The Noddy (Oh)”; and “Black Flowers Please,” which will ring eerily familiar to anybody raised on the Noddy books by English writer Enid Blyton.  For yes, it is the same Noddy of whom we speak here.

4Finally, Jazz Village Records has just reissued Magma Live Hhaï, the 1975 double live album by the French prog band Magma, recorded in Paris over a string of nights in early June of that year, and capturing the band in full sonic flight.

A set that mined both past glories and new material stands all but unchallenged as a “best of – so-far,” brought forth with a power and precision that utterly belies the fact this was the band’s first release since a shattering split just nine months previous.  Few bands of any description could bounce back so strongly after being so savagely shorn; when one considers just how vast and complicated the average Magma number was, Magma Live Hhaï is more-or-less a miracle.

Other, earlier, Magma albums have been reissued on vinyl across the past few months; more are to come. And all are worth investigating.  But start with Magma Live Hhaï, and you’ll understand why you need to hear more.

and (just quickly) if you like those, you’ll love these…..

5Louise Huebner

Seduction Through Witchcraft

(Warner Bros – 1969)

Electro/spoken word

Highlights: The Demon Spell For Energy, Seduction Spells From Around The World, The Earthquake Spell For Unwanted Lovers

Bebe Barron is the electro whizz whose freakish textures underpin Huebner’s voice across an album that is as discomforting as it’s delicious.

 

 

6various artists/Nat Freedland

The Occult Explosion

(United Artists – 1973)

Psychedelia/spoken word

Highlights: Black Widow, Anton LeVey, Louise Huebner

Double LP dynamically packed with lectures’n’song, one-stop shopping for the butterfly Fortean, gloriously annotated and informative too!

 

 

7Alex Sanders

A Witch is Born

(A&M – 1970)

Spoken word

Highlights: The Legend of the Goddess, Initiation, The Great Rite (actually, that’s all of it)

A vérité recording of an actual Wiccan rite, frank and unforgettable – although the random classics dubbed behind the rites are unnecessary.

Just be warned.  Copies cost the earth.

 

 

8various artists

The Occult Box

(Cleopatra 2015)

Gothic/electro

Highlights: Joy Division, Rozz Williams, Switchblade Symphony

Five CDs of atmosphere, mood and magic, stygian chords and eternal howling, fun for all the fiendish family.  Plus there’s a bonus Aleister Crowley 45!

 

 

9original soundtrack

The Wicker Man

(Silva Screen – 2002)

Folk

Highlights: Corn Rigs, Gently Johnny, Willow’s Song

Paul Giovanni’s soundtrack to the 70s horror epic, carved deep in pagan British soil and song, and a haunted evocation of magic at its darkest.

So, buy the album, watch the movie, and then build a Wicker Man of your own.

 

 

10Black Widow

Sacrifice

(United Artists – 1970)

Prog

Highlights: Come to the Sabbat, In Ancient Days, Sacrifice

Nothing short of the invoking of Ashtaroth, set to proggy profundity and bloody sacrifice. “Sabbat” is the pop hit, an abandoned, stomping chant.  Buy the album.  Then buy the demos.  Then buy the live DVD.

 

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