Named after some theory or other of English mage Aleister Crowley, Current 93’s early work used Crowley and Lautréament’s Maldoror as the starting points for an occult trip tinged with tragic grandeur. David Michael Bunting (aka David Tibet) is the group’s core, with significant assistance from Steve Stapleton of Nurse with Wound. The motto on early albums is “How can there be pleasure, how can there be joy, when the whole world is burning?” On later albums, Tibet finds some joy, though the listener may not, as the music is far less compelling.
Lashtal, a three-track EP recorded with Fritz Haaman of 23 Skidoo and John Balance of Coil, is ritualistic music using Tibetan thighbone, slow, trance-like drumming, droning electronics and tapes of chanting (perhaps old recordings of Crowley). Nature Unveiled is more fully developed and points the way of the next several albums. Stapleton’s production is evident on both side-long pieces, which use layers of Gregorian chants and modified requiems, menacing electronic drones and Tibet’s own chantings and moanings, cut up and reassembled. The perfect soundtrack for a documentary (shot in murky black and white) about the inner lives of Notre Dame gargoyles.
Dog’s Blood Rising takes the concept a stage further, with more sophisticated production and less reliance on the plundering of pre-existing music. At once angrier and more restrained, Dog’s Blood is the best Current 93 album to date. “Jesus Wept” and “Falling Back in Fields of Rape” (each of which runs about fourteen minutes) rise with agonizing screams and fall back to near silence, intermingling the 12th century and science fiction to lament the cruelty and abnegation of responsibility in the contemporary world. “From Broken Cross Locusts” takes its form from Tibetan liturgical music, but uses electronically modified vocals and electronic drums. The album closes with a humorous but chilling a cappella medley of Simon & Garfunkel hits.
Current 93 shares Nightmare Culture with Coil, employing Eastern chanting, growling electronics and tapes to create a mood similar to Dog’s Blood. Live at Bar Maldoror recycles many of the same tapes used on Nature Unveiled and Dog’s Blood but plays them in a different order, often mixing tapes from both albums together, and layering new electronics over them. Not as essential as either of the albums from which it draws, but quite good and different enough. (The CD adds two excellent tracks from a compilation album.)
In Menstrual Night, originally a limited-edition picture disc but later reissued as a regular LP (Current 93 habitually puts out limited editions which are subsequently re-released), has a gentler sound, with a steady drumbeat all the way through one side and pleasant electronics and tape loops with religious themes. The other half consists of tape loops and processed old English folk melodies. Similar in sound to later Nurse with Wound records, the LP is on that band’s label.
Compared to prior Current 93 releases, Imperium is almost a folk album, though a strange and decidedly moody one. Tibet pretentiously intones ecclesiastical lyrics over muted, faux-Elizabethan flute, electronic growling, lute plucking, a simple drumbeat (on one track) and some bass (on another), all cloaked in a fog of production. Not the band’s best.
Dawn temporarily reversed the gentleness trend. The title track is an abrasive, highly structured tour de force, a recurring loop of a man saying “destruction destruction” followed by slabs of guitar feedback, then various electronics. The other side is a live version of “Maldoror is Dead,” the best rendition yet of a song that can also be found on Nature Unveiled and an early cassette-only release.
With Swastikas for Noddy, Simon & Garfunkel get the last laugh. Tibet had written some folkish songs for Death in June, but always kept to a more occult mood for his Current 93 work. On Swastikas, he delivers traditional numbers like “Oh Coal Black Smith” and originals in the same vein. Most of the folk songs retain a melancholy feel, though strummed guitar replaces the Gregorian chants. While the electronics and eeriness remain on tracks like “Panzer Rune,” the upbeat “Beausoleil” could be played by any but the most cowardly college radio station. (A couple of 12-inch singles released around the same time attempted to weld the new folk orientation with the older kind of lyrics and an almost danceable beat, yielding awkward results.)
For Earth Covers Earth, Tibet slipped further into the land of the Incredible String Band, going so far as to pay homage to that duo’s 1968 LP, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, in the cover photo. Unfortunately, Tibet’s talents don’t nearly equal those of his icons. Nice but vacuous.