All of us have encountered situations that have angered and disgusted us, and our reactions to those things likely are all over the board. Do you lash out at what you see? Report it to authorities? Approach the people in the wrong? Walk away and assume what you witnessed is none of your business? There really is no right or wrong answer, and it all depends on you and the context.
Society’s reaction to people’s worst, most vile actions is something that long has fascinated musician/composer J.R. Robinson and fueled the latest chapter in his Wrekmeister Harmonies project. For “Night of Your Ascension,” he looked at two gruesome cases, one from many centuries ago, and one from recent times. Combining with a cast of many noted musicians including Marissa Nadler; Lee Buford and Chip King of The Body; Mary Lattimore; Sanford Parker (Buried at Sea and noted producer); Dylan O’Toole and Ron Defries (both formerly of Indian); Chris Brokaw (Come); and a bunch more in order to make his ambitious piece see the light of day. Over two compositions that last nearly 50 minutes combined, Robinson and his cast create haunting, moving, horrifying visions that will shake you, break you, and make you see portions of humanity perhaps you haven’t cared to face.
Two subjects gets covered on this album, the first being Don Cardo Gesualo, a 17th century musician long thought to be shockingly ahead of his time. But his brilliance is countered by an act of brutality so graphic, it likely could not be depicted in full on a movie screen without an NC-17 rating. His status enabled him to escape prosecution, though some would argue the torment he suffered the rest of his life, as well as the terrible death he suffered, was at least a price paid. For years, people have balanced whether it is just to pay homage to the man’s creations (and people think Varg is bad!), and the reaction many have had to this conundrum is something that fuels the 32-minute title cut.
The track opens with drone spreading, with Nadler unfurling her haunting vocals, hovering over the song like a ghost. Her calls continue to grow, enrapturing as the song develops with her, as she leads you by the hand into the mysterious night. Synth and noise meet up to create a haze, while strings arrives, are plucked, and then sweep over the body of the track. The sounds glimmer like gold, as choral arrangements give a chilling, yet pastoral ambiance, and then guitars begin to rumble as the worst of it all arrives. The track rips open, and as hell bleeds through cracks in the earth, we head through pockets of calm surrounded by tumult. Furious growls rip through everything and shock the system. Howls are running wild, as the music takes weird twists and turns, the situation remains grim and violent, and cosmic blips sink in, making your head feel not quite right. Then the shrieks grow deadlier and more deranged, chants mix in with the terror, and the end comes in a storm of clatter and panic.
Our second subject is Father John Geoghan, a Roman Catholic priest from the Massachusetts area who was accused of sexual crimes involving more than 130 youths during his time as six parishes over 30 years. He was one of the primary figures whose actions exposed the church’s problem with sexual crimes toward the end of last century and into this one, and Geoghan didn’t serve the entire decade-long sentence to which he was sentenced. That’s because he was murdered by cellmate Joseph Druce in horrific fashion via strangulation and having his chest stomped in. People questioned the decision to place the pedophile priest in the same area as violent white supremacist Druce, and the track “Run Priest Run Extended” is a horrific replaying of those events.
The 16:47 run time of this track essentially follows Geoghan in his cell and moves through to his grisly murder. Static and eerie strings flow, with wordless harmonies and chants setting the stage for what is the brutal end. Noises begin to churn and guitars threaten, as the tension begins to build, and as the track develops, it gets cloudier and uglier. The choral parts remain, but they begin to sound pained and suffering, slowly making their way toward the inevitable as they push and pull through the first 11 minutes. But you know the killer is near, and once King unleashes his unmistakable, inhuman shrieks, you’re aware the moment has arrived. The drums pound away, imitating the beating, and noise swells, with King’s parts tearing away at your psyche, completely unnerving you as you as you follow each deadly blow. The piece folds into absolute chaos, with spacey noises zapping, keys plinking, and the fading of life mirrored in the sudden calm that takes over, envelops the scene, and slowly, but surely, fades away.
Absolutely blood-curdling in spots, hauntingly beautiful in others, and always crushingly sobering, “Night of Your Ascension” is the most gripping Wrekmeister Harmonies release yet, one that made me dig way deeper into the stories of those involved. Great records with deep content make you do that, and it also has led me to examining each situation and how I would react to them. As cut and dried as each seem, there is far more beneath the surface. Such is life, which is why every action could be met with myriad reactions depending on the witness.
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