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Moonchild Trio - Six Litanies For Heliogabalus CD (album) cover


Moonchild Trio


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Honorary Collaborator
5 stars This is the third album of the stars/astronomy related trilogy ... and it's my favorite one. It has just the right mix of melodic elements and what I'll call "chaos" in the track reviews - the parts that consist of relatively free improvising, only conducted/guided by Zorn. See the track comments for further details!

Litany 1: The track begins in the "usual" way ... heavy, complex riffs which remind me of Meshuggah, with Patton's insane "vocals" on top. Half way through there is an interruption with subdued harmonic vocal parts, only to be continued with a free-jazz saxophone part and finally near silence with faint whispering and hammond organ bits.

Litany 2: The second track begins much like the first began, but at 0:50 the controlled chaos is suddenly interrupted by a straight beat ... only for a few seconds, then experimental parts continue. This is repeated once, until a calm, melodic part starts (2:30), dominated by Doors-like Hammond organ and cool jazz drums/bass with conversation-like vocals (several voices, much laughter) in the background. That continues for several minutes, with the bass taking the (improvising) helm. But at 6:30 Patton's vocals introduce a return to the controlled chaos.

Litany 3: This begins with organ and bass, followed by slight chaos, then organ and bass again with Patton whispering mystical latin words ("Heliogabalus" among others). At 5:20 there's an outburst of chaos again which totally reminds me of the Fantomas debut. At 6:00 we get something new: Strange angelic choir parts on top of near silence (whispering/breathing and effects). Then at 8:00 it's chaos time again with extreme screams, only to be followed (8:30) by a cool jazz rock part with an organ solo and much bass improvisation.

Litany 4: This track is dominated by Patton's "vocals" ... he does a magnificent job here. It's difficult to describe exactly what he does ... essentially he is describing sceneries/stories with vocal effects. It doesn't include words in the original sense - at least not English words or of any other language. It includes heavy breathing, whispering, screaming, shouting, growling (rarely), whistling, groaning, suffocating, coughing, puking, laughing, giggling ... at one point he's even imitating a gun fight, pigs or police officers (I know, it doesn't make sense). All that sometimes at lightning speed (a bit like scatting), sometimes totally calm and reduced.

Litany 5: This is a bit like the first track, but it also features the angelic choir / organ calm parts, which makes it a bit more interesting to me.

Litany 6: Much like the previous track, and a good combination of all the other litanies.

Report this review (#116620)
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars After reading some glowing recommendations on the forums, I decided to check out John Zorn, and where better to start than with his latest album, Six Litanies For Heliogabalus? The final album fo Zorn's astronomy trilogy, Litanies cracks with all the energy of RIO and Avant-Prog, thanks to Zorn's incredible arrangements and the contributions of Mike Patton and Trevor Dunn from RIO revivalists Mr. Bungle. Litanies is without a doubt the heaviest album of the year, even more so than Devin Townsend's Ziltoid, which is full of ambience to offset some of the metallic onslaught. This sounds like Meshuggah with a saxophone and the craziest vocalist of all time.

Litany I has intricite guitar, bass, and sax riffs over thundering drums, complete with Patton screaming over everything. To call Patton's vocalizations "singing" is generous; he foregoes lyrics and even language itself in order to simply shriek, growl, grunt, and everything else that doesn't involve words. The frantic sound is interuppted by a more mellow section before Zorn leads them to the end with his wild sax. Litany II opens with a crunching bass riff courtesy of Trevor Dunn, the second most talented man in Mr. Bungle. This one is more mellow (with the exception of the first two minutes) with some hammond organ and a more conventional bass and drum beat and some spoken vocals. Patton's entrance shatters the mellowmess with more of his "vocals." Litany III is an avant epic that starts with Hammond and drums, leads into more chaotic avant jazz, gives way to more whispered material, then all hell breaks loose again, before a choir enters made up of the three female vocalists Zorn brought in (I admit this caught me off guard, since it was teh closest thing to "normal" music I'd heard on the album), which ends with more screaming and some great improv from Dunn's distorted bass (often it sounds more like a downtuned guitar than a bass).

Litany IV is an 8 minute unaccompanied solo where Patton lets loose. If you thought what he was doing so far was bizarre, just wait until you hear this. He does things with his vocals cords that I've never heard anyone else even consider doing. He gibbers frantically in a manner that reminds me of the wild boy Donny from the 90s animated show The Wild Thornberrys (strangely enough, the gibbering boy was voiced by the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea). He goes from the high pitched pseudo-scatting to take a moment to catch his breath (nearly thrity seconds, but it's all for effect). He laughs like a hyena, jostles his Adam's Apple to make bizarre noises, imitates a pig's snorts, grunts, shrieks, and all kinds of effects and imitations with his voice. The only thing that can even come close to real singing (on this track or the rest of the album) is at around 4:00 minutes when he breaks into an semi-operatic falsetto. Still no words, but if nothing else it reminds you that Patton can actually sing, he just choose to push teh boundaries of vocal cords (I have no problem with that). Litany V throws the instruments back into the fray for more frantic jazz, complete with another choir section. The album closes with Litany VI, which essentially takes pieces from the previous five tracks and combines them as a nice summary of things.

Zorn might just wind up the Frank Zappa of the 21st century. He is wildly prolific (check out his page here on PA, it justs goes on and on), and he is a master of the avant-garde compositon. Six Litanies is for me the RIO release of the year, even over Sleeytime Gorilla Museum's excellent In Glorious Times. Once again, the partnership between Zorn and Patton pays off well as the two feed off one another as the pioneers and masters of metal in opposition. The only issue I have is that V and VI have a little bit too much in common with teh previous tracks and don't explore new territory like the first four litanies did. They are still masterfully composed however, they just didn't throw me for a loop like the rest of the album. Still, fans of the avant-garde must pick this up as soon as possible.

Grade: B+

Report this review (#131197)
Posted Wednesday, August 1, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Since I began listening to John Zorn I felt that his rock trio affair of Astronome and Moonchild rested near the bottom tier of his works. They were still very entertaining and well composed, but overall I felt they contain about the same elements of his superior works without the great variety of them. Perhaps Mr. Zorn began to feel the same way because for Six Litanies he embellishes the Dunn/Patton/Baron team with a female choir, organ, electronic effects, and the trademark Zorn sax.

Despite the strong prominence of vocals, and the purely vocal track "Litany IV", I wouldn't hesitate to describe this as an instrumental album. Besides some chanting of "Heliogabalus" by the female choir, I don't believe a single word is spoken throughout. If you would have any doubt about the validity of calling vocals an instrument, Six Litanies will be the album to convince you. The whispers and chants of the female choir offer a perfect backdrop and provide much of the romantic atmosphere of the album throughout the chaos of the musicians playing. Mike Patton contributes a variety of squeaks, squeals, snorts, and breathing that will amaze you firstly for how inhuman they are. They'll amaze you even more so once you begin to appreciate the great care with which they are placed in the tracks. Honestly, anyone could hire a lunatic to scream randomly throughout an album for weirdness' sake, but their placement and use in the selections speaks volumes of Zorn's compositional ability. Most enjoyable are the great trade-offs and unison lines of Patton's high pitched shrieks and Zorn's trademark sax.

The brutality and technicality of Dunn/Baron duo can be compared to Meshuggah. Combined with the insanity of Zorn and Patton, Six Litanies hardly makes for an accessible record. The album is heavy and quite impenetrable at first. However, it's certainly one of Zorn's finest releases making it also one of the finest releases of its time.

Report this review (#142117)
Posted Thursday, October 4, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Probably the best possible review for this gem are these simple two words: Very loud! But, to keep my honour as a reviewer, I must offer this masterpiece a full review. This is the third production from the Moonchild/Astronome line-up, with Trevor Dunn, Joey Baron, and Mike Patton at its core. Zorn actually appears on this album, with his sax, unlike the previous two. Also, a host of other musicians, including organist Jamie Saft, appear.

Six Litanies is comprised chiefly of haunting neo-classical, clashing with brutal metal, and insane vocal work. To be fair, there's a great deal of electronic music, and free jazz, of course, but the classical and metal are arguably at the forefront. I feel terrible calling these loud sections metal: but that's probably the easiest thing to do. It's really just heavy sections, played with lots of distortion, and rhythmic complexity, though not exactly metal. For the remainder of this review, when I use the term metal, all I'm referring to is a high point on the volume scale.

The vocal work has but three gears. One is extremely intrusive, and is typically in the spotlight here. The fourth track, aptly named Litany IV, is an eight minute opus of extraordinary complexity. It is so incredibly complex it sounds improvised, which it likely is to a small degree. However, a great deal of it is tightly composed, since Mike Patton performs it nearly the same during live performances. The second gear is nearly inaudible, where Mike and a troupe of female vocalists simply make sounds of soft laughter or haunting humming. An angelic chorus, the avatar of this album, is sung in this gear. The most obvious use of the second gear is during the second track, where giggling hovers over soft, keyboard led playing. The third gear is completely off, when the instruments take centerstage. Throughout the entire album, the only distinguishable word is, Heliogabalus. Besides that, all vocal work is entirely wordless.

The metal sections are actually quite interesting. There is, of course, a rhythmic emphasis from Joey Baron on drums, and Trevor Dunn on bass, but they are sometimes quite rudely interrupted by a hailing of squealing sax and vocal squealing from Patton. But both aspects always have a very musical quality, and sound great. I always found that avant-garde music perceives music on a very honest and very human level. Like visual art, there is no universal goal other than creating something that is pleasing to the eyes. Sure, there are rules of art that can be followed or disregarded, but in the end, all that matters is the glee that your pupils experience. The same goes for music: often the arrangements are precise, and following set rules, but very often, Zorn forgets all that and merely generates what notes would please the inner ear the most.

If you've got a lot of friends interested in more mainstream music, then I strongly suggest getting this album merely to scare the [&*!#] out of them. Even if you don't expect to ever develop an appreciation for this experimental genre of sound, you will be guaranteed to win every, Who has the weirdest song on their iPod, contest. Trust me: many friends have claimed to have found the most bizarre band ever, only to have me violently stick my phones in their ears and play any song on this album, and utter, You win.

Choir and organ sometimes threaten to transform the music to something beautiful, and even succeed on occasion. But fear not! The ravaging lows from the rhythm section and the piercing highs from the vocals and saxes destroy their progress in a mere second. And after defeating the beauty that briefly appeared, the rhythm section and the voices scuffle for spotlight. In this sense, Six Litanies is a perpetual battle between three factions. I must admit, I thought myself very experienced when it came to enjoying avant-garde music, but this album took much time for me to appreciate. But once it did, I loved it to an extreme degree. I proudly proclaim this a masterpiece of modern music, and my personal favourite of 2007. Zorn manages to force chaos and beauty to co-exist, to merge, to fight, to oppose, and to match. All six tracks are excellently loose and aggressive, and are similarly beautiful and haunting.

Report this review (#159462)
Posted Monday, January 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Rating: A

If you don't know what a litany is, there's no shame in that. I didn't either when I first picked up John Zorn's Six Litanies for Heliogabalus. Finally, though, I cracked open my dictionary and discovered that litany has two meanings:

1. a prayer consisting of a series of supplications and responses said alternately by a leader and a group. 2. a lengthy recitation

Both are helpful in understanding John Zorn's Six Litanies for Heliogabalus. The entire CD is structured as a series of calls and responses between the abrasive, heavy drum-bass-vocal trio of, respectively, Joey Baron, Trevor Dunn, and Mike Patton (you might recognize the latter two from Mr. Bungle) and soothing organ and choir dominated sections. Even on a smaller scale, though, this call-and-response format applies, such as at the end of "Litany I," where Mike Patton on vocals and John Zorn on saxophone trade off, Patton babbling (as usual), followed by John Zorn make his sound like a very musical cat in its death throes. The second definition applies specifically to "Litany IV," a purely vocal piece where we are treated to what indeed is "a lengthy recitation" courtesy of Mike Patton.

This still doesn't explain what Six Litanies for Heliogabalus sounds like, however. Six Litanies is a continuation of, a departure from, and an improvement on John Zorn's Moonchild and Astronome CDs. Like those two, Six Litanies features Baron, Dunn, and Patton, but Six Litanies works from a far more varied palette than just those three (who were the sole performers on Moonchild and Astronome). Six Litanies also includes jazzy organ, a beautiful female choir, John Zorn's own saxophone, and Ikue Mori's famous electronics.

This is the key reason why Six Litanies for Heliogabalus is an improvement on Moonchild and Astronome. Those CDs were amazing when chugging full throttle (as Six Litanies often does), but they had softer sections that felt a bit too much like noodling, and which occasionally failed to engage the listener. On Six Litanies, these sections are absent, instead replaced by the organ, choir, and electronics sections, which are atmospheric, beautiful, and above all captivating. Not only do they provide a needed break from the otherwise non-stop action, the keep the listener actively engaged, and they stand up in their own right, not just in context.

And, of course, I still haven't explained what this CD sounds like, except perhaps for the choir sections. In the bass, drum, and vocal dominated sections, the drum and bass hold down an ever shifting groove while Patton wails maniacally over the top. It's almost impossible to tell that only a bass is used, as it covers a wide range (including a tremendous amount of distortion). All of these sections are challenging and avant-garde - Zorn isn't the founder of extreme avant-garde for nothing - but because it is groove based (and because of the choir sections), Six Litanies actually contains quite a few hooks.

The only fault with Six Litanies for Heliogabalus is that Patton's vocals can get in the way of the music at times (this is rare, but it does happen a few times), though his solo piece is awesome, particularly where he imitates themes from the first three litanies solely with his voice. On the whole, Patton's vocals are amazing, but I feel that if Zorn were to take the format established here but use saxophone exclusively (no vocals), or at least make the saxophone more dominant and the vocals less so, I feel he could produce his best CD. Until then, that honor belongs to Naked City, with Six Litanies a not-so-distant third (Spillane tops it by a hair, but isn't as good as Naked City). A masterpiece, recommended to anyone with an adventurous ear. Among the best CDs released in 2007.

Report this review (#162402)
Posted Friday, February 22, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Third in the line of Astronomic-related trilogy, this Moonchild trio's album is the best of all three.

Moonlight Trio is one of the most current John Zorn's project, and even from participating musicians line-up you can expect this project isn't so pleasant and easy listening, as Masada or The Dreamers. Mark Patton on vocals, Trevor Dunn on bass and Joey Baron on drums don't sound as very safe team of musicians, and guests are all the same - radical electronics artist Ikue Mori and Zorn himself, playing hard core free jazz attacking sax, between others.

Album's music than is what you expected - uncontrolled genius' madness. Possibly last time John's music sounded similar on Naked City releases, but there it was mostly punkish avant hard core. There, played by Moonchild trio, the music is eclectic mix of free jazz, brutal rhythms (rare example when even zeuhl influences could be recognised in Zorn's music), radical avant noise, screaming vocals (or just screams), some soundtracks themes, downtown atmosphere - and all mixed in one very theatrical brew!

If you're in mellow well-structured pleasant and comfortable prog for burgers, better leave this album where it is. If you're not very tolerant in what you're listen, and think Bjork music is extremal and almost extremist, better run from this album away. Believe me, most radical Bjork's screams sound as Moon Safari (nowadays Take That) comparing with "Six Litanies...".

This music will wake you up, will push your blood to circulate faster and your brains to work harder. Great album for those who is ready to listen to it!

Report this review (#360054)
Posted Wednesday, December 22, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Say the word 'Moonchild' to any Prog Rock fan, and you'll likely conjure images of a delicate elfin girl "...gathering the flowers in a garden / drifting on the echoes of the hours..."

Well, think again. This gut-punching album from John Zorn's Moonchild Trio will completely ruin any associations the word might have shared with Peter Sinfield's benevolent hippie whimsy. The '07 effort marks only my third pit-stop along an unguided, arbitrary weeklong tour through a truly intimidating discography (numbering over 400 albums as a composer and/or collaborator), and it feels like my itinerary was hijacked at gunpoint by a raving maniac with a Mensa IQ.

Of course trying to pin down the music of John Zorn will always be like trying to capture lightning in a bottle: a futile exercise that usually results in shattered glass and third-degree burns. Especially when such an eclectic artist is indulging his more hardcore inclinations, and they don't get much harder (or eclectic) than this.

Here's the man himself, quoted on the back cover of the CD (the emphasis is his): "POWERFUL SECRETS are revealed through INTENSITY and EXTREMITIES of experience". Boy, was he ever not kidding. This project makes even the outer limits of The Mars Volta sound like The Moody Blues...

The original trio (bass guitar, drums and vocals) was expanded here to a sextet, with an additional three-voice female choir adding depth and nuance to a distorted soundstage (Zorn himself, wrestling a demented saxophone, is only a guest at his own party). And the music itself might be described as pyrotechnic modern-art thrash-metal, with the spark in the gunpowder provided by vocalist Mike Patton, a familiar name to fans of the similar but much tamer Avant-Prog Metal ensemble MR. BUNGLE. Listen in amazement while he snorts, gags, coughs up a lungful of bloody phlegm, screams, gasps for breath, and at one point hawks his throat and expectorates all over the studio microphone.

It's an astonishing performance, but don't call it singing. Patton begins at a point where even Damo Suzuki might have hesitated ("Peking O", anyone?), and then leaps headlong into an exhilarating performance-art freefall. If your tolerance for unhinged guttural gymnastics is limited (and no one would blame you, if so), be advised to skip "Litany IV" altogether, which is entirely Patton, unaccompanied for eight alarming minutes and sounding not unlike the old Loony Tunes Tasmanian Devil in the middle of an existential crisis.

A few islands of relative sanity can be found within the roiling oceans of chaos: a groovy Neo-Krautrock organ jam in "Litany II" (shades of ELECTRIC ORANGE), and several interludes of ghostly pagan atmospherics, not inappropriate for an album named after a decadent 3rd century Roman Emperor. And a musicologist might be able to further dissect the mayhem with a clean intellectual scalpel. But doing so would kill the patient, and miss half the fun. The album isn't a thesis project: it's a musical judo exhibition, and that grey area between your ears is the block of wood waiting to be split in two by a well-timed kick.

Report this review (#1464079)
Posted Thursday, September 17, 2015 | Review Permalink

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