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


Moonchild Trio



4.14 | 41 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
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.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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