Croce: obsession with crucifixion, sacrifice and apocalypse doesn’t quite go far enough

Father Murphy, Croce, The Flenser, CD FR54 (2015)

San Francisco-based label The Flenser might just be my favourite label for releasing some mighty odd and eccentric music over the past few years, though I think most of these have been black metal acts like The Botanist. This time here comes an act that initially appears as far away from BM as the nearest galaxy is from Earth, though closer inspection and repeated hearings of this album “Croce” (Italian for “cross”) reveal a dark obsession with death and what lies beyond – a concern not too far from what much black metal dabbles in. Father Murphy may already be familiar to TSP readers though I must admit “Croce” is the first album of theirs I’ve heard. At the time of its recording, the Italian band was down to a boy / girl duo after having been a trio.

The album is split into two sides, “Sacrificio” which spins on the theme of crucifixion, and “Beatitudine” which deals with the aftermath of crucifixion. Intro track “Blood is Thicker than Water” is all harsh distorted vocals, ominous buzzy organ sound and angular melody. “A Purpose” continues with the acid sound and adds a pounding industrial machine rhythm. After a trio of quite deranged songs with frying atmospheres and intense lyrics sung in voices on the verge of hysteria, “In Solitude”, a mostly instrumental guitar-based piece, comes as a bit of welcome relief even though there’s something ominous in its wary melody.

“Beatitudine” takes up where the suffering and the self-sacrifice have achieved their ultimate end and the record enters a state of being that’s not quite oblivion but isn’t resurrection either in “Long May We Continue”, an uncertain doomy piece in which a being might stumble dazed and blinking into some existential twilight zone. “All the People Yelling Fire” is a mix of metallic clang and crash, droning horns and something of a desolate or abandoned mood. The track leads straight into something straight out of US southern Gothica called “We Walk by Faith”, an enervated apocalyptic hymn of drawling zombie vocal, tired horn, a wavering sawn-off guitar whine and lumbering percussion in the background. Benediction comes in “They Won’t Hurt You”, a sort of uplifting yet rather melancholy pipe organ drone that bears a tired and tortured spirit upwards and off into the firmament. Where to, the whole track seems uncertain; there’s a slightly demented quality in the music as well.

The music might be considered a mix of garage / industrial-lite / noise / neo-folk / tribal psychedelia pop with a dark pessimistic air. The singing is either demented or amateurish in a way suggesting backwardness (not-in-a-good-way sort of backwardness) depending on your point of view. Considering the themes it tackles, I think the album is rather short and doesn’t delve far enough into the subject matter, stretching it to its logical ends. There is madness born of religious self-righteousness and arrogance inherent in some tracks and it seems a pity Father Murphy don’t draw that aspect out so much. The Bible-bashing US Deep South connection – if there is one (mostly in my mind to be honest) – is briefly rustled by tracks whose titles say one thing but whose music says something very opposed to what the titles imply. The music itself can be very confounding but after several hearings I realise it’s not nearly as unusual and eccentric as it seemed and the band is actually working with a narrow set of sounds.

Contact: The Flenser, PO Box 31117, San Francisco, California, 94131, United States