Mirror Emperor (HOUSE OF MYTHOLOGY HOM 011) is a new album from the team-up of Current 93 with Zu, calling themselves Zu93 for this outing. Your writer must confess that he has never been able to understand or appreciate the complex and deep worlds of David Tibet and all his works, and I don’t suppose this record is the best place to start, but I’m aware of his long-standing status as a hero of the UK underground, a unique talent in a class of his own, and possibly the unwitting pro-genitor of a genre known as “neofolk”, a style of music which is likewise a closed shop to these ears.
Nonetheless I can appreciate the craft of lyric-writing and intensity of thought that has fed into Mirror Emperor, each song riddled with symbolism worthy of any 19th-century French poet or Surrealist painter, and the arrangement into 12 numbered episodes in the life and exploits of this mysterious Mirror Emperor figure indicate that the invented persona is real to its creator, and that we’re now clearly in the presence of a concept album that owes more to Les Chants de Maldoror than it does to Quadrophenia. I don’t pretend to understand any of it, but I like the poetic skill that Tibet exhibits in the construction of his incomprehensible but brilliantly compacted lyrics; the image of the moon crops up in almost every episode, reminding me of Pierrot Lunaire. I suppose the real stumbling block for me is his singing voice, whose quavery tones and affected manner are very much an acquired taste; and I struggle with the way he refuses to hit a note or even carry a tune for these songs. That voice alone conveys instant pallor, as though Tibet were a survivor of some ghastly trans-dimensional crossover of the sort described in the pages of Weird Tales.
However, there’s no denying all of these elements are what lend Mirror Emperor its distinctive flavour; the meandering, off-centred nature of the melodies does much to increase the laudanum-fuelled atmosphere of the set, and if the general intention is to unsettle the listener with instability and doubt, projecting a wraith-like air of unreality and fog, then all concerned can consider this a success. Zu’s contributions consist of mournful cello playing and plangent guitars so sharp and tense that they could cut their way clean through the chains that support the chandelier in The Angel Of The Lamp (see Maldoror 2:11). Stefano Pilia and Massimo Pupillo, two key members of Zu, are well-respected Italian players and have been heard supporting Oren Ambarchi for his Aithein record in 2016, and Zu the band also generate some tasty lower-register noises of sheer doomery that entirely fit the mood and concept of Mirror Emperor; the press notes, which are even more impenetrable than the record itself, refer to “a smell of apocalypse in the air”, a theme which apparently has been a golden thread running through most of Current 93’s work (other listeners will have to advise me on the veracity of this claim).
The drawings for the cover and the booklet are also by David Tibet, betraying influence from his very real interest in Outsider Art (the drawings of Madge Gill, for instance). Highly esoteric item, for those with a taste for the unusual…from 28 June 2018.