Welcome return, I think, of the highly distinctive Polish occult-folk combo 23 Threads, led by driving force Marek Spazm Marchoff and featuring instrumentalist Rafal Janus (Denny Laine to his Paul McCartney) and the vocalist Ingrid Dawn Swen. Much to my own surprise (I am no lover of “Neofolk” or whatever it’s called now) I find I have a soft spot for this bunch ever since hearing their Conspicuous Unobstructed Path album in 2015. More recently, we dug a solo effort by Marchoff where he appears as Different State, and creates even odder internalised worlds of doubt and gloom.
His studio prowess continues to exhibit itself on today’s record I Woke Up At Dawn (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 183-2), where the production is pretty uncanny; what may appear to be straight-ahead rock songs at the start are soon revealed to have many layers of strange sound construction elements carefully woven into place, as surely as if the players were mutant spiders spinning cobwebs of steel. Leaving us in no doubt as to their continued interest in the occult and magick, 23 Threads lead off this record with a 60-second recording of some obsessed Crowley-like magus initiating you into a ritual you want no part of, yet you can’t look away; there follow two heavy rock songs which are not only uncharacteristic of the atmospheric dark folk mode of this weird band, but actually manage to deliver on the promises made by Jimmy Page and his Crowley fixation. Both ‘The Beast’ and ‘Enter The Cold’ wouldn’t have been too far out of place on Led Zep III, making good on the ‘Do What Thou Wilt’ run-out etching of that album…
Elsewhere a song like ‘Hysteria’ is more akin to a hundred other doom-rock combos of the last ten years, but the sheer nastiness of Marchoff’s twisted vocal soon lifts things out of the quagmire. I had to wait until track 4, ‘Hidden Between The Space’, to find the side of 23 Threads which I find acceptable, and this one is a mystery-plod through a magical forest on wings of gossamer or with Mercury’s winged ankles; eerie dynamics, chilling sounds, a real sense of being pulled into a nameless terror in slow motion. Great. ‘Cosmic Monument’ is likewise a weirdie, though uncharacteristic with its use of loops and samples all colliding in a horrible jumble, perhaps taking a leaf from the books of early Current 93. Overall, it’s the heavy metal tunes which eat up most of the running time (indeed the record is proudly labelled “Occult Macabre Doom” on the back cover), making this a quite aggressive and threatening album compared to the beguiling mode of previous attempts; but you have to admit that Marchoff’s take on the genre is highly unusual and distinctive, turning all the clichés inside-out and emerging with his own version and vision intact. It’s as though he marched in to combat the lion in a cave, and emerged bloody and torn but still wearing the pelt of his victim.
The only thing I do miss is the voice of Ingrid Dawn Swen. I find no trace of her here on first listen, so must delve deeper to see if I can tease out her whispers and murmurs that entrance the audience as surely as the spell of a benign witch. The record was recorded at the same time as The Ornaments and the creators regard it as a “sister” to that release. Made in New York. Zenial (Lukasz Szalankiewicz) appears on one track, and we noted him previously for his 2013 album Chimera. This, from 2nd August 2019.