A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Its refreshing to hear a true, cinematic psychedelic record. The Ninth Door is expansive; it’ll open doorways in yr mind. Align chakras and whatnot. Probably/possibly conjure something. This is the kind of thing Julian Cope would wax on and on druidically, if he were still writing about music. The guitars conjuring gleaming white monoliths in the night air, as hooded figures chant with candles in the periphery.
The origins of this record lie not in stone circles, however, but in a seance at an old farmhouse in 2007. In “real life”, nothing happened. The spirits were feeling incommunicative since Bower was slightly intoxicated, and wouldn’t co-operate. But the seeds of Wizards Tell Lies were born, a doorway was opened, and Bower has been communicating with the spirit world ever since.
On the surface, The Ninth Door is an entirely heroic, utterly epic instrumental post-rock record, like Mogwai and Pelican like to do. The Ninth Door is easily as good as either of those giants, and really, i could stop the review right there. That’s all you need to know. Need another The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw or Young Team in yr life? Well, today’s yr lucky day.
What is interesting with Wizards Tell Lies, and Bower’s other incarnations as The Revenant Sea or Isobel Ccircle~ with April Larson, is how he encases his art in this surreal, rural decrepitude narrative – lonely and isolated and forgotten, even if the music doesn’t immediately sound like it. In a recent interview with Jehu & Chinaman, Bower described all of the projects as “different views of the same creepy house. They each articulate a different aspect of my urge to make music and Wizards Tell Lies has always trodden a loosely ‘rock’ based path.”
So you’ve got the rural dark ambient setting of an old farmhouse, and you’ve got a blazing, monolithic post-rock record. I cannot help but think of some truly next level Evil Dead action, with a full-bore, power rock ’70s psychotropic soundtrack. I’m talking the Jodorowsky of Evil Dead flicks. GEYSERS of blood! The dark lord himself would be summoned. If you were to roll up The Gate, The Devils, and Holy Mountain, that’s what this movie would be like.
Of course, the music stands up quite well on it’s own, regardless of an imposed narrative. But we are unrepentant horror junkies, here in the turret. As Matthew Bower so eloquently put it, in that selfsame J&C interview:
“Not that I believe in that sort of thing but I love the richness and variety that horror throws up and it’s funny when you see that stuff first hand, it does mess with your beliefs. ‘What if it is real…?’ I mean, we all need a bit of fantasy and magic in our lives, don’t we?”
Matthew Bower might not believe, but this is the kind of record that MAKES THINGS HAPPEN. There were times, during the reviewing process, when i noticed car alarms honking in time with the music, as the hanging guitar tones drifted like windchime over Portland in the summertime. People passing through the room would get caught up for a second, look off in the distance for a moment, distracted. The guitars and drums,\ frequently pummel like powerful pistons, subjugating you into a theta-wave state. It’s got a very ritualistic air about it, is what i’m trying to say. But this is a particularly HEAVY ritual; which is just how we like it.
This is a serious turntable platter, organized in classic double-sided format, with the A-side being way more pummeling and propulsive, with the B- as the lulling dark ambient second set.
Things kick off in a particularly epic fashion with “Pathway To Scraw”, a coliseum of blissed-out, thick sunset guitars with greco-roman columns of analog synth. It sounds very much in line with Mogwai’s recent synthesis of analog synthesis and powerful guitars, on The Rave Tapes. This is something that was largely absent from the first(second?) wave of post-rock bands, this synthesis of electronics with live instruments. It was starting to become more prevalent as post-rock was falling into it’s decline. It makes sense, though, both deal with music as tone and texture, like painting with sounds, and both analog synths and distorted guitars are capably of producing insanely visceral tones, like piper cleaners through yr ears and a massage in yr guts.
Bower’s is adept as both an instrumentalist and as an electronic musician. He’s a kick-ass guitarist (!!!), and i’m not sure if these drums are live or programmed (a bit of both, methinks), but they’re hard hitting, full and robust and right in the pocket.
Every instrument on here is played by Bower, through a series of personalities: there’s Fox: guitars, percussion, bass, keyboards, field recordings, vocals; Owl: ‘The Orchestra of Lost Things’ (a mixture of home-made and kids’ percussion), drums, percussion; & Hart: acoustic guitars, bass, synths, sampler, vocals.
The personas help Bower think critically, when working solo. It must be working, as there’s a moment on the A-side, during the title track, that sounds like Pink Floyd jamming with Vangelis, and i was truly awed that this was all made by one person.
The B-side may be the lulling dark-ambient side, but it starts off menancingly enough, with Bower going full Goblin mode on “They Want To Speak”. The guitars have a surf-twang bit, while the drummers (it sounds like there could be about 12 of them). This is the invocation; the air is thick like ink. You can smell sulphur; or is it sandalwood? Eyes roll up.
“Turn Around” is a lovely, minimalist manipulation, knocking and scratchy as you please. There may be something behind you. Giant footsteps approach, as broken voices come through radio static, as the “music” creeps back in; some shivering glass glissandi and some endless guitar, smeared like the northern lights across the horizon.
The lull doesn’t keep, however, as “Between The Sun And The Light” arcs like rays of light through the darkness, as a lonely chiming guitar meets pounding headbanging drums and a plateau of distortion, burned out bass, elegiac electronics, and a tribal ritual. Halfway through it’s massive 12:00 length, the song suddenly transmogrifies into sneaky mysterious thriller music, the guitars slip into a middle-eastern mode, climbing and spiralling towards heaven. It gets almost unbearably tense, a form of uncomfortable and dissonant minimalist trance. Music’s about the tension and the release, remember? Bower really ratchets up the tension on this one. Thelonius Monk would be proud. It goes out with a greek chorus of oscillators, fading into a fog of feedback, that would be at home on an Acid Mothers Temple record.
Things conclude with the surface crackle texture of “Night Watchers Return”. Is this like the cenobites coming back at the end of the movie? Is that high aeolian harp sound supposed to be a LaMarchand Device?
The Ninth Door is a stone classic, that you can return to, again and again, for a fresh batch of Kubla Khan revelations. It’s the kind of record that i grieve, when i publish the review, as i no longer have an excuse to listen obsessively. Except i probably will anyway.
There is a remix album, that is being released simultaneously, that is free when you buy the cassette. There’s only 4 of those left, so don’t dally! I will comment on the remix album separately, as it’s full of some very talented remixers, and is quite a universe unto itself.
That, taken in conjunction with the fact that the label has also released two OTHER killer albums today, a new collaboration from Roadside Picnic’s Justin Wiggan, and some desolate dub techno, in the debut LP from Beachers, Jehu & Chinaman are killing it. Consider yrself informed.