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The Return of Current 93 - “a commodius vicus of recirculation”?

Please forgive the somewhat pretentious Finnegan’s Wake reference, but it seemed to describe well the flow of the 93 Current,  which originally was part of Aleister Crowley’s Thelema- philosophy and that gave David Tibet’s long-lasting band its name.  Current 93 are an esoteric and (mostly) magickal entity, and Joyce’s phrase features the verbal ambiguities and historical cross-references that also distinguish Tibet’s best work.

I came to C93 relatively late on (2001), initially through getting hold of the mixed-bag  ‘Looney Runes’ at a jumble sale for fifty pence, a satisfactorily random and extempore  way of accessing the portals of their world, which I very quickly and fully explored, mainly through their now-classic series of 90s works - ‘Thunder Perfect Mind’ from 1992 (which introduced Michael Cashmore’s peerless guitar); ‘Of Ruine Or Some Blazing Starre’ from 1994 (which is the pinnacle of their entire oeuvre, in my humble opinion, one of English progressive/experimental music’s finest products); the ‘Lucifer Over London’ EP (which includes my fave track of ‘em all, Tibet’s greatest portrait of Biblical apocalypse, the overwhelming and Four Horsemen-inspired “The Seven Seals Are Revealed At the End of Time as Seven Bows -  The Bloodbow, The Pissbow, The Painbow, The Faminebow, The Deathbow, The Angerbow, The Hohohobow”); ‘All the Pretty Little Horses’ (1996); ‘Soft Black Stars’ (1998); ‘Sleep Has Its House’ (2000) and ‘Black Ships Ate the Sky’ (2005) After this latter work in, I generally lost track of them through a variety of reasons, one being a period of serious ill-health that curiously mirrored Tibet’s own near-death experience (in his case peritonitis, in mine liver failure). C93 seemed to explore, after ‘Black Ships   ‘,  the limits of rock-influenced guitar music, something they had touched on in the past, and was to the detriment of their own particular magick, it seemed to me. I did wonder whether Tibet’s contact with the Grim Reaper had taken its toll on his creativity. Oh ye of little faith, it might be said, in my direction. And rightly so.

C93s music is an immersive experience (one of the few in modern ‘rock’ music), and, for me, is by far the most rewarding of the three ‘England’s Hidden Reverse’ bands so ably documented by David Keenan in his recently-updated  book on Current 93, Coil and Nurse With Wound. It has always been my contention that NWW’s Steven Stapleton’s best work is to be found in the Current’s nineties work. Their earlier industrial work from the 80s is a curate’s egg - I love ‘Nature Unveiled’, which sounds like a Black Mass (in a good way, if that is possible, or even desirable?), but much of the other material is incoherent (and definitely not in a good way by this point). The ‘psychedelic folk’ period that started with ‘Swastikas for Noddy’ [or should that be Gnoddy?] is undoubtedly fascinatingly creepy, and it effectively channels Comus (a Tibet fave), but ‘Thunder Perfect Mind’ (1992) saw Tibet soar, but it cannot be adequately summarised in a format such as this blog. Safe to say that, by 2005, Tibet had built up a personal mythology and enough accompanying series of memes, tropes, expressions, cues, links and meta-textual material to create a universe or separate reality, that, like a video game, could be engaged with by those attracted and intrigued enough to suspend disbelief in its more absurd or unlikely aspects.

The new album, called ‘The Light Is Leaving Us All’ had been reviewed online in enough of a positive way (see Anthony Fantano’s The Needle Drop, for example) to encourage me to get hold of it in CD form. It is presented in the usual informed and informing C93 way - lyrics accompanying the attractive slipcase, all the recording information is provided, as well as band photos and suitably enigmatic images of front and back - does the young girl on the front cover, and/or the choristers on the back,  have, to paraphrase Magazine, “the light pouring out of her/them”, or is it pouring into her/them from an outside source? Such questions become patent when listening to this record, throughout which the title phrase is repeated enough times to provide a thematic continuity of great power. It can, of course, become somewhat enervating, as can most of their material, but, by the end, you certainly know that you have been through a particular experience.

I was especially pleased to see that C93 have been joined by the great Alasdair Roberts as a new member, an innovation that made the record’s purchase essential as far as I was concerned. The Scottish master of the antique, the wyrd and the wonderful was a perfect choice to reactivate the Current to full effect - ‘The Light Is Leaving Us All’ will take a while to get acclimatised to, but I already sense that it is a ‘return to form’. Words, music and design come together as with all their best productions, and I gratefully welcome Tibet and Co. back to the cutting edge. Not so sure about the new Tibet image, with chin-scratch beard and all, which makes him look like a senior academic at a liberal arts institution - but maybe that is what he is now; one of our avant garde elders who will be forever keeping us on our toes? With a discographical, written word  and fine art history which could well provide enough material for a liberal arts degree?

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