Heathen Earth, Journey Through A Body, Mission Of Dead Souls
Released this week as part of Mute‘s 40th anniversary reissue initiative to resurrect some of the seminal work of one of the world’s most beloved experimental art acts of all time. These do not include any new bonus material instead continues to celebrate their legacy by offering these obscure glimpses into the world of the underground to a whole new generation and wider audience. These three recordings represent the second wave of Throbbing Gristle‘s critical offerings circa 1980-1982 as follows:
Heathen Earth (1980) – released on blue vinyl and as a 2CD set
Originally released in 1980 (Industrial Records), is a live document of a performance by Throbbing Gristle to a small and invited audience on 16 February 1980. Described by The Quietus as “more cohesive and marshalled” than any of their other live recordings, the album is a testament to a band at the height of their creative powers, recorded just over a year before Throbbing Gristle disbanded and terminated the mission. Heathen Earth will be released on 2CD and as a limited edition blue vinyl in a gatefold sleeve, echoing – for the first time since its original release – the first pressing of the album (the initial blue pressing was an edition of only 750 copies, before the album was repressed on black vinyl). The vinyl also contains an eight-page 12” booklet entitled “Industrial News” dedicated to the Heathen Earth and includes an unseen photographic print from the performance. The album comes with a digital copy of 11 bonus tracks, including live recordings from 1980 and 7” versions of “Subhuman” and “Adrenalin.”
It’s like opening up a favorite chocolate bar from many decades back that’s long been defunct. It’s familiarity, and distinctive shock-to-the-system woozy quality. Is it jazz, is it the second coming of Pink Floyd, are these even musicians playing? This was not the very first TG that I experienced, but one that I can remember unwrapping half a decade or so after it’s original release. From the unusual post-apocalyptic buzzing of Cornets to the bloated elephant-like bellows on Improvisation, and the industrial crust of the whole thing, it was the antithesis of anything else in the world of music (per se) at the time. There are countless experimenters who owe a bucket of gratitude to this unlikely quartet for coming up with this pure dissemination of luxe noise. By using mixed vocal treatments, distortions and backward frequencies in previously unexplored ways they paved a bridge to a sound stripped of gloss and circumstance to befit a melancholy state of mind.
The original record consisted of two lengthy untitled tracks, here its broken into twenty tracks (unlike the 1991 version with 10 tracks). A bonus disc of live material (which runs from the quiet to psychedelic cut-up to pre-shoegaze hum) from clubs and universities that originally surfaced in 2011 appears here as well. This is assuredly one of the more essential recordings that you will want to revisit. The hypnotic elongated conversation on Still Talking alone is worth the price of admission. Though introverted moments like those on Bass are in their own corner, so crank it. The only other thing out there of the era that comes into a similar arena would be The Residents, Whitehouse or Cabaret Voltaire, equally essential listening but varying into the cheeky, harsh or funky at times (respectively). This is experimental music at its most fully confrontational.
Mission Of Dead Souls (1981) – released on white vinyl and CD
(1981, Industrial Records) documents the final performance before Throbbing Gristle’s original disbanding (the band reactivated in 2004 before their final performance in 2010). Recorded at the Kezar Pavillion in San Francisco on May 29, 1981, the album “proves that TG’s assault never lacked talent or skill.” (AllMusic). The album has been unavailable on vinyl since the early 1990s, and is here presented on limited edition white vinyl, recreating the original sleeve with the addition of silver ink, with a new inner sleeve including photographs and a passage by Jon Savage. A public statement by Throbbing Gristle stating “This Mission Is Terminated” was released following Mission of Dead Souls, and the legacy of the band began to solidify with its influence on generations of artists to come. The album is also available on all digital platforms for the first time, and on CD after being long out of print.
The ‘last’ live performance wasn’t their last, but it offered a twenty-three year hiatus and a reprieve from the past in an initial break-up of its members Genesis P-Orridge (born Neil Megson), Cosey Fanni Tutti (born Christine Newby), Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson (1955-2010) and Chris Carter. Upon release this was originally boxed with the five record set Fetish. This has swaths of speaking in tongues, heavy basslines and a sense of dark ambient before it became ubiquitous. On Circle of Animals there are bits that sound like threadbare strings along with sinister silences. It’s a queasy atmosphere where cages are rattled, reminding me of a broken down circus ride. I have always been a bit reluctant to listen to a live record critically, because I wasn’t there to see the full pagentry, the big show, but this comes off like something truly archival, as if it’s lapsed a sense of time in and of itself. Maybe it’s timeless, maybe it’s hallucinatory, one thing is for sure – it’s all in smack dab in the center of limboland.
The snarls of Vision And Voice are few and far between though they sound as if they are channeled during an out of body experience. And that’s the effect throughout Mission Of Dead Souls, one that transcends the in-situ into the deepest psyche as P-Orridge gutteral wail sounds as though he’s trading in his larynx for a new soul. The industrial sound plays center stage in glimpses barren, and harsher when unexpected. They weave a dirge and a funky drug-induced quasi-Jamacain dub, spoken word caterwaul and all-out noise assault in stages. This record takes its time to open up, it’s not for all ears, and not the best concert I’ve heard by far, but it’s point is that it isn’t in such a paradigm to prove itself to anyone. Their brazen sound is simply to be contended with in the ways Fluxus was, or most conceptual art continues to be – take it or leave it.
Journey Through A Body (1982) – released on silver vinyl and CD
(1982, Industrial Records), widely referred to as Throbbing Gristle’s most haunting work, was recorded as a piece of radio art for Italian National Radio RAI in Rome in March 1981. Following Robert Wyatt’s recommendation, RAI originally commissioned Cosey Fanni Tutti to create a sound work based on the theme of “A Journey Through the Body.” This went on to become a Throbbing Gristle project. First broadcast by the RAI, Journey Through a Body was the band’s final studio recording prior to 2004’s reactivation of the band. Recorded in five days, a day per body section, the tracks were not pre-planned and nothing was re-recorded or added to after the track’s initial recording. Instead, each track was mixed immediately. “What’s most noticeable about the album, as a sonic experience is the openness to acoustic instrumentation on display,” says The Vinyl Factory. Journey Through a Body stands as a perfect testament to Throbbing Gristle’s artistic ethos. Unavailable on vinyl since 1983, Journey Through a Body will be released on silver vinyl with a foil-blocked cover featuring photos from the session. The album is also available on all digital platforms for the first time, and on CD after being long out of print.
Five tracks, simple, right? I suppose if you were a sinister dentist, which is what I still feel when listening to Medicine. It’s a acoustic nightmare, that keeps falling into a darkened void, falling fast with high pitched beeps and other assorted grinding and mishegas. This fifteen minute masterpiece probably kept my young visual mind up at night. With its suction sounds, breathing in and out, it sounds like they’ve strapped a mic on to someone’s lungs and captured the end result. In this way it reminds me of the best work by one of my lost heroes, Japanese experimenter Aube. Someone, if they haven’t already, should make a short horror flick with this as the soundtrack. With its samples and Yoko Ono-like moans the fidgety production is an epic opener to an otherwise perfect record of atonal phenomena. Of course here we also have their classic Catholic Sex with its ‘sleazy’ 70s porn setting of gritty sax and wah-wahs. It bounces with a futuristic jazz flavor, church organ and Genesis’ slow oration. Lovely funky underbelly.
As we move though ‘this body’ an increased exotic rhythm paired with bodily functions emanate from Exotic Functions is a fruity island delight, mixing metaphors with xylophones and the call of the wild. An S/M world of the unknown is introduced on Violencia, which is more like a Christian Marclay record if he were to stitch only the most violent segments of every scary movie between 1960-1980 end to end. It’s got this metered flicking sound that sounds as if it’s a literal chop shop cutting room floor, and the incessant piano tapping is insane. Oh, and the rangy fire of the guitar strings and their compressed pedals make for a bumpy night. A haunting work.