Aural Tradition

Mar 3, 1999 at 12:00 am

Rarely do two types of music meet on a level where they threaten to cancel each other out – let alone create something even more meaningful in their mutual vanishing. But Martyn Bates (Eyeless in Gaza) and Mick Harris (Napalm Death, Lull, Painkiller, Scorn) have done it.

The archaic murder ballads that leak from Bates’ vocal cords are intensely sad and carnal. They tend to leap off cliffs of hollow effects or drone on darkly, offering neither a robust delivery nor an element of irony to take the edge off. The archetypal characters who live and die in them give life’s full tragedy back to Harris’ electronically numbed "post-isolationist" dreaming. "Drift" (originally recorded in 1994), "Passages" (from 1996) and "Incest Songs" (1997) play out an unbreakable and timeless cycle of bloody folklore (people) and hypnotic soundscapes (the god who watches). The effect is chilling yet engrossing. Where most ambient music has barely enough courage to ring the doorbell and run, Murder Ballads slips through the cracks of the unconscious and does its work with remarkable ease. All the more reason to listen thoughtfully.