Current 93: Sleep Has His House, Faust

With Sleep Has His House David Tibet retreats even further into a hermetic zone of extreme introspection. Mortality has been a recurrent theme in Current 93’s work from the beginning, addressing this most unthinkable of subjects with a livid intensity. Now Tibet has written a moving song cycle in memory of his late father, and the private cosmology of the Current has never been more personally or painfully expressed.

The opening instrumental, ‘Love’s Young Dream’, sets the tone musically: plangent guitar chords that hang in the air unresolved, while the organic tones of the harmonium breathe heavily and sadly. This ominous overture slides into a brief burst of highly charged poetic imagery, with Tibet’s hypnotic half-sung, half-spoken delivery forming a slow, deadly incantation. The guitar and harmonium patterns recur here and throughout the album, giving the music a relentlessly sinister atmosphere.

Tibet’s voice continues the development begun on 1998’s Soft Black Stars, losing some of the manic quality expressed in earlier work and finding instead a lilting, lyrical tenderness in keeping with the sombre subject matter. The third song, ‘The Magical Bird in the Magical Woods’, is shot through with intricate shafts of recollected detail, while the voice fleetingly sounds a note of reproachful, reined-in anger: “But your gods made no sound…” Steven Stapleton, otherwise fairly restrained here, provides a typically haunted coda of treated sounds and tape manipulation.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Michael Cashmore to the album. He wrote all the music, except that of the long title track, and plays all instruments except for the harmonium (on which Tibet accompanies himself). As Tibet stated in an interview with The Wire, their meeting was a pivotal moment in the development of the Current’s sound, since Cashmore is able to enunciate on the guitar exactly the emotions that Tibet wishes to express in his lyrics. Here, his resonant strums and simple, restrained plucking provide the perfect backdrop for the sense of loss and regret that permeates the text.

The album’s terrorstruck centrepiece is ‘Niemandswasser’, in which the imagery approaches the delirious: corpses piled up almost to heaven, cottages covered in honeysuckle, trails of screaming horseflies. As the voice insists “we’re all dust”, a scouring wind blows. A short lullaby segues into the dreamlike, 24-minute title track, with its mantric refrain of “Have pity for the dead, sleep has his house” intoned endlessly into oblivion.

Faust is something else entirely, a single 35-minute piece inspired by a story of the same name (reprinted in the CD booklet) by Count Eric Stenbock. Stenbock, a member of the Estonian branch of a noble Swedish family, was a decadent writer in London at the end of the nineteenth century. Towards the end of his brief life – he died at the age of 35 from drug addiction and alcoholism – he was accompanied everywhere he went by a lifesize wooden doll that he believed to be his son.

The piece marks a return to the Current’s pre-Swastikas for Noddy mode: dark, mangled slabs of sound that form a genuinely disturbing picture of a mind in the throes of collapse. Steven Stapleton is a malign presence throughout, from the unearthly child’s voice that haunts many Nurse With Wound recordings to the endlessly vital and creative layering of sounds and textures. Tibet himself recites Stenbock’s secret history in a devilish, chattering whisper, bells chime softly and human souls wail and moan in a nightmarish chorale of agony and helplessness.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 8, 2000)

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