Black Summer Choirs
Out Of Line
I believe it was Nietzsche who said “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a portentous ass, and when you look long into an abyss, the abyss starts gesturing that you have something in your teeth.” Among other things, I think what Freddy was trying to caution us against was the cutting of narrative or myth out of whole cloth to suit individual or temporary needs, and I feel his ghost over my shoulder as I try to piece together my take on the new Kirlian Camera record. In the case of a band I listen to so often and love so much, it’s tempting to proclaim every move a grand gesture echoing through the halls of personal memory (especially given this album’s skin-crawling spoken interludes on nihilistic terror), but this offers no insight to the third party reader. The goal here is review, not personal Proustian recall, so I’ll shelve the metaphysics and try to stick to how Black Summer Choirs fits within Kirlian Camera’s larger (and objective) body of work.
What’s most apparent from the get go is that the film noir/moody soundtrack feel which has surfaced in a few recent KC tracks, and in Elena Fossi’s Spectra Paris project to a much larger degree (see 2010’s License To Kill), dominates much of Black Summer Choirs. Intersecting with various other motifs from across the band’s history, slow and slinky beats drip by on the first couple of tracks while Elena holds court, with the opening credits to what would surely be the most decadent Bond film ever made drift through the listener’s imagination.
There’s also a heavy reintroduction of the neofolk sounds which have been part of KC’s arsenal for decades, but which in recent years have taken the backseat to the more intense, melodic trance-tinged tunes which dominated Invisible Front and Coroner’s Sun. There were hints of this on Nightglory, but the consolidation here is much more firm: “The Fountain Of Clouds” and “Farewell Road” are solid companions to Pictures From Eternity‘s more sparse numbers, but it’s another track with acoustic elements which gives Black Summer Choirs perhaps its most singular moment. “Words” has the sort of interplay between female and male vocals (the latter provided by Ralf Jesek of In My Rosary and Marys Comic) which hearkens back to the band’s earliest days (even before they started introducing neo-folk elements), but with an almost classic rock structure and beat that I can’t remember the bands ever utilising. It feels surprisingly comfortable, easily slipping over Elena and Ralf’s voices, not to mention some pretty darkwave melodies, and shows just how much work KC have left in them, even when reaching back to earlier forms.
None of the above is to say that Black Summer Choirs is bereft of tracks driven by electronics, just that those which are opt for less frenzied moods, less operatic heights than we’ve heard lately, and more atmospheric slow builds, as on pre-release track “”مادة مظلمة (Materia Oscura)”. There are a couple of exceptions, namely the heaty haunted electro-house of “Heavens”, which uses far more side-chaining than I can ever recall on a KC track, while Elena does some great disco queen moves.
Like most great Kirlian records, Black Summer Choirs is, to dig deep into the record review cliche book, a study in contrasts. That’s overtly apparent in the ticking back and forth between sultry noir and mournful acoustics, but it’s when moods are fused in single tracks that Angelo Bergamini and Elena’s talents as composers truly shine. There’s a delicate interplay of light and shadow on “My Kids Kill”, the record’s dark and slick programming suddenly offset by warmly melodic passages while the solemnity continues. It’s akin to the sun burning through a day’s worth of heavy cloud cover, its rays touching your face for the first time just as its disappearing over the horizon at dusk. An inversion of this seems to happen on “مادة مظلمة (Materia Oscura)”, with ever more menacing swoops from Elena and simple keyboard refrains seeming to circle down to new plateaus.
It’s tempting to try to drag John Fryer out from behind the mixing desk and make hay out of his reunion with Angelo after producing Eclipse twenty-five years previous, but as always, Fryer doesn’t force himself into the picture as a producer: this is Angelo and Elena’s show all the way. Almost a polarized image of Nightglory, Black Summer Choirs finds the band relentlessly refining their own aesthetic, taking sharp turns at the drop of a hat, perplexing and intriguing die-hards and newcomers alike as they go. Each of the roles they take on – missionaries, terrorists, astronauts – seems more like utilitarian necessity for the pursuit of their goals than theatrical device, more undercover agent than simple method actor, if you feel me. Kirlian Camera make some of the most beautiful and evocative records in the dark corners of modern music, and Black Summer Choirs is no exception. Whether or not you acknowledge this matters little to them, they are already moving on to the next campaign.