Review: Andrew King - Deus Ignotus (2011)


artist: Andrew King
release: Deus Ignotus
format: CD
year of release: 2011
label: Epi­phany
dur­a­tion: 61:55

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com

It’s already been eight years since Andrew King’s pre­vi­ous solo album The Amfortas Wound in 2003, and one real­ises how time flies. The gap is par­tially bridged by smal­ler releases and col­lab­or­a­tions (with among oth­ers Sol Invictus, Duo Noir, Brown Sierra, The Triple Tree) so per­haps that is why it doesn’t feel like such a long time. Regard­less, Deus Ignotus is a long-awaited work, and a new oppor­tun­ity for King to put forth a very per­sonal col­lec­tion of tra­di­tional songs.

The album starts with some famil­iar work, to wit the excel­lent “The Three Ravens” and its intro, which have been wel­come guests at King’s live per­form­ances in recent years. Another famil­iar tune may be the a capella “Edward”, of which an instru­ment­al­ised ver­sion appeared on the latest Sol Invictus album The Cruellest Month this year. Some other loose tracks are newer to King’s rep­er­toire, as far as I know, such as “The Wife of Usher’s Well”, accom­pan­ied by soft but threat­en­ing synths and per­cuss­ive accents, and “Lord Lovel”, another a capella piece.

Per­haps most sur­pris­ing, and pleas­antly so, is the inclu­sion of some medi­aeval tunes, such as “Sic Mea Fata Canenda Solor” from the Car­mina Bur­ana, and Oswald von Wolken­stein’s “Fröleichen So Well Wir”, which turned into a mar­vel­lous waltz­ing dance track in King’s ver­sion.

A quar­tet of tracks (6.1 - 7.2) is ded­ic­ated to the Bib­lical tale of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. King cobbles together a fas­cin­at­ing musical nar­rat­ive with dif­fer­ent per­spect­ives out of four dif­fer­ent text sources, at the centre of which stands the 13th cen­tury Middle Eng­lish bal­lad “Judas”, mar­vel­lously rendered with power­ful per­cus­sion by John Murphy and instru­mental arrange­ments played by Hunter Barr and Maria Vel­lanz. This track is a per­fect example of King’s ori­ginal musical vis­ion that com­bines tra­di­tional song with a mod­ern post-industrial form of com­pos­i­tion.

I can’t do com­plete justice here to the impress­ive com­bin­a­tion of research and cre­ativ­ity that res­ul­ted in these works, but I will simply refer the reader to the extens­ive notes and lyr­ics in the book­let to this album, which doc­u­ments these pro­cesses. Nowhere are these notes more elab­or­ate than for the final piece, “Sir Hugh”, and for good reason. It is a dark nar­rat­ive bal­lad about the alleged murder of a young boy by Jews in medi­aeval Lin­coln. For the his­tor­ical back­ground on this instance of the Blood Libel myth, King’s notes provide three pages of inform­a­tion, includ­ing ref­er­ences to schol­ar­ship. Regard­less, the nar­rat­ive in the bal­lad related the Blood Libel as his­tor­ical fact, which shows that the oral tra­di­tion on occa­sion pre­serves anti-Semitic and other unsa­voury ideas. Apart from its insi­di­ous his­tor­ical asser­tion, though, the song is very power­ful as a murder bal­lad, and King’s rendi­tion chan­nels that dark energy of it quite well, con­front­ing the listener with the attract­ive and enti­cing ways evil ideas can be pack­aged, and teach­ing us to always keep a crit­ical eye and ear open.

Alto­gether, Deus Ignotus is another mile­stone for King’s oeuvre, the fruits of much research and a sin­gu­lar vis­ion. As before, he is one of the most import­ant and ori­ginal artists in modern/alternative folk inter­pret­a­tion, and this album is cer­tainly one of his best works to date, lack­ing next to noth­ing in diversity of song selec­tion, deliv­er­ance, instru­ment­a­tion, and doc­u­ment­a­tion.

Reviewed by O.S.

Track­list:

1. Cor­vus Ter­rae Ter­ror (2:25)
2. The Three Ravens (6:01)
3. The Wife Of Usher’s Well (6:10)
4. Sic Mea Fata Canendo Solor (6:21)
5. Edward (4:22)
6.1. The Eld­ers Of The People Took Coun­sel (1:45)
6.2. In Upper Room (5:28)
7.1. Judas (10:13)
7.2. Could Ye Not Watch With Me One Hour (1:16)
8. Lord Lovel (6:57)
9. Fröleichen So Well Wir (3:54)
10. Sir Hugh (7:03)

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