Album Appreciation: They Carried The Dead In A U.F.O. by Cult of Dom Keller

Who wants to make the same record twice? We just do what the fuck we feel like making.

So ends the press release for the latest Cult of Dom Keller and, well, amen to that.

If you were to do any sort of study of the albums that I have written about on here over the past eight years then I have some confidence that there would be few repeats from bands who stick closely to a particular formula… that’s because I’ve never been much interested in hearing the same thing over and over again. Why, I often wonder, would I want to play this new album by that band when it sounds pretty much like their previous one… maybe I get bored easily… but it’s hard to get bored with the Cult of Dom Keller…

That’s because since they first came to my attention in 2013 (when I first started writing the stuff on here), they seem to have been pushing this or that boundary with a certain bloody-mindedness which is as challenging as it is rewarding. Their debut (an amalgamation of existing EPs as I recall) was something of a revelation to me as I began to take experimental music more seriously; and while they got caught up in the the rising ‘psych’ wave, they did not seem to have a great deal of skin in that game in retrospect.

Indeed, looking back at their previous release ‘Ascend’ they took that ‘fuck you’ experimental approach to a whole new level, as I wrote at the time:

What ‘Ascend!’ is more than anything, however, is intense and forceful… it’s like the band have gone into the studio with a million pent-up emotions and just let them drain out through the music… you can feel the visceral energy pouring out of the speakers and straight into your consciousness… I’m almost tempted to write ‘inspiring’ at this point.

…and now, at a time of lockdown, they have been working again, each in isolation from the other, piecing together a new set of statements to challenge speakers and minds alike; and I have to say that, upon finding out that this was recorded and put together remotely, I was struck by the intensity of this record as it hit me in its fuzzed up glory.

So while, if you were to play me this album cold from the beginning I may have guessed that it was the Cult of Dom Keller, especially from the kick off with ‘Run From The Gullskinna’ with it’s subverted shoegaze with its fuzzy guitars and smooth organ and massive motorik beat, this is very much the exception that proves the rule as the band go off on an absorbing trip into the unknown as even this initial track fragments into a post-industrial hellscape…

…after that all bets are off as ‘Lyssa’ descends further into a cacophony of noise and electronics, yet also with humour as the stereotypical 50s sci-fi sound of an arriving spaceship is integrated into the sound. And that’s the difference here… whereas ‘Ascend’ was a massive consistent statement, this album has more quieter and lighter moments to it… it has a surprise around ever corner as each track maps out its own territory.

After that ‘Cage That Matters’ is a forceful and sinister number which appears to have something of an angry melancholia underpinning it… to me it has the feel of someone desperate to burst out… perhaps of the lockdown that we all felt ourselves in… a collective feeling of claustrophobia by the band as they tried to make the individual collective.

Actually I have always found Cult of Dom Keller to be a claustrophobic band in the way that everything just feels veiled and closed in… and this is certainly the case for ‘She’s Turning into a Serpent’ which is a slow and portentous track which you feel that if it were any slower it would disappear under its own weight into some sort of sonic black hole… this is further emphasised as the baleful vocals come in… like all good tracks, it is on the edge… perhaps of madness in this case… but doesn’t quite tip over.

‘Infernal Heads’ in some ways feels like a new start (I imagine that it will start side ‘b’ of the vinyl)… there’s a lighter feel to this, although all things are relative… there’s a certain meeting point with Depeche Mode at their darkest here… especially through the vocals (I consider this to be a good thing by the way)… but there is still a fundamental experimentalism at work here which takes it off in a different course.

‘Psychic Surgery’ goes off in a different direction again… the beginning is rather confounding because you are not really sure how, whether or when it it is going to take off… it is tumultuous and, actually, never really does take off in a musical sense. However, what it does do is eat into your consciousness like a ravaging ear worm.. it is like a black glacier slowly demolishing everything in its wake and depositing boulders of perception behind it…

As if acknowledging the slow heaviness of this, the band follow it up with ‘Amazing Enemy’. This is an altogether lighter proposition which begins like a panoramic dawn over an alien landscape. Here the synths are soothing and you feel like the this fog is lifted and you can think and breath far more freely again… it’s like a moment in time that is all too fleeting and swiftly over.

Last up is ‘Last King of Hell’ which, like the first track, is would be more recognisably ‘Cult of Dom Keller’ for those who are familiar with their earlier work. I do not know whether this was a conscious decision by the band (or whether I’m over thinking it) but bookending the set in this way works for me as they go away from perhaps what is expected only to return again after the six middle tracks which cement their reputation of a band that most definitely do not conform to any formula that anyone would put on them.

This, then, is a flight off into the confused and strange world of lockdown… and album made at a time where we are all finding life challenging and did not know what was coming round the next corner… a time when the slightest thing pushes us off balance. Yet I find that this album has a weird resilience to it… one which finds solace in its own inconsistencies and, at times, deliberate incoherence. As such Cult of Dom Keller once again push the boundaries at a time when our own boundaries were both affected and diminished. In the final analysis though, while this is a album recorded in lockdown, it is not a lockdown record per se… it stands a another example of a band constantly seeking something new to say and saying it in the best way they know how.

‘They Carried The Dead In A U.F.O.’ is available now from Fuzz Club Records



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