I’m a little reluctant to call it goth, or even stick the ubiquitous “deathrock” tag on it, because neither of those labels do the music of Disjecta Membra any justice whatsoever. In fact, the sounds found on the band’s latest release, a five track EP called The Infancy Gospels, suggest that the Wellington-based masters of the dark arts are keen to expand the band’s palette, and this EP appears to represent a genuine cross-pollination of ideas and genres.
Last year’s collaboration with Rob Thorne, the incredibly powerful ‘Whakataurangi Ake’, which was released as a single, benefits from another outing to open proceedings in dramatic fashion. Only this time we get an alternative mix, which is exclusive to the EP. It really is a quite extraordinary piece, combining traditional Maori elements (instrumentation and Te Reo), with cold electronics, and state-of-the-art production which showcases vocalist (and band founder) Michel Rowland’s voice in a wholly unique and rather special way.
That track morphs straight into the EP’s title track, which turns out to be a heavy slab of sludgy blues rock dressed entirely in black threads. In contrast to the spiritual beauty of the opener, this one rolls along quite menacingly, while unrepentantly mining all manner of feedback and riffage from a bygone era. It’s a veritable monster of a tune.
If that’s a throwback, or a nod to the classic rock strains of a distant past, then the next track, ‘Lititu’, brings us forward at least a decade to the Eighties, and the spiky angular guitar-driven textures of what we might otherwise call post-punk. This is probably the most generic “darkwave/goth” track on the EP, or at the very least it’s the tune that most obviously wears its influences on its sleeve. But then who doesn’t love a little taste of Peter Murphy and/or Bauhaus on a dark winter’s night? … and that’s exactly where this one takes me.
Up next is the almost unclassifiable ‘Cernunnos’, which I think, three or four listens into it, is probably my favourite track on the EP. Not least because of its mix of styles, a wider ambiguity, and another great vocal take by Rowland. ‘Cernunnos’ mixes both acoustic and electric flavours to give us an intriguing blend of folk rock and Celtic strands, with a little bit of western – without the country baggage – thrown in for good measure. After belatedly consulting Mr Google, I’m informed that Cernunnos is the (horned) Celtic God of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and the underworld. But you already knew that, right?
Regular followers of Disjecta Membra will probably be familiar with the EP closer, ‘Madeleine! Madelaine!’, but on this occasion the slightly dated synthpop-flecked tune is the beneficiary of a new vocal mix which hadn’t previously seen the light of day. This track is the closest we come to a “pop” tune on the EP, and it works as an ideal closer to what is otherwise an incredibly eclectic set of songs.
For those who aren’t regular followers, or overly familiar with the music of Disjecta Membra, The Infancy Gospels EP appeals as an ideal place to start. The band has been at the forefront of Aotearoa’s “deathrock” scene (for all that I have issues with that description) since 1993, with Michel Rowland being the mainstay of its many different line-ups across the years. The version of the band featuring on The Infancy Gospels EP includes Rowland, Kane Davey, Matthew Tamati Scott, and Isobel Joy Te Aho-White. With a deft production hand coming courtesy of Bryan Tabuteau.
Check the Bandcamp link (below) for presales (the official release date is 17 November 2016) and purchase online, bearing in mind that the physical CD version of the album is limited to just 100 individually numbered copies, so you may need to be quick. While you’re there, I can recommend the 1997 (reissued 2008) album Achromaticia, and I’m also a bit of a fan of last year’s Death By Discotheque Remixes EP.