Sunday, October 12, 2008

Skullflower - Desire for a Holy War


What appeared as monolithic and impenetrable at first, gradually revealed itself to be layers and layers of sheer curtain, billowing in the wind. On contact, these curtains ignited the nerves, burning like blood-and-semen-soaked shirt of Nessus, the shirt that poisoned and killed Hercules. Because of this venom, it was impossible to touch the curtains, impossible to draw them away, impossible to see what shone so blindingly bright from behind them.


"Desire for a Holy War" - is it a desire to wage a holy war or is it a self-destructive desire to be invaded, pillaged and burned by hordes of religious fanatics? Or is it a desire to contemplate from a distance the whole of the blood-soaked battlefield, like Georges Bataille meditated upon a photograph of Fou Tchou-Li suffering execution by Leng T'che (“death by a thousand cuts”) on April 10th 1905. “I never stopped being obsessed by this image of pain, at the same time ecstatic and intolerable.


"Desire for a Holy War" is one of the most inaccessible releases of Matthew Bower's long-running band Skullflower: the music consists of so many superimposed strata of noise that musical structure is no longer audible. Every riff is churned up again and again; tones are uprooted from their harmonies, smashed, and ground to mere sound particles, notes blown to bits and turned to dust; musical forms are leveled and the sound field turned into a desert. "Desire for a Holy War" seethes like a gigantic cauldron. The music is sheer pandemonium.

Nonetheless, after repeated exposures it becomes somewhat possible to distinguish one layer of noise from another. Then, one vaguely discerns shapes in the clouds of smoke and dust that hang over the Metalfield. One hears hypertrophied ostinati, riffs of bloated triumph, hysterical heroism, over-stimulated, over-blown muscularity, chords like bloodthirsty gymnasts overdosed on anabolic steroids and amphetamines, bleeding violently from their rectums.


"For, at Shangri-La as in other pro gyms, the use of anabolic steroids and assorted human growth hormones is both commonplace and massive, as are their resultant physical ailments, from premature baldness (...), bouts of diarrhoea and increased body hair, to spells of dizziness and chronic rectal bleeding (...)."

From: Loïc J.D. Wacquant, "Why Men Desire Muscles", in 'Body & Society', volume 1, number 1, March 1995, Sage Publications.


"The terrestrial globe is covered with volcanoes, which serve as its anus."

From: Georges Bataille, 'The Solar Anus'.


"Hört Ihr nicht, wie er aus tausend Städten brüllt, wie rings Gewitter uns umtürmen wie damals, als der Ring der Schlachten uns umschloß? Seht Ihr nicht, wie seine Flamme aus den Augen eines jedes einzelnen glüht? Manchmal wohl schläft er, doch wenn die Erde bebt, entspritzt er kochend allen Vulkanen."

"Do you not hear, how War roars out of a thousand cities, how thunderstorms tower around us, like once the circle of battlefields surrounded us? Do you not see, how its flames glow from the eyes of every single one? Sometimes War may sleep, but when the earth shakes, it erupts all volcanoes."

Ernst Jünger, "Der Kampf als inneres Erlebnis" (1922)


wood said...

Interesting you should associate the loud violent surreal music of Skullflower to the early writings of Ernst Jünger. It feels like a natural fit not too often brought up with regards to this kind of music. Perhaps the violent sound in “Desire for a Holy War” could also echo Michel Foucault’s idea of spiritual politics and revolt against postmodern capitalism - embracing Nietzsche's "live dangerously" of death and martyrdom. Foucault, in an interview from 1979 on his support for the Islamic Revolution, presented his ideological foundation of such thought:

“In rising up the Iranians said to themselves ‘Of course, we have to change the regime and get rid of this man, we have to change this corrupt administration, we have to change the whole country, the political organization, the economic system, the foreign policy. But, above all we have to change ourselves. Our way of being, our relationship with others, with things, with eternity, with God, etc. must be completely changed and there will only be a true revolution if this radical change takes place.’ I believe that it is here that Islam played a role. It may be that one or other of its obligations, one or other of its codes exerted a certain fascination. But, above all, in relation to the way of life that was theirs, religion for them was like the promise and guarantee of finding something that would radically change their subjectivity. Shi’ism is precisely a form of Island that, with its teaching and esoteric content, distinguishes between what is mere external obedience to the code and what is the profound spiritual life; when I say that they were looking to Islam for a change in their subjectivity, this is quite compatible with the fact that traditional Islamic practice was already there and already gave them their identity; in this way they had of living the Islamic religion as a revolutionary force there was something other than the desire to obey the law more faithfully, there was the desire to renew their entire existence by going back to a spiritual experience that they thought they could find within Shi’ite Islam itself. People always quote Marx and the opium of the people. The sentence that immediately preceded that statement and which is never quote says that religion is the spirit of a world without spirit. Let’s say then, that Islam was not the opium of the people precisely because it was the spirit of a world without a spirit.”

Iran: The Spirit of a World Without Spirit published in Michel Foucault: Politics, Philosophy, Culture. Edited by Lawrence Kritzman 1990

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Wonderful catena on Skullflower's Metalfield! On sonic swarms and hordes, you should check out Eugene Thacker's Pusle Demons in Culture Machine, through which I went back to your earlier horde post in the middle of my most recent metal writing.

And on war and holes--"The surface biosphere has never been separate from the cthulhoid architecture of the nether"-- nemat-space and so much more, you gotta read Reza Negarestani's Cyclonopedia. Now Skullflower sounds like rats: "Rats are exhuming machines . . . ferociously dynamic lines of ungrounding . . . A surface consuming plague is a pack of rats whose tails are the most dangerous seismic equipment; tails are spatial synthesizers (fiber machines), exposing the terrain which they traverse to sudden and violent foldings and unfoldings, while seizing patches of ground and composing them as a nonhuman music. Tails are instruments, playing metal--tails, lasher tanks in motion" (52).

valter said...

Nicola, Thank you for your kind words! I've just ordered Reza Negarestani's book, which was recommended to me by several fellow-bloggers. I must say I can't wait to read it! BTW, the rats quote reminds me of one of my favorite tracks from Godflesh's - the first song on Streetcleaner.

Wood, I'm not sure you do not misread my take on Jünger - I do not intend to play him straight!

luminous insect said...

Not too much flattery intended, and while I'm not quite the guru of Bataille and literary theory that you are, I very much appreciate your complex, intelligent, and totally spot-on take on Bower's recent work. I had the same experience with both Desire For A Holy War and Tribulation that you had... that the layers slowly unveil themselves after repeated listens. After a year of listening to Tribulation, I sounds to me that it is actually composed entirely riffs. Falling asleep tot he album (yes, in all honesty) and waking up in an almost hallucinatory paralysis in the midst of Void Of Roses cemented my view of the album. The song possessed me so thoroughly as a piece of transcendent black metal that I almost spent the rest of the night in a hypnogogic state... probably the most powerful musical experience I've ever had. Then after listening to Sunroof!'s Silver Bear Mist practically every day last summer, I understand Bower's subjective void-alchemizing logic even more throughly. Desire... presented another grandiose mystery to unravel and I am thankful to say that there are still layers to explore in it for me... such rewarding music.

I really understand your interpretation of Hototogisu etc. in terms of Islam... other than the obvious reference points ("Prayer Rug Exorcism," p.s. thanks for that post) Islamic Revolution/"War on Terror" really is the contemporary mind's confluence of war and mysticism, things which have been core to Skullflower/Bower from the beginning. My initial associations with Hototogisu were much more with foxfire and the forest madness of black metal, via the obvious illuminations of their "Green" album. Yet the second I heard Hototogisu's "Robed In Verdegris" I wrote an exegetic poem on the Qur'an being revealed as lines of Arabic script in witches' fire violet (cf. Lovecraft's The Dreams in the Witch House), these lines streaming in leaves from the moon; I was certainly not conscious of where the Quranic reference came from. The poem was more about Zaïmph's (Marcia Bassett) contribution to Hototogisu, as I see her music as being inherently lunar/female/menstrual and affiliated in name with the ancient lunar godesses (the zaimph is the veil of Tanit, Phoenician goddess of the moon, the subject of the famous French novel Salammbô). (strangely as I write this I can see an unsettlingly thin sliver of orange moon in the east) Bower of course is more solar and astral, a field of red angry stars like the blood skull on the cover of Katharsis' VVorld VVithout End.

Back on Bower and the Middle East, this Cyclonopedia book sounds positively sublime. A kind of Maldoror of the Middle Eastern wars.

Also, something both Skullflower-related and related to one of your posts on Moss, the statement of Köner's work creating arctic space from slowed down and extended mechanical sounds reminds me heavily of Ax's Astronomy album, which I recently found on the internet. This was the side project of Skullflower's later bassist, Anthony DiFranco. If you haven't heard this album you should absolutely check it out. The track Molten Beast is one of the most all-encompassing pieces of straight ultra-feedback metal overtone I've heard in a long time. Very similar in feeling to sunnO)))'s tracks with Merzbow on Flight of the Behemoth. Of course Ax pre-figures sunnO))) by years (hell the album even predates Earth). The album has a mechanical, cybernetic, on or off feeling without being excessively deliberately "industrial." More an album about physics than anything else.

valter said...

Luminous Insect, thanks for your extremely kind comment. You've certainly put a lot of effort in.

I'm inspired by your ecstatic reception of Hototogisu's music, and intrigued by your comparison of Bower's work with Katharsis' excellent album VVorld VVithout End. Following your suggestion I've downloaded Ax's Astronomy and I am listening to it right now.

I must protest though that I am not a 'guru of literary theory'! In fact, I feel that the theoretical underpinnings of the blog are rather weak compared to some truly theoretical bloggers, such as Dominic Fox, Mark K-Punk and Nicola Masciandaro. Moreover, there is relatively little original theoretical thought in my blog. I'm merely and efficient "second-rate mystic, parasite of the sublime, plagiarist of ecstasy" (Cioran).