[Reviewed by: Peter Marks]
A dream come true for many of us, it has to be said. This is the first volume of previously unavailable film score music from Cevin Key and Ken Marshall. I’m quite certain many of you know who these two are and probably a few more still play their previous collaboration ‘The Dragon Experience’ with alarming regularity. But while that album was lovingly restored from the mothballed vault of the 1980s, this collection of work is fairly current. Now, you’ll notice that I don’t call what’s on here songs because they aren’t. These are movie cues utilized to set mood and tone for various scenes or trailers of more than a few very well known productions. I’m not going to list them, it’s far more enjoyable to figure out for yourself where you’ve heard them.
Something else to notice with this album is how it ties into some of the work from Doubting Thomas’ one legendary album ‘The Infidel’ from 1991. Specifically, the songs “Come In Piece”, “Movie 13” and “Whitewax”. There’s even a fair amount of connectivity to a personal favorite of mine “Xcrement” from the ‘Father Don’t Cry’ single (also released in 91). The same kind of hair-raising, unsettled feel permeates a lot of this release, but even for how short the pieces are on ’31 Spirits’ they are surprisingly musical. With a little more length to them, many of the creatures Key and Marshall conjure up could be incredible anthems in their own right. We won’t even touch on where they could go if Ogre jumped into the proceedings.
If it seems like I’m excited by what’s on here, you’re right. This is the dark, twisted and nightmare-laden side to what Key does which has been largely absent in Skinny Puppy since they returned. I’m not knocking what they’ve done but it’s quite obvious that Scaremeister as a project is where fans like myself who prefer Puppy at their heaviest ala “Walking on Ice” or the dub mix of “MirrorSaw” are going to be happiest. I really had no idea he still had this in him, so much heavy shit went down from 92 – 95 that I figured this sort of malevolent material would not be coming from him. Clearly, I was quite mistaken. You Goettel-era types are going to go bonkers when you hear this, there is the same level of improvisation and imagination going on which ran through the dog’s latter 80s and early 90s era.
I’ve spent so much time opining on Key’s contributions that I’ve left out what Ken Marshall has done on here, which in itself is rather remarkable. Despite the brevity of the tracks, they flow into and out of one another so smoothly that you have to look up to realize which one you’re actually listening to. He’s managed to stitch ’31 Spirits’ together into a cohesive auditory sculpture (quiet back there, I know who else does this) you’ll be going back to again and again and again regardless of how many times you’ve already played the damn thing in a row. More than a few of the sounds on here he must have been hoarding for years on end, patiently maintaining them in stasis until the time was right to let them out.
I can’t fault the guy for saying this is the best work of his career because there are a lot of things around here I own which have his name on them and this is quite obviously the one he derives the most pleasure out of doing. To you and I, sitting about in a studio hunched over screens making minute changes in levels, placement and god knows what other editing post-production fine tuning would snap our sanity… he thrives in that environment and the amount of hours what is on here was agonized over must have been in the thousands. Late nights bleeding into early morning epiphanies where it all suddenly becomes very apparent where things need to go.
I think just looking in on these sessions would have been fascinating. Knowing that they’re probably conceiving more of this as I type brings a wide smile to my face. Just keep putting it out for wider release! This is too good to let sit out of the public eye.
It’s disturbing how organic this sounds, almost as though these paintings cut out of the sound field are actually alive. I had to step back from my speakers repeatedly due to Scaremeister pushing me out of the room with their eviscerated feel at points. You don’t put this on and forget about it, what is on here is going to confront you quite openly. This is a testament to meticulous attention to detail and a thorough grasp of the multiple subject matters at hand. And what are those subjects? Horror and all it’s many gorgeous facets: terror, shock, dread, misery, agony…
Put out those lights.