[Reviewed by: Peter Marks]
The perfect accompaniment this morning after a night of heavy rain, another one come out of nowhere. If you’re a fan of the earliest era of Sol Invictus (Against the Modern World, Trees in Winter) or Ian Read’s Fire + Ice project, then this is going to be a no-brainer for you. Darkly dulcet tones issuing out of the misty moors while a sour, acrid voice tells tales of betrayal and deceit. Homicide is given the green light and life on a lot of these songs isn’t worth a whole lot. The neofolk crowd will no doubt eat this up greedily while those of us who go for more experimental fare will play this and marvel at how strong a sense of tension the composer has. It doesn’t let up. Ever.
He’ll wend that acoustic guitar into proceedings with delicate finesse. One doesn’t have to worry about nodding off when they hear this, indeed, if you tried to your only reward would be an unending series of palpable nightmares made flesh. In the days when I was young, this kind of music was what you heard late in the day at somewhat dubious establishments; while you sipped at your Turkish coffee material like this would be coming out of the speakers in a low and lilting flow of poisoned perceptions… dire situations given over to their natural conclusion. And later, sitting alone in my room shards of what I’d heard would filter back into my ears.
And I’d find myself back downtown the following day doing whatever it took to track these sounds down.
It is in this way that the Transmutations operate, or he operates I should say. Outer fringe recordings with a bent towards the dramatic and the downcast. A cynical acceptance of human nature without the need to go into the excesses of emotional breakdown. His style of droning ambiance is quite tranquilizing, you’re not going to be anything other than totally relaxed while you listen and this is perhaps why ‘The Skeleton’s Keys’ is so downright insidious.
Once you opt to let your guard down, when the mind grows quiet: then and only then will what he’s doing on here begin to permeate that lump of clay you possess between your ears. Out in the middle of the dead marshes while carrion craving Corvid kind circle in anticipation above, those scenarios will come. These malicious characters are drawn out of many classic molds but this fellow makes them all his own. To close things out, we’re treated to his take on a classic murder ballad charmingly entitled “Hanged I Shall Be”. Two lovers whose future is irrevocably destroyed by the psychotic blood lust one of them can no longer control. I first heard Nick Cave do a version of this ages ago on the flip side of the “Henry Lee” single and while I love how he performed it, The Transmutations interpretation is just so grim I have come to prefer it.
While what happens in this track is gruesome and terrible, there’s an element to it which ties the actions of one body against another into how a person could so easily slip into these wicked ways without a second thought. Humanity, by and large, are evil at the core. People will argue this back and forth ad nauseum but the our collective past only proves Pangloss wrong every time. Martin no doubt would adore this record, El Dorado on the horizon… but it’s been scorched down to the last blade of grass. The blackened soil bleeds only the salt it has been sown with.