[Reviewed by Peter Marks]
The realization of a classic never appears until at least fifteen years have passed since it’s release; ‘Twist of Shadows’ has now reached well beyond this, you do the math. We took it lightly when they toured with MOEV, we took it for granted hearing the singles in the clubs and around town in our friend’s apartments. Unfortunately, we should have paid more attention to what was going on in the world and even more so with this band. The market is currently flooded by amateurs trying to “make it” and sell out at any price as quickly as possible; back then, this elusive concept of arrival actually meant something. It certainly was not lost on Xymox, who had shortened their name to appeal to a different and wider audience.
To suddenly see them getting played on Post-Modern (the forerunner to 120 minutes) was unbelievable at best. Heresy at the worst, because then as now, there were die-hard fans among our ranks who would have liked nothing better than continual re-visions of ‘Medusa’. This outlook proved to be sadly prophetic. But for a little while, in between the storms of fickle popular tastes, Xymox held their own. This record is a time and place sealed precisely onto disc (or cassette if you had no cd player then, hard to believe I know). When Pieter, Anka and Ronny took to the airwaves in the summer of 1989 it was the realization of a lot of hard work. I don’t think I’ll ever forget where I was the first time they came out of my FM dial: at home, in my room with a blue light illuminating my surroundings, sneaking a cigarette.
Everything may have been going to hell domestically but downtown after dark the strobes and smoke brought out songs like “Obsession” and “Imagination” gorgeously. I really can’t explain it any better than this, you had to be there. This is the main caveat to ‘Twist of Shadows’: a collection of moments which for the time it runs, forms a background against which we played out a big chunk of our youth. Cups of coffee opened up conversations about anything and everything, there seemed to be no limit to what we’d be able to do and while time slipped by this trio captured the feel of whatever place they were played in.
No one expected to ever grow up, we’d all be 16 forever or so the common wisdom dictated.
The band themselves truly created a masterpiece here, it was so smooth and graceful you didn’t even know the album had ended until the tape ran out. Oh but the ten songs on here were only the beginning, if you obtained the singles as I did an entirely different experience awaited you. The mixes for ‘Blind Hearts’ alone were enough to run away with one’s mind but there were other songs… more in line with what would come later from both Moorings and Nooten on their own. I’ve alluded to “Promises” before and now I point to it again as Nooten doing what he does best, far removed from the constraints of an album or a-sides. Moorings got well outside his comfort zone, taking risks by almost going country with a song like “Senses Coalesce”.
Ronny and Anka would also collaborate on another non-album jewel named “Hitchhiker’s Dance Guide”. A composition which clearly pointed towards the sound Moorings nailed down on 1993’s ‘Headclouds’, which along with 1992’s ‘Metamorphosis’ gets swept under the carpet as something of an embarrassment by the current incarnation of Clan of Xymox. I’ll never get why, but I wasn’t in the studio so who knows what happened. What I do know is that for Xymox, this was it, nothing better could be created and though they’d make one final attempt at compromising with one another on 1991’s ‘Phoenix’ the goal had been achieved and the damage done.
I remember the tours in 1989 and 1991, when Xymox took the stage and the level of excitement in the place when those lights went down. Despite the assertion by Ronny Moorings that those records were ‘solo endeavors’, the live presence easily refuted this… never mind how radically this band changed after Nooten and Wolbert left. Comparing what is done now to the kind of craftsmanship displayed on ‘Twist of Shadows’ makes it painfully apparent how special the latter is. Go listen to Anka singing “Imagination”, Pieter conjuring majesty with “Clementina” or Ronny evoking brilliant despair on “In a City” and try to tell me anything done now comes even remotely close.
But unlike now, there wasn’t any sort of pandering to a scene or withered subculture. They were in the business of making the best possible records they could regardless of sales or critical acclaim. There’s no need to mention how many copies this one sold, plenty of other interviews have made it the focal point. It is that critical difference in perception which I happen to believe did this bunch in. I’m not sure how or when but at some point there was a decision made to move units instead of minds.
It doesn’t really matter at this point, the music on here speaks for itself and has no need to assign credit or blame to those involved. Even though there’s been a fair amount of acrimony amongst these three since that time, there’s no denying that this era was absolutely brilliant. Every note, line and nuance rendered in perfect detail. ‘Twist of Shadows’ is a record which doesn’t show age and hasn’t deteriorated in any way -although a re-master would be splendid, good luck with that- despite everything else that was going on around it with marketeers licking their chops and reviews at the time which focused more on the band’s hair than their sound.
They themselves summed it up best when it came out by doing as little promotion for it as possible, I’ve never seen people look more bored in their own videos. Nooten especially. There are no interviews from that time that I remember and outside of seeing them live, few knew they’d pulled this off but there wasn’t any feasible way to ignore them any longer, college radio picked them up and so they went from my turntable onto my radio. An absolute impossibility I’d always thought but there they were.
To this day, I still have my copy of the “Obsession” single which all three of them signed and it gets played quite often.