[Reviewed by: Iaha Crax]
The works of this American artist have always followed a self-imposed regime of writing artistry, contextualized in respect to his actual psychological reactions to the world. If he has chosen noise as the material on which to labor his faith it is a matter of relative incidence, because I believe Lee Bartow is in fact a prodigious poet.
“Pain Of The Saints” came out on Malignant Records at the beginning of 2015. Lee Bartow is helped here by Matt Slagle and Kainer, plus many other collaborators. This release is comprised of two discs, with pieces counting around 10 minutes each. The length of his tracks is in direct correspondence to the way he conceives a song, in the same way one would write a poem. When Baudelaire or Aloysius Bertrand renounced versification, enacting the so-called prose poetry, they were searching for a more significant manner to express feelings in deep relation to images. On Theologian’s record such a strong stream of consciousness is being deployed with the help of industrial noise textures that are arranged like a continuous flux waving towards the endpoint. As said, image is impulsive and depicts psychological states like on the first song “Savages”, but it can also be a concrete a-metaphoric industrial rhythm, which can be heard on “Infection”.
Another feature that approaches this music to literature is the careful and conspicuous naming of the pieces. It is the title first which introduces one into the text or into the melody in this case; titles open and close a text, and resume the subject. “Serpentine Angels” evokes the serpentine movements of the flying creatures described in the Old Testament as punishers in the name of Yahve. It is the story of Moses that magically sets a bronze serpent on a pole, “and if a serpent bit a man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live”. This bronze serpent announces the Messiah by the image of the Luciferian reptile.
And if we came to Jesus, Lee Bartow shows off a passion for (anti-)religious fetishism reasonable to understand if we situate his work in a network of correspondences. Artists in this bleak musical genre often use religious imagery to provoke and invite to reflection, but in some cases, the spiritual metaphor reflects – even aggressively – some complicated inner experiences or deviations. “Piss And Jism” encloses the name and figure of Jesus in an anomalous sexual rite, reproduced by filthy and corrosive sharp noises concentrated in a homogeneous, neurotic melody.
The diverse artifices that embellish the tracks help maintain the attention, which can be rather difficult due to the aforementioned length and solicitude of the melody. Bartow moves in different registers with naturalness and sagacity, and the song “Gravity” displays a completely different spectrum of sounds, with a superbly illustrative driving force, which seems to actually alter my center of gravity, like when you dream of flying above the earth. Likewise, in “Without Trust, Your Love Is Meaningless”, the constant rave beat is cut through by a beam of sharp, high-pitched sound and so favors a certain alarming disposition, as if being on drugs.
The word play, derision and intended irony is all made for a liberating purpose, as a cure for false morality. This title “Of Foulness And Faithfulness” recalls a Swiftian satiric tale that resounds formidably heavy, hammering all the way to the core of the brain in an old Swedish industrial vibe (Negru Voda is surely a reference). It is both primitive and hieratic, like the combination of mediocre intelligence and blind devotion. Actually, it is really natural for the American noise musician to work with rather antagonistic material, under dichotomic psychological states, calculated or spontaneous, manipulating grim, abrasive textures or tender, almost evanescent ambiances. The final three songs from disc one detach themselves as droning, spectral musical movements, inviting self-forgetfulness and a certain objective melancholia.
Disc one ends with “Sainthood Is Suffering”, which somehow resumes a tendency of the artist towards a personal interpretation of a futuristic sacral music. Generously remembering Vatican Shadow, the ritual cadence of the modern rhythms is juxtaposed on grey-toned broiling textures. As you fall into the pit of the song, you realize horrified that this is the declamation of a saint without a god. One who has martyred himself by necessity and passion for self-mortification, as an evasive method to elude an existence to which he has found no foundation or explanation.
Disc two seems to concentrate more on the semantic field of sainthood, although the intention is reversed on the apparent falsehood and hoax of the religious martyr.“The Lies Of The Past Become The Prayers Of The Future” de-sacralizes the worship of relics, seeing them as objects used by priests for their own purposes.
The melodic noise textures constructed by Theologian have an intrinsic sense of desperation and deferent lucidity, so that the more openly one is infused with them, the more they are likely to partake in a genuine simulacrum of pain or pure death. “Suppuration” gasps with that floral stench martyrs are said to have, in such a way that a strange and occasional immanence of sainthood envelops the space around. It is an ambiguous, but tender self-lacerating illusion of letting out you the evil that man made. All the more ambivalent as Bartow’s intertextual intention is to demystify the actual object in case: the saint; as well as other clerical vices or actions, like on “Witchfinder”, using diaphanous, luminous excursions of sound.
There are remarkably disgusting portrayals of monks or nuns in books like “In The Name Of The Rose” or Diderot’s “The Nun”; here too the image seeks to express the diachronic, depraved and slimy, hypocritical man of god: on “Their Gelded And Rapacious Hearts”, Bartow diagnoses the entrails and ego and takes into sound a vicious aggregate of the vilest bile.
The Saints of the desert, in the first centuries after Christ, have established the basis of monasticism. The forms of deprivation which they experienced are likely to seem extreme or simply sick to modern spirit; patriarchal literature has enough stories. These artists of pain possessed perhaps the strange vanity to suffer more than their role model, Christ. “Depravation And Blessed Prey” relates to the martyric stasis, resonating as hallow, transcendental melodies, moments of abandonment and oblivion.
Like any of us, alluding pain to fainted endeavors of surpassing self-deficiencies, mocking is always the easier route to take with regard to such subjects; yet at at the same time this proves the existence of the struggle we can not abandon. On “With Eternal Derision Or Redemption”, Bartow tells the story of the modern artist and musically congregates nihilism and sarcasm alike, on the post-romantic melodic infamies we all like. Perhaps taming the senses is the only cure and form of asceticism proper to this century, resumed by indifference to the leviathan world we live in. “It Was You Who Taught Me Indifference” develops this subject, as it features agoraphobic engagements with harsh, cutting steel-like sounds, which can be finely combined with an alternative pharmakon, induced pain, presented on “Self-Flagellation As Faith”.
Theologian no longer borders on power-romance music, that displayed a fascinating, but too personal quantification of the spirit. Bartow has universalized pain from the artistic point of view. Apparently, this huge album is a work of criticism (of Catholic sainthood); however, great records or works of art begin from an idea and come to a different, sometimes antagonistic result. Despite perhaps the artist’s first intentions, the saint appears as a raw model for anyone who seeks to understand his/her subjectivity, because in the end pain may be the only exception that allows us to take a step beyond our limited self.