Attrition: Martin Bowes & Anni Hogan - Millions of the Mouthless Dead"This album is inspired and dedicated to the millions on all sides that experienced the living hell that was the Europe of 1914-18."
Millions of the Mouthless Dead is the latest release from Martin Bowes and Attrition. Millions of the Mouthless Dead is unique in the Attrition discography in that it is a collaborative work with Anni Hogan, who is perhaps best known for her piano and arrangement work for Marc Almond. Don't expect something along the lines of a cross between Almond's 'The Stars We Are' and Attrition's dark industrial electronics. Millions of the Mouthless Dead concerns World War I and reflects "a profound emotional response and sonic exploration into the horrors of The Great War."
Musically, Millions of the Mouthless Dead features sombre working of dark ambient soundscapes interspersed with piano, atmospheric sound effects - of shells, guns, rifles, marching soldiers, strains of national anthems and radio broadcasts - and war poetry from all sides. And yet there's a poignancy to the project reflected in the photos, postcards and ephemera included in the packaging of items provided by Martin Bowes of his Grandfather, Private William Bowes of the West Yorkshire Regiment, British Expeditionary Force who while serving in Ypres, Flanders, Belgium was injured by a German shell and repatriated to England where he remained until the end of the war.
The engine roar of war trucks carrying soldiers to the frontline opens Millions of the Mouthless Dead pitching a recitation of 'Anthem For Doomed Youth' over desolate ambient electronics and piano notes. The brooding reading of Wilfred Owen's lament for the young who perished in the Great War, questions the senselessness of war and the futility of religion to explain the chaos and devastation is set against crashing chords and tinkering notes from Anni Hogan's grand piano playing. The tone is set for what is come on Millions of the Mouthless Dead.
'Hammer Blow', the first of many atmospheric sound pieces scattered throughout Millions of the Mouthless Dead, effectively captures the horror of war through the sound of guns, rifles and shells and the ordered crunch of marching boots placed alongside German radio broadcasts, whispered voices and desolate atmospherics. It seems that many of the tracks illustrate significant events within the war. The spoken words in French by Peter Rainman of a Guillaume Apollinaire poem, over grand piano and scratchy vinyl textures of 'La Voie Sacre' is the first in a series of tracks concerning the bloody and deadly Battle of Verdun where thousands of French and German soldiers perished or were wounded. It's followed by 'The Blue Forest' a dark ambient experimental soundtrack where aching mournful strings are drawn into battle strewn effects before the pensive dark ambient movements of 'Mincing Machine' and its atmospheric sound effects of closing locks which may signify the determination of the French to withstand the German onslaught. In no way, and it's not surprising given the subject matter , Millions of the Mouthless Dead isn't an easy listen but it is fascinating to hear how Bowes and Hogan have constructed an album that doesn't hold back in its emotional punch.
The moody minimalist piano score of 'The Bone Factory' plays amidst a raging storm and crackling fires, as poetry is intoned in German. And while that may convey the dank conditions of the trenches, it is 'The Third Light' which really captures the chaos of trench warfare. A cacophony of drum and rhythm interplay flows into disembodied grand piano notes as the words of Roland Aubrey Leighton's 'Villanelle' are delivered. The poem relating the discovery of a dead soldier with violets growing around his body, expresses the incongruity of war and life in the trenches, is gently spoken in solemn female tones, while trench whistles bleat in the night, and shells explode before a lone Scottish piper performs the trench written 'Battle of the Somme'.
'The Mouthless Dead' is preceded by the doomy collage ridden 'Ghost of Empire' where war broadcasts are mixed with snatches of the 'Star Spangled Banner' and the organ chime of 'Land of Hope and Glory', while 'Shell Shock' comprises a brief series of devastating explosions. More war poetry features on 'The Mouthless Dead' with Charles Sorley's 'When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead' read in slow, pensive tones over shuddering electronic rumbles and dreamy piano chords notes tumbling into rhythmic drums.
The final section beginning with 'Heimatschluss' brings Anni Hogan's contribution to the fore with melodic wartime piano score cut with a fragment of the French national anthem before moving into a series of tracks titled around a line from Wilfred Owen's 'Arms and the Boy' poem which is itself recited on 'A Madman's Flash - All The Mad Men' over inventive grand piano playing and an ominous drone following a collage of German voices. Wolfgang Flür, an early member and fixture in the classic line-up of Kraftwerk, is enlisted on 'A Madman's Flash - Krieg', his spoken word delivered in German over icy electronics, before Millions of the Mouthless Dead reaches its homecoming on 'A Drawing Down Of Blinds', paraphrasing the closing line of Wilfred Owen's 'Anthem For Doomed Youth' in a sobering climax, over tolling bells, that contemplates the point of the war: "all the names, all these people that have died, all these young ones ... And what was it for?... Goodbye dear ... keep right on till the end of the road..."
On Millions of the Mouthless Dead Martin Bowes and Anni Hogan, as Attrition, have given voice to the fallen with a fascinating release of devastating soundscapes and atmospherics, heightened by their selection of war poetry - which aside from those English language poems already mentioned also include foreign language readings of poems by Adrien Bertrand, Ludwig Ganghofer, Kurt Tucholsky. And with the enclosed ephemera from Bowes' Grandfather Millions of the Mouthless Dead assumes a more personal quest to offer up an audio piece of wartime family history. Attrition may be better known for their gothic industrial electronics but Millions of the Mouthless Dead sits nicely beside All Mine Enemys Whispers, where Attrition supplied a surreal nightmare soundscape to a strange story about a Victorian serial killer. Live performances of Millions of the Mouthless Dead are planned in the countries of the Western Front with WW1 art-installation staging and visuals. Millions of the Mouthless Dead is available in a series of special limited editions direct from the official Attrition merchandise pages at Attrition bandcamp