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Death In June - Symbols and Clouds Euro Cross Commemorative Edition

Symbols and Clouds Euro Cross Commemorative Edition compiles two Death In June releases But, What Ends When The Symbols Shatter? and Rose Clouds of Holocaust together with two rare singles from the same period in a stunning laser-engraved stone box with a camouflage brown-on-brown Runic Whiphand 6 cloth patch, four double-sided full colour information cards featuring rare and unseen photos from the time, and four different silver Rune pendants, representing Birth, Life, Destiny and Joy. Also included is a second CD featuring 15 rerecorded and stripped back acoustic versions.

But, What Ends When The Symbols Shatter? and Rose Clouds of Holocaust were sublime examples of the industrial folk sound, soon to be termed neo-folk, first unleashed on Brown Book and Current 93’s Swastikas For Noddy. It was a sound that lasted until the Black Whole of Love remix project, which remixed material from Rose Clouds of Holocaust and birthed the track ‘Leopard Flowers’. Symbols and Clouds compiles these two stunning releases in a slightly edited format. In order to preserve the flow the David Tibet lead vocal tracks have been excluded from this recompiled version, with additional tracks from the era appended to the albums. Irrespective of the fallout between David Tibet and Douglas P. the removal of these tracks does aid the cohesiveness of the running order.

But, What Ends When The Symbols Shatter? is widely regarded as one of the finest Death In June albums. And, even 18 years later, it’s clear why. ...Symbols Shatter? stepped away from overtly martial themes, foregoing Death In June’s occasional forays into industrial noise pieces. In its place was an album of accomplished songwriting with a rich stream of imagery and symbolism centring on themes of loneliness, sorrow, and disappointment. When combined with the music which was naturally acoustic, augmented by keyboards, trumpets and percussion, the entire thing was relaxing, haunting and quite intense, as Douglas P. obsessively reflected on the meaning of life and reasons for existence.

Wrapped in lush guitars, harmonies and simple keyboard melody, the opening lines of ‘Death Is The Martyr Of Beauty’ quite clearly set the tone: “Drunk with the nectar, Of Submission, I feel nothing more, Than existence.” A number of Death In June favourites were given their first airing on ...Symbols Shatter? On ‘The Golden Wedding of Sorrow’ Douglas P. effortlessly emotes, ably supported at points by David Tibet, over acoustic strum, simple keyboard melody and the ubiquitous windchimes.

In the intervening years Douglas P. confessed that several tracks on ...Symbols Shatter? featured lyrical adaptations culled from He’s Able, an album of gospel music recorded by the People’s Temple Choir, the San Francisco based religious group headed by the Reverend Jim Jones, who would later gain notoriety for instigating the mass suicide of his followers in Guyana.

Death In June’s ‘Because of Him’ stripped away the Christian focus, replacing the ballad with a much more brutal central character willing to “eradicate all life’s false humanity”. It contrasts superbly with ‘Little Black Angel’ where amongst the trademark quick strum, rapid martial snares and muted trumpet Douglas P. , rather unexpectedly declared that “when out of men’s hearts all hate is gone, It’s better to die the forever live on”.

‘He’s Disabled’ enters with panning treated voices slipping into a buoyant strum and a damning indictment of man, looked over by a loveless and crippled god. Of the four People Temple adaptations, by far the best reworking features on ‘The Mourner’s Bench’ with its warm guitar, accompanied by maracas, deep harmonies, the occasional clip of castanets, and trumpet score. It’s a wonderful track.

‘The Giddy Edge of Light’, written by Michael Cashmore (of Nature and Organisation) is quietly evocative surrounding the perfect enunciation of Douglas P. with regally strummed and picked guitars, featherlight keyboards and soft bass pulses of wintry longing. Apparently inspired by a dream involving Charles Manson , ‘Ku Ku Ku’ retains its air of creepiness with Tibet’s sinister "piggy, piggy” whisperings and curious use of ethnic handdrums. I always felt ‘Hollows of Devotion’ dovetailed nicely with ‘Runes and Men’ with its lyrics of wine and men. Years later I was surprised to discover it tells of a sordid tale of being cruised by a Catholic priest. It’s still a beautiful track with some scintillating muted trumpet playing and reverbed guitar chords. The title track remains flawless. Beautiful chord progressions with simple and effectively arranged percussion building up to the final passages where massed voices ponder the questions:

But ,what ends when the symbols shatter?
And, who knows what happens to hearts?

Douglas P. has mentioned that he had undergone a spiritual death prior to But, What Ends When The Symbols Shatter? That such personal turmoil should result in such a fine piece of work must have been some sort of magickal pay off.

Unlike ...Symbols Shatter?, there’s a distinct assuredness of being to Rose Clouds of Holocaust. Amongst the veiled references to loneliness and emptiness, Rose Clouds of Holocaust is filled with references to the seasons and the passage of time. Musically it is similar to ...Symbols Shatter? but it is much more personal with a numinous wintery atmosphere permeating the songs. Like most of Death In June’s output it’s difficult to interpret meanings but Rose Clouds of Holocaust is filled with references to the seasons and the passage of time.

From the opening ‘Lord Winter’, an abridged reading of ‘Luther’s Army', as read by the Australian actor Max Wearing (a theme further explored on the Occidental Martyr album) over ratchety electronics, Rose Clouds... creates an aura that is relaxed and invigorating. The warm acoustic strum of ‘God’s Golden Sperm’, with melodic and simple guitar picked melody is followed by ‘Omen Filled Season’ which is underpicked by melodica and vibraphone. Douglas’s voice is rich and relaxed as he recalls the brutality of life’s struggle. ‘Symbols of the Sun’ remains sublime with its subtle combination of ringing acoustic guitars, atmospheric keyboards, wind chimes and slow vibrating gongs. The remastering for once makes legible Rose McDowall’s understated backing vocals. Rose reappears on ’13 Years of Carrion’ her soft cooing backing the restrained strum, and resonating melody of the vibraphone and muted trumpet score. For whatever reason, I’ve always viewed these amongst Douglas P.’s more personal offerings. There’s recurring reference to “hunts for time” and on the more autobiographical ’13 Years of Carrion’ Douglas P. appears particularly at one with himself.

Even ‘The Accidental Protégé’ adopts the icy piano notes of earlier Death In June releases with a subtle lyrical nod to ‘The Giddy Edge of Light’ offering a continuation from ...Symbols Shatter? The title track inspired by Douglas P.’s visits to Iceland, bathing in the warm waters of the blue lagoon below the billowing clouds of factory emissions. The natural beauty of the landscape contrasted with the stark industrial factory lead to the provocative ambiguity of the title, Rose Clouds of Holocaust. The singles 'Cathedral of Tears' and 'Leopard Flowers' are welcome additions to the albums.

The second disc features re-recorded, stripped-back acoustic versions in the “Totenpop” style adopted on Death In June last studio album The Rule of Thirds. Alternating between tracks from ...Symbols Shatter? and Rose Clouds of Holocaust the stark renditions with incidental percussion are interspersed with taped samples. Recorded shortly after the final Death In June tour in 2005 these are buoyant renditions with Douglas P. in fine voice, with the familiar acoustic strum and occasional use of varied percussion. And while they don’t evoke the same atmosphere as the Ken Thomas / Douglas P. production of the originals they possess a directness and purity of their own. ‘Rose Clouds of Holocaust’ is performed with a restrained assurity. ‘The Golden Wedding of Sorrow’, ‘Death Is The Martyr of Beauty’ and ‘Hollows of Devotion’ remain as beautiful as ever. ‘Leopard Flowers’ appears in what may be regarded as the definitive version. Shorn of the vibraphone ‘Symbols of the Sun’ and ’13 Years of Carrion’ take on an appealing acoustic veneer. ‘The Mourner’s Bench’ and 'Luther's Army' are softened by Douglas P.'s breezy "la-la" vocal accompaniments.

Symbols and Clouds offers a near flawless summation of the work of Death In June; it flows with a wholeness, a completeness that is unstoppable. Enclosed in its stone box packaging this is really nigh-on perfect. Symbols and Clouds is released in an edition of 1000 copies and despite its high-price tag it’s well worth every penny. For more information go to www.deathinjune.net or www.soleilmoon.com