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Death In June - The Corn Years Plus

I remember when The Corn Years was first issued as it was one of the first CDs I purchased when I didn't even own a CD player. It gathered together songs from The World That Summer and Brown Book, including re-recordings, a new introductory 'Heilige!' and the three tracks from the To Drown A Rose 10-inch single. Ever since Douglas P. took sole command of the group his appearance on sleeves and inserts featured him in various items of camouflage, and fitting for a group who remained hidden among the leaves, The Corn Years was designed with a camouflage sleeve (which has been remodelled for this release) with no accompanying photographs of the group, which during this period involved leaders from fellow travellers such as Coil, Current 93, Joy of Life, Into A Circle and Somewhere In Europe and producer Iain O'Higgins. It was an intriguing collection, including many classics with an interesting running order.

The period The Corn Years covers were special years for Death In June and their associates, and by that I mean Current 93 and Coil and Rose McDowall who was embarking on a solo career following the demise of Strawberry Switchblade, her brightly coloured polka dotted dark pop duo. It was a time when magic, runes and dreams were seeping into the music of Death In June and even as they moved on it left its mark. As Douglas P. commented to us in our first interview "those days are gone. However, they are never not there".

Opening with a new and exclusive 'Heilige!' it moved from the Yukio Mishima influenced 'Torture By Roses' to a new recording of 'Love Murder' replacing those high-pitched timbres with a more measured whispered vocal over its uneasy atmospherics and then onto 'Zimmerit' the final track from the To Drown A Rose single, featuring Rose McDowall's angelic harmonies surrounding Douglas P. and his acoustic strum until they combine on the repeated closing line. It is followed by 'We Are The Lust' featuring John Balance of Coil his voice arising from both speakers over varied pounding drum rhythms, discordant keyboards and haunting harmonies. "Hold a knife, Blooded to the throat of love" he sings, which he later reprises on 'Europa: The Gates of Heaven', a track that first surfaced on the To Drown A Rose single, where his voice was entwined and juxtaposed with that of Douglas P. over recorders, pounding drum machine rhythms and quavering electronics and guitar twang as it switches from lust to lost. Over ringing guitar 'To Drown A Rose' merges Rose's bittersweet voice with Douglas P's deep tones swept up in spirited trumpet fanfares. It remains as sublime as ever, and is followed with a re-recording of the childhood night-time initiatory song 'Break The Black Ice' sweetened by the pure voice of Rose McDowall and darkened by the sinister whisperings of Tibet. Tibet also appears on the following 'Behind The Rose (Fields Of Rape)', a pivotal track in the canon of Death In June, which could be regarded as the black sheep of the album since its roots lie in NADA!. Shorn of guitar its sounds like an abridged take of the version that appeared on the compilation 93 Dead Sunwheels but here it acts like a sister track to 'Rule Again'. Originally featuring on The World That Summer, this version shuns the guitar for a more electronic based sound, pitting Tibet's sneer and wails against Douglas P.'s more assured vocal. There was always a Crowley edge to this song with lyrics citing the Great Beast's maxim "Love is the law, love under will". And while the line "the abbey shattered by cloistered boots" seemed to reflect Crowley's expulsion from the Abbey of Thelema by Mussolini, I never picked up on the war of words raging between Crowley and Austin Osman Spare with its references to his works in lyrics such as "the Earth's Inferno" and "Books of Pleasure".

The mystique of Death In June was captured in the haunting childhood terror of 'Rocking Horse Night' underpinned by a nursery musical box chime and the ambiguous 'The Fog of the World', which given the title was based on a writing from Jean Genet I always felt was homoerotic in its lyrical description of the male figure. Similarly, the much misunderstood 'Hail! The White Grain' seemed to be about homosexuality. The white grain being sperm. Who knows though, but this remains one of my favourites with Douglas P. in stellar vocal form accompanied by the breathy backing vocals of Bee and Rose McDowall on harmonies, both of whom were part of the excellent esoteric indie group Into A Circle during this period.

Yukio Mishima and Jean Genet may have been the main literary influences on The World That Summer and Brown Book, but the Spaghetti Western soundtracks of Ennio Morricone continued to play a part in the sound too. You can hear it in the acoustic strum, the trumpet fanfares and castanets - and especially on 'Punishment Initiation' where creeping keyboards surround Tibet's spoken reading sprinkled with flourishes of Spanish sounding acoustic strum and the clap of castanets. Runes were becoming an obsessional interest around this time; emblazoned on sleeves and embedded in lyrics but their prominence became more explicit in the title of 'Runes And Men'; a wonderful track comprising acoustic strum, poised and sparse drum beats, accompanied by German samples and haunting accompaniment of Rose McDowall. It was almost a template characterising the Death In June sound of this period.

Death In June and their associates were dealing with ritual and secrecy, drawing down lyrics from dreams and expressing hidden codes but the overriding feeling sown in the albums The World That Summer and Brown Book and reaped in The Corn Years was of initiation, beauty and love defiled and sacrificed in death.

The Corn Years closes on the pristine 'Come Before Christ And Murder Love', a dark acoustic ballad underpinned by strident rhythms, spirited trumpet and bells. It was the first song written by a teenage Douglas P. in 1974. A lot of water has passed under the bridge between Tibet and Douglas P. but in an essay in a Current 93 lyric book Tibet writing as David Michael reflected on the works of Death In June commenting that "The 12" single 'Come before Christ and Murder Love' remains, I think, one of the finest releases of the 1980s, two songs of such matchless beauty and desolation that they should have been regarded as equally classic and important as tracks such as, say, 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' or 'Montague Terrace In Blue'." He's not wrong. At the time of its release The Corn Years might have been the ideal introductory point to Death In June released on a new format when albums were out-of-print but even now it remains essential. Drawn from the albums The World That Summer and Brown Book, their kinship regarded by Douglas P. as brother albums, captured an intense period of creativity for Death In June spawning many enduring classics songs that haven't lost their power to captivate. I'd go further and argue that it was Brown Book along with Current 93's Swastikas For Noddy, an album heavily indebted to Douglas P. and many of the guests here, which defined a new genre of music.

This new edition entitled The Corn Years Plus is completed with a 7-inch single containing 'Runes and Men', 'The Fog of the World' and a 2019 mix of 'Break The Black Ice' which like the original has Douglas P. on vocals. The Corn Year Plus is housed in a 7-inch gatefold cover including the CD and 7-inch single available in 3 editions: black heavy (194 copies), swamp green (525 copies) and white/brown/swamp green splatter (314 copies). The Corn Years Plus is available from Steelwork Maschine