Down in the Bassment

Cover of Damned to Earth’s self-titled debut

I like the cover and the music.

Previously Pre-Posted…

Museek — in which I don’t like the cover but do like the music
A Little Light Night Music — in which I don’t like the music but do like the cover

Toxic Turntable #22

Currently listening…

• Dźmutia Zirih, Plz Yrslf (1976)
• Far Beyond Xanadu, Dionysus’ Holy Name (1992)
• Yolanda Grovedrew, Not for Duke War (1997)
• Egzotiq, Vous N’Êtes Que (1984)
• Doctor Yacht, Invoke the Geigar (2009)
• Forschung-239, Jisirlo (1995)
• Gary Jophe, Silver Sands (1992)
• მზის მგელი, მგლისთვალება (2008)
• Helios Epoch, Nahtloser Neuntöter (2009)
• WihlhiW, Gaze Fix (1996)
• Ossafracht, Lokomotiv Zinken (2002)
• Vora xMqa, Future Is An Asylum (2015)
• հաց և գինի, Պետրիկոր (2020)
• Floris Nox, God is Caffeinated (1988)
• Phonophoro L.G., El Coro del Abismo (1988)
• Oscar’s Vital Glove, We Hate Tweeve (2003)
• Ecofoxes, When the Hen (1994)
• ბვემწა, ფვიტი ჰმრე (2017)
• Aoatt Leit, Trey Drake (1993)
• Audiosun, Lucus (Non Lucendo) (1995)
• Hildegard von Bingen, Hortus Deliciarum (2018)
• Ikexon, H.M.T. (2014)

Previously pre-posted

Toxic Turntable #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8#9#10#11#12#13#14#15#16#17#18#19#20#21

Witch Switch

Below is one of the best album-covers I’ve ever seen. It’s a triumph of subtlety and simplicity:

Burning Witch, Crippled Lucifer (1998)

The American blackened doom sludge-sters Burning Witch used Sorgen / Sorrow (1894-5), a painting by the Norwegian painter Theodor Kittelsen (1857-1914), to conjure an atmosphere of despair and darkness. Here is the original painting, skilfully combining snow, darkness and despair:

Theodor Kittelsen, Sorgen (1894-95)

But while the painting and album are good examples of less-is-more, the album is also an example of less-and-more. Part of its power comes from the contrast between the simplicity of the wandering figure and the complexity of the scripts used for the band’s name and album title:

Crippled Lucifer (detail)

Usually images are more detailed than writing. Here it’s the reverse. And while you can easily read the writing, despite its complexity, you can’t “read” the figure, despite its simplicity. Kittelsen’s skilful simplicity raised questions that can’t be answered. Is the figure male or female? Why is it sorrowful? Where is it going?

Well, you can say where it’s going in one sense: it’s walking from left-to-right. And that made me wonder whether the album could have become even starker in its contrasts. If you’re literate in Norwegian or English, you naturally read images from left-to-right, because that’s the direction of the Roman alphabet. On the album, you read the figure and the writing in the same direction. They contrast starkly in other ways, but they don’t contrast there. So let’s try making them contrast there too. Compare these two versions of the cover:

Crippled Lucifer (original cover)

Crippled Lucifer (figure-and-snowscape mirrored)

I think there’s something emptier and more despairing in the mirrored figure, walking from right-to-left. On the original cover, the figure is in some sense walking into the future, despite the weight of sorrow it carries. As we read from left to right along a piece of writing, what’s to the left of our eye is the past, and what’s to the right is the future. The figure carries the same implication. And because the figure moving towards the highly-complex-but-perfectly-intelligible band-name-and-title, there’s almost an implication that its story will be told, even if it’s moving towards death or suicide.

When the image is mirrored, all that disappears. Moving from right-to-left, the figure seems to be walking into the past, not the future. It’s no longer near or moving towards the complexity-and-intelligibility of the band-name-and-title. It’s abandoning the world more strongly: there’s no hope, no future, no implication that its story will be told.

I think the same happens, though less strongly, when the original painting is contrasted with a mirrored version:

Sorrow (original)

Sorrow (mirrored)

The contrast is less stark because, unlike the album-cover, there’s no complex patch of writing in the painting and the figure is moving away from what writing there is: the artist’s signature in the bottom left. In the original, the figure is abandoning identity and intelligibility by moving away from the signature. That’s why I’ve removed the signature in the mirrored version of the painting. It would be anomalous on the right, whether or not it was mirror-reversed, and it would be anomalous if it stayed on the left.

Finally, here’s a photo of two musicians in Sunn O))), the band into which Burning Witch eventually evolved:

Sunn O))) in black robes

In the original, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson are walking from right-to-left. Here’s a mirrored version for comparison:

Sunn O))) photo (mirrored)

I think the original photo has more power, because the robed figures are walking against the grain, as it were — against the direction in which our Roman-alphabet-conditioned eyes read a photo.

Golden Goat-God’s Gateway

Although this blog stands strongly and sternly against the use of any drugs weaker than water (which is all of ’em), some interesting art has been inspired by those weaker drugs. The front cover of Bongzilla’s Gateway (2002) by Malleus Rock Art Lab is a good and skilful example. Please be aware, however, that smoking grass is more likely to induce psychosis than turn you into a golden goat-god. Especially coz artificially strengthened varieties of grass are not what Gaia intended. (dot dot dot)

Post-Performative Post-Scriptum

Yes, the horns on the album-cover are those of a bovid, not a caprid, but I like to think of the image being that of a goat-god rather than a bull-god.

Capnic Caravan

Sleep, Dopesmoker (2012 reissue)

I’ve never been able to get into the band Sleep and, not being a keyly committed core component of the hive-mind, I’m not a fan of dopesmoking either. But this is a good cover by the artist Arik Roper, with a nice Dune-y vibe.

To engage issues around the title of this incendiary intervention, see here:

capno-, capn-, capnod- (Greek: smoke; vapor; sooty) — Wordquests