Double Leopards and Religious Knives

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Double Leopards: The Axe Helve (1999) , 6/10
Double Leopards: A Pebble In Thousands Of Unmapped Revolutions (2001), 6.5/10
Double Leopards: Halve Maen (2003), 7/10
Double Leopards: Urban Concussion (2004), 6.5/10 (EP)
Double Leopards: A Hole Is True (2005) , 7/10
Double Leopards: Savage Summer Sun (2005), 6/10
Double Leopards: Out Of One, Through One, And To One (2005), 7/10 (mini)
Bassett & Graf: Peradam (2010), 6.5/10
Religious Knives: Remains (2007), 7.5/10
Religious Knives: The Door (2008), 6.5/10 (mini)

The Double Leopards were initially a trio from New York (guitarists Chris Gray and Jon Chapman, keyboardist Marcia Bassett) performing experimental drone-based music on The Axe Helve (Heavy Conversation, 1999) and A Pebble In Thousands Of Unmapped Revolutions (Eclipse Records, 2001).

They later became a quartet featuring three guitarists (Chris Gray, Marcia Bassett, Mike Bernstein) and a keyboardist (Maya Miller) and orchestrated thick cosmic drones for distorted guitars on the double-disc Halve Maen (Eclipse, 2003). Full of suspense and drama, their free-form soundpainting bridged LaMonte Young, early Throbbing Gristle and Zen meditation. The brief cosmic overture of Sound Holes leads to the elevent-minute The Fatal Affront, an audio documentary from another world: guitars that vibrate and buzz endlessly, various types of drones that compete with the vocal "om" eventually winning over, and finally an orgy of bells. Another abstract electro-acoustic chamber piece, Druid Spectre, prepares the ground for the 21-minute cosmic journey of A Hemisphere in Your Hair, set in motion by recurring waves of electronic hisses, a symphony of subliminal guitar drones, of gentle drones slowly fading into black holes, with tension slowly ammassing in a murky landscape of android voices and psychedelic echoes. After the more magniloquent and virulent Viking Blood, the twelve-minute The Forest Outlaws sounds like a microphone left inside a bomb explosion and, after the explosion, traveling with shards of glass and sound waves. The fluttering chirping swarm eventually merges with a background radiation to become another booming explosion. What is missing from those pieces is subtlety. That turns out to be the main ingredient of the much more introverted and sparse two-part The Secret Correspondence, the second part being the best vocal experiment on the album. This is hardly a perfect album. It contains too much filler and even the best pieces have not been edited appropriately. However, the kind of psychological trance that materializes out of the poetry of a piece like A Hemisphere in Your Hair is unique.

After the mini-album Urban Concussion (Qbico, 2004), basically an appendix to the previous monolith, they achieved expressionistic intensity with the three lengthy noisescapes of A Hole Is True (Troubleman Unlimited, 2005). Here the quality of the sound and the dynamics of the piece are more refined. Inmost Light amalgamates seamlessly instrumental and electronic noises that have affinities to industrial drilling and sawing. Chemical Wedding sets in motion a swarm of insects and then lucidly engineers their growth and demise. The 21-minute White Cadillac has one foot in the percussive hissing industrial music of the 1980s and another foot in the transcendent noisescapes of Dead C. The two strands merge and yield a cyclical vocal and instrumental pattern that dissolves in gravely silence.

Savage Summer Sun (Hospital, 2005) documents live performances.

Out Of One Through One And To One (Eclipse, 2005) documents a colossal improvisation with Samara Lubelski of Sonora Pine. It takes six minutes for the music to reach its peak of pathos; then the ominous, dense and swirling mass of clusters decays into a sort of polyphonic "om" that gets buried under galactic turbulence. The "om"s reemerge in the second part, this time tied to powerful drones and (unusually for them) colliding with equally forceful dissonance.

Jon Chapman released the solo electronic improvisations of Nerve Pluck Game (Sdn Rex) under the moniker Co., Inc.

Gray joined Endless Boogie that released Focus Level (No Quarter, 2008).

Marcia Bassett was also active as Zaimph, that released La Nuit Electrique (Utech), The Undetermined Dyad (Volcanic Tongue),

Hototogisu was a collaboration between the Double Leopards' Marcia Bassett and Skullflower's Matthew Bower that, after the celestial ambient music of Floating Japanese Oof! Gardens Of The 21st Century (2004), released dozens of (really bad) albums of free-form noise: Ghosts From The Sun (2005), Prayer Rug Exorcism (2005), Chimarendammerung (2006), Snail On A Razor (2006), a collaboration with Prurient, Some Blood Will Stick (Important, 2006), Pale Fatal Sister (Important, 2008), etc.

GHQ was a collaboration between Marcia Bassett (from the Double Leopards and Hototogisu) and Pete Nolan (from the Magik Markers). Cosmology Of Eye (Time Lag, 2006) and Heavy Elements (Three Lobed Recordings, 2006) were devoted to ethereal laid-back free-form spaced-out droning raga-folk music. They were followed by La Poesia Visiva (Heavy Blossom, 2006), the live California Night Burning Dreams (Not Not Fun, 2007) and Crystal Healing (Three Lobed Recordings, 2007). Steve Gunn was a member.

Hototogisu's guitarist Marcia Bassett also had her own solo side-project, Zaimph, devoted to ambient guitar noise: Mirage Of The Other (Gipsy Sphinx, 2006), Sexual Infinity (Hospital, 2006), Unfolded Gold (Heavy Blossom, 2006), La Nuit Electrique (2007), Emblem (Heavy Blossom, 2008), The Undetermined Dyad (2008), Death Blooming Pleasure (No Fun, 2009).

A combination of Spacemen 3 and the Doors inspired New York's Religious Knives, fronted by organist Maya Miller and guitarist/synth-man Michael Bernstein (both members of Double Leopards). The lengthy trance pieces of Remains (No Fun, 2007), that collects the EP Bind Them/ Electricity And Air (2006), the single Blackbird/ Wax & Flesh (2006) and a side of a split album, are tinged with exotic and electronic overtones. The 16-minute Bind Them layers on top of each other a tribal polyrhythm, a Middle-eastern melodic pattern and a distorted incantation. The problem, of course, is that it lasts 16 minutes with little or no variation. The 14-minute Electricity And Air restarts from a very similar keyboard melody but this time there are a martial drumbeat and a spastic litany propelling another extenuating repetitive ceremony. More captivating is the relatively shorter Blackbird, a languid, celestial, spaced-out chant by a female voice that sounds like a glitchy version of Popol Vuh's Hosianna Mantra. Its companion Wax & Flesh is a surreal vignette for gothic percussion sounds and harsh keyboard drones. The 13-minute The Train is a more trivial demonstration of Buddhist-like chanting over minimal percussion and electronics.

Similar ideas were pursued with less lucidity on the Live At Big Jar Books (2007) and on the compilation of rarities Resin (2008).

These recordings laid the foundations for the six complex chanted noise-songs for motorik rhythm and electronic drones of the mini-album The Door (Ecstatic Peace, 2008). Downstairs channels the Doors via the Sisters Of Mercy. On the other hand, the lengthy instrumental intro of Major Score sounds like a jam between latter-day King Crimson and Can. The vocals are definitely the weakest element. Decisions Are Made

White Rock, formed by two members of Double Leopards and two members of Mouthus, released Tarpit (Troubleman, 2006).

Peradam (Utech, 2010) was a collaboration between Marcia Bassett of Hotogisu and Jenny Graf of Metalux. The 17-minute Zero As Sky and the 15-minute Phantasmagorical Mapping ranked among the most creative achievements of the distorted drone-folk wave.

The Religious Knives disappointed on Smokescreen (Sacred Bones, 2011), that opted for a more relaxed sound rather than exploring the most disturbing aspects of their psychedelic religion.

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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