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Current 93 - Black Ships Ate The Sky

More recent offerings from Current 93 such as Soft Black Stars and Sleep Has his House have largely been minimal affairs revealing a more personal, more intimate rendering of Tibet's thoughts and feelings. Largely uncluttered and free of end-time imagery. In that respect Black Ships Ate The Sky follows in the lineage of earlier releases such as Thunder Perfect Mind, Swastikas For Noddy and All The Pretty Horses, where, like Black Ships Ate The Sky Tibet assembled an expansive assortment of musicians to frame his words and images. Black Ships Ate The Sky which was over four years in gestation features an enviable cast of artists. Alongside Current 93 mainstays Michael Cashmore and Steven Stapleton, Tibet has enlisted the assistance of guitarist Ben Chasny (from Six Organs of Admittance) and cellist John Contreras, who has performed with Sorrow and Pantaleimon. Even with these musicians at his disposal Black Ships Ate The Sky is resolutely a singular release. At least on the collection of releases comprising The Inmost Light trilogy the listener could tap into's Tibet's ruminations on the impermanence of life, and our flitting ability to catch sight of the inmost light. Black Ships Ate The Sky is perhaps the first Current 93 that deserves the outsider record appellation. Black Ships Ate The Sky is rooted in Tibet's eccentric vision distilled from a series of dreams that straddles apocalyptic imagery, mysticism, Egyptian Gods, Christianity, childhood, even co-opting some progressive rock references along the way.

David Tibet explained the impetus behind Black Ships Ate The Sky as occuring in 2002 "after a furious dream in which I saw Black Ships entering our sky. As the Black Ships progressed in a staggered and purposeful motion across the sky and came into view over the horizon in their hundreds them thousands then millions, it was made clear to me that these Black Ships anounced the arising of the Final Caesar (Anti Christ) and thus set the stage for the Second Coming of Christ. The Black Ships devoured the sky and as they passed through it those portions of the sky they had passed through was corrupted by the Ships' Teeth".

Black Ships Ate The Sky is awash with bleak themes of apocalypse, described so vividly, amidst surreal imagery, absurd wordplay delivered in David Tibet's shrill, nasally English accented voice. The arrangements on Black Ships Ate The Sky are stunning - the pastoral settings of 'Sunset (The Death of Thumbelina) and 'Then Kill Caesar' where guitar based melodies are shadowed by exquisite cello arrangements. Even they pale in comparison to the cyclical interplay of cello and guitar on 'This Autistic Imperium is Nihil Reich' where Tibet's eschatoligical musings combine with words of everyday banality. Black Ships Ate The Sky is strewn with playful childhood references amidst terrifying apocalyptic visions, but it would be folly to ignore the humour that Tibet imparts. But who would have thought his visions prophetic as his end-time reportage documents above the wavering drone of 'The Dissolution of The Boat Million of Years'.

Respite from the "Black Ship" themes and motifs that recur obsessively comes in the form of the 18th Century Christian hymn, 'Idumea'. Written by Charles Wesley, a founding member of the Methodist Church, the hymn which has long fascinated Tibet is interpreted by nine artists including the Current 93 frontman himself. Their interpretations of Idumea vary widely: with Marc Almond it's a tragic ballad, his soaring voice adorned by Cashmore's guitar; with Pantaleimon it's a soothing lullaby mingling hushed whisperings with dulcimer chime. Bonnie Prince Billy offers an interpretation of earthy Americana with a gravel strained voice set against notes picked on a banjo. Antony's multi tracked offering with quivering voice appears forced paling against the plaintive acoustic interpretations by Tibet and traditional folk sounds of Clodagh Simonds. Baby Dee's interpretation is suffused with a serene spirituality. Bizarrely the repetitious nature doesn't dull the flow of the album, rather the variation in setting and mood each contributor brings only serves to emphasise the hymn's underlying meaning of death and judgement.

'Black Ships In The Sky' is the first of five tracks that feature the Black Ship motif in their title. Over Michael Cashmore's frenetic spiralling guitarwork Tibet lends an exasperated voice. Cashmore's regal playing combines with angelic backing on 'Black Ships Last Seen South of Heaven' to which Tibet delivers a breathless impassioned performance gushing words and images culminating in a petrified plea to "Stop The Ships". On 'Black Ships Were Sinking' Tibet is clearly wrestling with his past, even noting his brief dalliance with the David Michael guise. It's a cornerstone of the album cut with strings, backwards editing, with a fleeting snippet from '5 Hypnagogue 5' that segues into the fragile interpretation of 'Iduema' by Cosey Fanni Tutti with ambient undertow by Chris Carter that continues into the second contribution by Antony, the hauntingly brief but mesmerising 'The Beautiful Dancing Dust'. Less successful is 'Black Ships In Their Harbours' where Ben Chasny's brittle guitar work is obscured by the distracting buzz of electric viola. The suite of "Black Ships" tracks closes with the title track, which foregoes the melancholic embellishments in favour of a churning monolithic riff. It is by far the harshest track on the album and, as such, elicits a cathartic performance from Tibet as he deliberates on his present day reality against an unborn state as he, like us, travels towards his final judgement.

Black Ships Ate The Sky finishes with the reserved melancholy of 'Why Caesar Is Burning Part II', catching Tibet in a thoroughly reflective manner resigned to the series of events as yielded in his dreams, before Shirley Collins closes with an archaic variation on the 'Idumea' hymn.

Black Ships Ate The Sky is a towering achievment for David Tibet and Current 93. Housed in a slipcase with an accompanying booklet of photographs and lyrics, with the CD encased in a gatefold digipak Black Ships Ate The Sky is certainly the most fully realised album from Current 93. It is by far their most thematically connected, most musically accomplished and many people will regard this as their great work. Whether it will become my favourite Current 93 release time will tell. Recommended. For more information go to