Throbbing Gristle: Journey Through A Body / Mission Of Dead Souls / Heathen Earth – reissues review
14th September sees the second phase of Throbbing Gristle reissues hit the shelves courtesy of Mute Records. Journey Through A Body / Mission Of Dead Souls / Heathen Earth represent the beginning of the end for the bands initial lifespan but as Simon Tucker explains, this is not a whimper but an exit with a bang.
Where do you begin when writing about TG? There have been countless words spread across countless publications about the impact, the influence, the outrage, the fallout, the relationships, the violence. Only last year founder member Cosey Fanni Tutti released a wonderful book detailing her life before, during, and after the band. The book exposed the manipulation and constant state of threat the band were in as they were attacked by everyone from politicians to fellow musicians. So where do you start? TG are to many the real ‘Fab Four’. If Mojo was bolder they’d be on the cover once every six months. The band are held as a beacon not just because of what they did when together but also for the music they created once the band had broken up. Just look at the name of the bands:
Coil, Chris & Cosey, Psychic TV, The Threshold HouseBoys Choir, Carter Tutti…..
Every one of these would spawn imitators and followers. Fans and obsessives. But it was TG who were first. The originals for this movement that was termed ‘Industrial’. Of course the bands sound was too fluid and instinctive to be stuck under the badge of a genre label. The four were slippery shape shifters, sonic chameleons always moving forward regardless of what stood in their way. It helped that in their midst laid an electronic alchemist in body of a quiet Chris Carter. This was DIY to the nth degree. Inspiring to the end. TG may have crumbled under the intensity of their very existence and the horrible malevolence that ran through a members toxic idea of relationships but their music never weakened. Never went limp. Stiff and gigantic to the end.
Journey Through A Body
Originally recorded for Italian National Radio RAI, Rome in March 1981 after Robert Wyatt had recommended Cosey to the RAI and who then went on to commission her to create a sound work based on the theme of ‘A Journey Through the Body’. The project soon became a full TG work and was recorded in five days with nothing pre-planned or re-recorded. It was also to be the bands final studio recording before their reunion in 2004.
Journey Through A Body is a tough listen. It taps into the same areas that the bands debut ‘The Second Annual Report’ did. It is a recording that can play heavy on the listeners mind. It is corrosive yet funky. Erotic and violent. The opening track alone (Medicine) is a feat of pure endurance. If you suffer with tinnitus then this one is not for you as a pitched tone pierces your ears for a full minute before it starts breaking up and pulsing like a malfunctioning piece of medical equipment. The monitor sound eventually falls into a normal rhythm as hell descends around us. ‘Medicine’ is the sound of a drugged up patient locked inside a 1980’s hospital. It is grim and scary like the memories you hold of these places if you were unlucky to have been a guest at some stage in your childhood. Are the voices you hear intermittently there to help or to punish?
Catholic Sex follows and what begins as a vortex of howling wind slowly morphs into one of the bands funkiest numbers. There is a groove under the orgasm. Dare I even say, there is an actual pop song hidden deep in there if you look for it hard enough. The spoken word section speaks of cum and shame, guilt and religious iconography. The smut and the divine combined.
Exotic Functions is the tribute Martin Denny deserves. It is both serene and playful. A wonderful moment of lightness and a much needed calming presence. One that serves you well as you move into the next part…
Violencia is brutal. There is no getting away from the intro. It is the sound of massacre and slaughter. Pure ultra-violence. We are voyeurs. We are participants. We are holding the knives and tying the restraints. To delve into Violencia you must become a player and a servant. No casual bystanders will make it to the end. Get stuck in. Release your inner blades. One of Throbbing Gristle’s finest and darkest moments. It’s Persuasion on roids. Treasure its memory and enjoy its remastered resurrection.
To climax we have Oltre La Morte. A soothing bed of chiming pianos and conflicting melodies. Shimmering star-like across the listeners minds eye. Oltre La Morte serves as the perfect goodbye kiss. The beauty that is on a lot of TG’s work is brought centre stage and allowed to close the show. A most perfect ‘Fuck You’ to anyone who sneered at the band and those who never regarded the foursome as a “real” group. Oltre La Morte contains sadness and grace. A fitting curtain call.
Mission of Dead Souls
“The Mission is Terminated” read a public statement released after Mission of Dead Souls. This was the last performance by the band before their original disbanding. Musically Mission of Dead Souls is an absolute triumph and highlights the intricate details of the bands live performances. It is a show paced to perfection with the band slowly but surely bringing you into their space. This is their zone. TG rules apply. If you are unwilling to open up you will not find anything here for you.
Dead Souls draws you in. Laying down the law and painting the scenery. Guts On The Floor has beats and rhythm that Chris and Cosey would go on to perfect over the rest of their career. Circle of Animals, Looking for the OTO, and Vision and Voice take us into the deep centre of the show and prove just how dance orientated the band could be. There’s a pulse there that can make your feet move. For those at the show this must have quite an experience…The dance of the macabre.
Funeral Rites brings us back to our sitting positions. It is the moment where massive sounds and flickering textures reveal to us the true musicianship within the band. The sound is nuanced and precise. Hypnotic and detailed. Again the band show us how well crafted their live shows were by going into Spirits Flying. Raising us slowly back to our feet. The tribal dance begins. Something has changed. We are ready..
Slam! Audience and front-man converse. Slam! the band come in. Slam! “ah be quiet” crowd cheers. Slam! “Persuasion…” as “hits” go this is certainly one of TG’s. Titled ‘Persuasion U.S.A.’ this version has different lyrics, improvised by Gen who on this track shows what a great front-man he was when in the mood. This is swamp blues with digital concrete. A great version of a great song.
We are then brought out of the swamp by the overbearing sheet noise of The Process and the Industrial Disco of Discipline (Reprise). It is heavy. It is sweaty. It ends on a childlike piano lullaby. A goodnight and god bless. The perfect way to say goodbye.
Heathen Earth, originally released in 1980 (Industrial Records), is a live document of a performance by Throbbing Gristle to a small and invited audience on 16 February 1980. This reissue features a slew of extra live recordings.
Heathen Earth is revered. It is as much an important entry into the Throbbing Gristle oeuvre as the “studio” albums. It has created a folklore around it. Geoff Rushton (Jhonn Balance) was there. Heathen Earth was recorded only a year before the groups initial disbanding. It is the sound of fire and of cohesion. A band fitting into their own skin and enjoying how it feels. It is an album that may seem slightly smoother around the edges but loses none of the Gristle bite and wonkiness. It is peculiar and sexy. It rides waves and breaks hearts. ‘An Old Man Smiled’, ‘The World Is A War Film’ ‘Heathen Earth’. All songs of intensity and melancholy. A weird sadness can be discovered on repeated listens. Sex remains throughout. Sex and death. Pain and pleasure. Silence to violence. To say this is diluted would be to ignore the restraint and drama the album possess. The extras are worth every second. Essential not a curio. Nothing less than a triumph.
This is ‘Phase Two’ of the Throbbing Gristle / Mute reissue campaign. It is the dark heart. It is Conrad’s trip up the Congo. ‘Phase One’ showed us the pillars and foundations and now we get the dressing and design. The Throbbing Gristle story will continue to inspire and intrigue those with curiosity and a thirst for the different. The story has many chapters and these three documents are some of its most important.