Canticles of the Holy Scythe by LüüpRelease date: December 8, 2017
Label: I, Voidhanger Records
I’m not sure if I would be able to place Lüüp’s Canticles of the Holy Scythe in a tradition. Folk and contemporary classical spring to mind, though. Ostensible folk music with more traditional instrumentation seems to be having a bit of a moment in underground music circles. Bargou 08 and the Saz’iso collective are two examples. Contemporary classic keeps doing its own thing. This strange album is neither.
It comes with strong occult credentials, with the lyrics being presented in a vaguely Middle Ages themed font, adorned with loaded images, a mishmash of runes and Greek lettering. Of course, the lyrics themselves also find themselves in this syncretic domain, with evocations of the Malkuth (Kabbalah) and Mercury (the Greek pagan tradition). You’re in the realm of Crowley, then, but does the music itself sustain the sort of excess that the occult seems to call for?
The short answer is no. Whereas plenty of occult metal is caught in the trap of ornamentation, lapsing into almost vaudevillian territories, this goes the opposite way. Earlier, I mentioned hints towards a medieval connection – the Bosch cover art does nothing to dissuade you of this perspective – but Crowley was an eminently modern figure. Despite his obsessions with the ancient (The Book of Thoth, for example), he always found a way to make it new, with almost surrealist zeal. This album lacks that sort of dialectical movement, and, as a result, it seems trapped between two worlds, never fully committing to either.
It lacks the modernist punch of other occult artists (working in any medium) – the lyrics read as though they are meant to be spoken at a ritual, but they are simultaneously too musical and not musical enough. They don’t lapse into poetry, but neither are they rhythmic enough to take on an air of droning incantatory magick. The instrumentation suffers in a similar way. While it’s laudable to draw on traditional instruments, it’s quite another to be able to force them beyond the boundaries that society has circumscribed for them; here, they’re not quite unique enough to even really be a pastische of the medieval period. Was this album trying to be a pastiche? Or are we to take it seriously? I don’t have an answer.
When I said that I wasn’t sure if I could identify a tradition for this album, ultimately what I meant was that I don’t think this album commits fully to any tradition. There’s no shortage of cultural signifiers and the references are worn on the sleeve (not in and of itself a bad thing), but, in the end, the music becomes trapped between all of these, unable to find its own unique voice.