The Lamb As Effigy or Three Hundred And Fifty XOXOXOS For A Spark Union With My Darling Divine by SprainRelease date: September 1, 2023
Label: The Flenser
Well now, this one looks set to split the congregation, no doubt about it. Some of you will be just checking out the title and the cover there, arching your brow and tutting “smart arses”. At the very least. The Lamb As Effigy or Three Hundred And Fifty XOXOXOS For A Spark Union With My Darling Divine is not an immediately easy thing to love. It’s huge in scope, ambition, and length, running to around 100 mins. More to the point it’s kind of spartan in its resolve to get to the edge of familiar territory and kick a hole in the fence.
It opens with string stabs, like a heightened moment from a Hollywood melodrama, and dissolves into ‘Man Proposes, God Disposes’ a thrilling, hectic, post-hardcore clatter. Punctured by bursts of guitar noise Alex Kent’s increasingly wild declamations bristle with great and surprising lines. Personally I’m fond of “the same joke twice but the second time louder” but I’m sure you’ll have your own favourite. In its final couple of minutes they shift into a condensed crescendo before unwinding into something looser, throwing in a provocatively long false ending and then leaping directly into ‘Reiterations’.
It’s possible to detect a sketch of the whole album’s structure in the opening track. You might not care to, that’s what I meant about it splitting opinion, it’s the kind of record that falls naturally to close reading among its fans and irritated shrugs among naysayers. ‘Reiterations’ has sheets of distorting monochord guitars and desperate screaming vocals but the shape and organisation of the songs gets less recognisable as the album proceeds. ‘Privilege of Being’ starts with gentle guitar, is pierced by horrible modem feedback and settles into layers of drones and intoned vocals, all kept uncomfortably on edge by gusts of unpleasant grating sound. In its final section a lovely Nyman-esque string arrangement is scarred by discordant recorder squeals.
‘Margin For Error’ is the album’s first 24 minute epic. A lengthy organ drone with rising tides of emotional grime it transforms into rolling, drawn out, guitar chords with impactful changes and considerable drum rumble towards the end, rewiring tricks from Sunn O))) and GY!BE to their own purpose. The assault on structure continues, everything becoming more fractious and mysterious, tape splices of all out noise, wild piano bashing, long wave transmissions then gentle acoustic strums, bombastic fills, headstock jangle, theremin and regrets.
‘We Think So Ill Of You’ returns us to four minute bursts of furious noise scree. Almost like an orientation ahead of the final ‘God Or Whatever You Call It’ to which it all appears to have led us. Starting with more squeal ‘n’ squall bordering on a formless assault and working through considerable Sturm und plentiful Drang it eventually becomes so spaced out that it constantly feels as if it has stopped only to manage another agonised moment of its confrontation with the Lamb as God. “I can’t sing if you’re looking at me”.
Yeah, it’s a lot. But it’s not like they don’t make that plain going in – the sleeve looks like a conceptual photo art piece, while the title channels previous waves of expansive art rock with knowing winks to Genesis and A Silver Mount Zion. Their last album opened with a track called ‘Slant’ after their most apparent influence so don’t for a second think they’re either unaware or humourless about this stuff. The Lamb As Effigy… was long in its creation and almost abandoned more than once. As a result, even over such an extended run time, it never slacks. Every moment feels intentional. It’s not for everyone but I think it’ll reward those who engage with it for a long while to come.