In an effort to maintain a balanced sense of perspective, it is necessary to flambé ones objective juices, to periodically take a trip outside of what is often mistakenly referred to as your, “comfort zone”.
United Bible Studies‘ latest release, ‘So As To Preserve The Mystery’, could be construed as one such foray.
I have the utmost respect for Kevin McFadin and the truly eclectic output of his Sunrise Ocean Bender Record Label. Through this Kevin, I found myself transported to the Appalachian backwood mists, and the work of the equally idiosyncratic Kevin Moist, founding member of the band Evening Fires and the Deep Water Acres Record Label kingpin.
Evening Fires‘ recent, ‘Where I’ve Been Is Places And What I’ve Seen Is Things‘, was a truly standout release of earlier this year. Paradoxically, it is via Virginia and Pennsylvania that I complete the circle, back home here in Ireland, with my celtic brethren in United Bible Studies.
Any band describing their sound as, “Pastoral psychedelia and traditional song have remained the cornerstones of the band’s style, alongside collective improvisation that can take the form of extended drone-works or explosive outbursts of ecstatic noise”, whilst citing Atlantis as their home town, are guaranteed to pique my interest.
United Bible Studies was formed in Dublin in 2001 by David Colohan (Raising Holy Sparks) and James Rider (Cubs). Over the years they have crafted 20+ releases and have operated a revolving door “studentship”.
The band’s FB page states, “The lineup currently includes former Mellow Candle vocalist Alison O’Donnell, harpist Áine O’Dwyer and Michael Tanner (Plinth, Sharron Kraus, Mark Fry)”, the CD inlay card further adds, Paul Conlon, Casey Denman, Amanda Faery and Richard Moult to that illuminated roster.
Opening track, ‘Tossing The Daisies’, is a hauntingly unfolding, celtic drone saga; ‘The Place Of Bays’, opens with sparse lilting keys, the cliffs of Clare providing the backdrop for a temporal, plaintive lyric, set amongst an engagingly lush, ascending arrangement; ‘Teampall Mholuaidh’, or St Moluag’s church, on the Isle of Lewis, provides an inspiration – a place steeped in ancient healing worship, where St Ronan is said to have travelled on the back of a whale. The pre-christian tradition of the water spirit Seonaidh, conducts and weaves this magickal intoned symphony, traversing the ley lines; ‘Deireadh Fómhair’, or October also Harvest End in the gaelic calendar, is awash with delicately swirling, golden autumnal motifs; ‘Winistre’, from the Old English for winter, alluding to water and wet or unfavourable, opens to the peel of summoning bells – the invitation delivered, ushers in a medievally sonorous cacophony, a Hansel and Gretel-esque, dark woods mélange, waning to it’s conclusion, by way of a minstrelling poetic odyssey; ‘An Gort Gan Geata’*, or Gate to Gort, again takes us back to Connacht and Galway Bay, for a track that feels achingly cloaked in this ancient landscape; Closing track, ‘Islands’, is a 9 minute plus epic, the gentle tip-toe discordant intro yields to a world weary vocal, (echoing a Johnny Cash-like quality – in his American Recordings twilight years), unfolds in a tale of “graveyard earth”, a mid-section drone, expands and envelops like rolling sea fog, in cushioning transfixive levitation. The closing lone piano key, perhaps suggestive of the signal bell of an Atlantic storm swept buoy.
There is something in the much maligned dirge that somehow breathes life, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, that I find truly spiritually uplifting. The yearning quality to this music is in my blood, and never fails to stir the echoes of my ancestral sea-faring past.
That United Bible Studies should choose Huginn & Muninn, from the old Norse for thought and memory – symbolised by twin ravens, collecting information for the allfather Odin, as the name for their own record label, speaks volumes – at least to those open minded enough to listen.
‘So As To Preserve The Mystery’, is music to massage the sonic temples of your psyche.
The sleeve notes show that this album was recorded, among other locations, in Huishinish – a windward Hebridean stepping stone to our Atlantean past. Also a location that the surfers path has called me to, and when there was no surf, there was the nearby lighthouse to visit. Staffin Bay is another listed location, which I have had the pleasure to acquaint.
As with the, Fairport Convention, All About Eve, Clannad and Runrig, listening pleasures of my youth, so United Bible Studies has again moored me to the land and sea-scapes of my forebears, the circular path alighting me once more, well within my comfort zone…
‘So As To Preserve The Mystery’ is available now from Deep Water Acres. The cover painting, ‘Airson Gleidhadh An Diomhaireachd’, inspired by Joseph Stannard, and photographs are by Richard Moult, the design is by Kevin McFadin. The album is dedicated to Agnostos Theos.
*Addendum with thanks to David Colohan, “whereas the other titles used Scottish Gaelic, ‘An Gort Gan Geata’ was written by myself, as the translation for ‘ The Field Without a Gate’, roughly.”