Our Daily Bread 409: Vukovar ‘The Colossalist’

November 2, 2020

Dominic Valvona

Vukovar ‘The Colossalist’
(Other Voices Records) 15th November 2020

Death’s morbid shadow looms large over the spoilt Gothic and postindustrial romanticisms of Vukovar. Once more indebted to the influence of the late underground malcontent cult figure, and much-troubled, Simon Morris (of Ceramic Hobbs infamy and more), who’s tragic omnipresence can be heard (literally) ringing out in a vaporous elegiac homage on the final curtain call of the band’s eighth and newest grand opus, The Colossalist, Vukovar reels in mourning after his suicide late last year – the album is being released to coincide with the anniversary of his death. If anyone was in any doubt of his profound loss, they could read Vukovar co-founder Dan Shea’s candid poignant piece (which the MC published; see bottom of this review) on his former confident and foil.  Morris, alongside Holy Hero of Smell & Quim, worked with the band on their 2019 totem, Cremator, and was more or less becoming part of the lineup going forward. In a wispy hazed rewrite of the indie-psych Galaxie 500’s ‘Hearing Voices’ Vukovar wrap Morris’ voice and words up in a act of remembrance: a kind of communion codex, soundtracked by an imaginary team-up of OMD and The Fall.

Spirits then, loom large from the ether across this latest installment in the band’s history; a constant spooky, eerie gloom that prevails against the bruised and mentally fatigued New Romantic wide-eyed-boy soul led plaintive heartache of the vocals and narration. It is a marked death in the sense of the former incarnation of Vukovar  – a name pulled like a sharp reminder of death and atrocity on the borders of the EU, in the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s – disbanding. And so with the deathly spine-tingles of inevitability also comes a “rebirth”, as the next chapter of this Northwest of England troupe announce a second, third, fourth (I’ve lost count) coming, framed as the “NeuPopAct”.

If you haven’t been following my six-year long progress report, then in short this is a band prone to break-ups and fall outs – not all of their own making. Apart from Dan Shea, only Rick Clarke remains as stoic warden of the original inception. Constantly imperiled by their own actions and ennui, and by a stone-cold refusal to compromise, plus a lack of, well…realizing their potential, they’ve picked countless fights, jumped a Pearl Harbour’s worth of sinking ships and released far too much great music without a plan.  Eight albums proper with EPs, singles and stand-alones in that brief window, it’s not easy to keep up. It also doesn’t help that they’ve constantly changed labels and platforms in that time. For this colossus they’ve once more reunited with the caustic home of dark forces, esoteric and experimental music, Other Voices Records, for what is promised to be their most ambitious project yet: a Brueghel sonic synth-pop triptych of albums called Eternity Ends Here, the inaugural part of which is The Colossalist. In a continuation of their work with the acclaimed cult illustrator Andrzej Klimowski, who recently provided the illustrations for Clarke’s entombed surreal horror The Great Immurement (which the MC also published in serialized form), one of his hued pencil drawings adorns the cover of this chthonian pop mire.

Vukovar have always extended the cast of collaborators with each enterprise, working with post-punk vixen Rose McDowall on a number of recordings, and with Current 93 avatar wizard Michael Cashmore on the 2018 oeuvre Monument. Here, it seems (and it is enough) just the spirit of Morris enters the pentagram. Morris would no doubt have been a sparring partner if things had turned out differently, and played a major part on this newest album.

The men who haunted themselves, this latest incarnation once more embody a lamentable, macabre golden dawn; a world in which Prospero and Crowley waltz in the embers of the crumbling edifice we call Western civilization in 2020. Not so much political, as a despairing divine comedy of mental and physical exhaustion, the results of a 24 hour newsfeed of dread and anxiety. The effects of this climate and the idiosyncratic bullshit mating rituals that passes for love, drain and cause a not always encouraging concentration of the mind: Regrets, self-delusion, addiction, recovery and survival all resonating in a mass of conflicting truths. Sorry to get all profound, but it’s important to try and contextualize the half-sung, half-spoken in the shadows, poetic, and often romantically (that word again) despondent lyricism. Often it’s ripped from a rich Tarot card liturgy of Wiccan, Pagan and dark arts. At other times, it’s heartfelt, sad and crushing.

Musically continuing a signature sound of both industrial and post-punk synth singles and more experimental soundscape passages, Vukovar can sometimes soar with New Romantic dreaminess and allure. The opening trudge, ‘There Must Be More Heaven Than This’, balances the introductory spindly guillotined piano wire dance of something approaching hope with a menacing military tattoo of Teutonic ghosts and a morose of throbbing daemons and strained plaints, on a song that sounds like a communion of Death In June and Coil. The very next aura sees OMD on a downer, crying despair on the shoulders of Numan’s Tubeway Army and The Go-Betweens. Dan seems vocally shadowed by a higher aria like apparition on a track that screams single potential: And what do you know, it is. The album’s first of two such singles in fact – the B–sides don’t appear on the album, so that’s some more fresh material to catch-up with. This is the “neu-pop” in Vukovar’s sound; one that swings between an embrace of dark melodious pop and a more morbidly curious strain of experimentation. A musical landscape steeped in esoteric pilgrimages to the underworld, through portals into the ether and apocalyptic wastelands. This same landscape varies in its degrees of bleakness, with piques of Gothic heroism and candid anthems of vulnerability allowing some kind of light.

Songs like ‘A Danse Macabre’ strip it all away for a pitying soulful voice, cooing over a metallic arpeggiator and hiss of white noise rain, whilst other tracks, like the denser mono-like self-referential ‘Vukovar (The Double Cross)’, offer wooed lament in a ghostly veil of the Pale Fountains, Kate Bush and Martin Dupont. One of the most surprising unholy orders is the pastoral haunted ‘In A Year Of 13 Moons’, which reimagines Warren Ellis in collaboration with the Hifiklub, performing in Wender’s 80s Berlin.

A devilish work; a full-on enigmatic experience of Gothic soul and pop, Vukovar’s latest overhaul, refresh still maintains a connection with past triumphs, yet seems even more heavenly, strung out in the void of wide-eyed despair. Honed to a point and as curious as ever in skulking the inferno and dank specter of preening cloaked magik, this album offers a therapeutic release for its creators (and perhaps us); for it is a murky but resigned romantic escape that by timely accident marks the stresses, uncertainty of the pandemic. The statuesque Greek mythological vague connection entitled eighth album in the Vukovar cycle is another imaginative totem from a band with little sign of flagging; the ideas just keep flowing down the cerebral canal that resembles the River Styx.

With the loss of Morris it can only be conjuncture as to what the future could have sounded like, and in what direction the band would have moved. And this is a worthy elegiac to a presence that, by the sounds of it, continues to inspire.

The Colossalist I’m glad to confirm is another quality expansive work of art from one of the country’s most criminally underrated bands. Not that validation is needed; this (in the words of Brian ‘Bordello’ Shea) should be all over the bloody radio. And if you don’t agree with my enthusiasm for this album, there will be another one along very soon.  

See also…

Vukovar ‘Cement & Cerement’  (here…)

‘Cremator’  (here…)

‘Monument’  (here…)

‘Infinitum’ Premiere (here…)

Rick Clarke ‘The Great Immurement’ Serialization  (here…)

Dan Shea (Guest Post) ‘Notes from the Psychiatric Underground, or Why I Miss Simon Morris’  (here…)

Dan Shea’s Lockdown Jukebox  (here…)

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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