Our Daily Bread 523: Vukovar ‘The Body Abdicator’

June 14, 2022

ALBUM REVIEW
Dominic Valvona

Vukovar ‘The Body Abdicator’
(Other Voices Records) 25th June 2022

For a band already in a state of decay at the outset, always about to implode, it seems remarkable that Vukovar have reached their tenth album proper. Candid malcontent, chthonian pain and neo-new-romanticism stoke up discourse aplenty within the ranks of this constantly evolving, expanding but also decreasing group. Absolving themselves of all responsibility, but for more serious than their depreciative candour of encouraging failure, Vukovar remains on the precipice of self-destruction.

However, staying the course, founding member and antagonist Rick Clarke remains at the helm alongside his foil Dan Shea. Although falling out at various times during the last seven years, they’ve both come together again to mark the final part of the Eternity Ends Here Triptych of works: yet another rebirth, death/life commitment and struggle aggrandized into a triplet arc of albums.

Still in the throes of both the agony and ecstasy, and still wearing black for their late mentor/collaborator Simon Morris, Vukovar light the funeral pyre in his honour. Morris, the feted and fateful underground music figure, former instigator of The Ceramic Hobs, went missing on December the 7th 2019. His body was found in the River Wyre two weeks later. Such tragic ends have consequences to those that are left behind. His presence is always there; his influence suffused and writ large, sometimes referenced, and at other times, more recondite.

A grave loss that has set the precedent for an ‘obsessive memorial’, elegiac atmospheres, pain and cathartic cries encircle a minor opus that looks to the seraph’s light whilst navigating the mulch and miasma of a decaying underbelly. Oh yes, because even in the despondency of the fog, angels and celestial bodies encourage the band to soar.

More occult than Gothic, the music on The Body Abdicator is filled with helpless and yet also hard-fought poetic romanticism: it’s as if Death In June and Coil had let synth-pop soul music into their hearts. Beautiful lyrics, cathedrals of light no less fall from the parchment. The language of the arcane, of Blake, Dante and countless other romantics and cult figures across time are summoned forth into a new age of anxiety.

It should come as no surprise to find both Rick and Dan are authors of a kind; both contributing over the years to the Monolith Cocktail with Dan’s Jukebox series and an incredible testament to the late Morris, and Rick, serialising his salacious occult novel The Great Immurement, which went on to inform the band’s album of the same name. The artwork incidentally for that serialisation was drawn by the feted illustrator Andrzej Klimowski, who now also provides the cover for this latest album.

All kinds of love, from the unrequited to the unspoken (until now) to the higher purposed is alluded to; lost in more gray synthesized lingered passages and cold wave but positively yearning and escaping on those numbers that could be singles (the ‘Little Lights’ part of the opening couplet, and almost theatrical New Order symphony of pop, ‘Place To Rest’).

Because Vukovar have released so much material in a relatively short time period, familiar tunes, signatures are repeated. In fact, The Body Abdicator could be said to reconnect with their debut album Emperor, from 2015, and the early collection of cover versions, Fornication. Some of this could possibly be down to the involvement of Phil Reynolds, who manages to always corral the various fractions and less agreeable parties and produce some of the band’s most melodious, esoteric post-punk moments. Phil’s wife and artist, singer in her own right, Marie sang and soared on the Emperor album, and here she is now, breathing diaphanous life and ethereal harmonies into the glitter death absolution of ‘Place To Rest’, an absolute gem of a track, and album highlight.

Another returning guest, daddies little heathen, Gea Philes whispers and hushes cryptic child-like but sinister words on the first part of the already mentioned opening salvo ‘Little Death/Little Lights’. The Chilean-born multimedia artist has produced artwork and directed an avatar-starring video for Momus, but is also well know on the occult circuit for creating cute erotica-esoteric illustrations. Philes is just one of many from an often-serial cast of cult figures drawn into the Vukovar vortex, past acolytes of their form being Michael Cashmore, Holly Hero and Rose McDowall.

The Chilean specter at the feast also appears in Ono via Phew mode on the final curtain call, ‘Those First Impressions’. A transmogrification of The Associates original, Billy MacKenzie’s idiosyncratic vocal talents are replaced by a Kenneth Anger echoing vision of a leftfield rock ‘n’ roll crooner: half Elvis, half Charlie Megira. It proves a both elegiac and Fortean Times-tuned supernatural vapourous homage, yet also a matter-of-fact deliberation on the death of Morris, who’s become a sort of death-mask muse for the band, unable to move on completely, or, unwilling to give up on his inspiration.  

Caught in a limbo of religious architectural devices, somber despondency and destructive alienation, Vukovar balance a glorious epoch of 80s musical influences with brutalism and juddering dark arts. Atmospherically ‘Emptying Tide (From An Occult Diary)’ leans towards Coil and their ilk. The empyreal waits from the more earthly proscenium as apparitions yearn about rebirth. Lyrical slogans like “Destroy yourself” and “whatever comes next will be better” sound far less sagacious and helpful when dragged through a despairing climate of fear and revulsion.

The totem drum beat of a hallucinogenic, knowing seedy Jesus And Mary Chain join Soft Cell, OMD, Alan Vega, early Tears For Fears, Modern English, The The and Pale Fountains across the dreamy lamentable ‘Throughstreams’, the bittersweet but beautiful, softened growled ‘The Sheltering Sky’, and the gauzy ghost town ‘This Will Absolve Me’.

As is often the case, band member’s separate projects, uncoupling’s, are absorbed into the Vukovar fabric. Sometime member Buddy alongside Dan Shea had a promising cult-synth pop yearn duo called Beauty Stab. Their ‘O Eden’ track was reconfigured and covered on Vukovar’s last album. And throughout this latest record’s more polished, melodious and almost anthemic tracks that amalgamated Vince Clarke, New Order, Joy Division vibe can be heard powering the esoteric misery towards poptastical heights and a sense of release. Vukovar sound better when they soar than wallow, and they may just have taken my advice on some of the more stellar driving tracks.

Frustrating on so many occasions, signing their own death certificate as they approach a gallows stage of their own making, this bloody Balkan massacre named group stage yet another funeral. Yet it feels like there is hope; like there’s a lot of love in there. This album is yet another ritual in which they can reconfigure and move through the eternal Vukovar cult of rebirth. What is a creative but also an emotive necessity, The Body Abdicator doesn’t extinguish that flame, but merely adds more fuel to a morbid curiosity.

Rightful heirs to the occult sounds, to existential synth glory, they should be at least vying for room, attention in the gilded banquet halls of magical despair and dark romanticism, yet remain relatively obscure. This could yet be the group’s final dissolution, though rumours are bound that there is yet more to come and yet another reinvention. If it is the end, then they’ve burnt out on perhaps one of their most accomplished testaments yet; an album that is drawn both towards the light and darkness, and that balances the more experimental illusions with the most brilliant effective cold wave pop.

Further Reading:::

The Vukovar Cannon As Featured On The Monolith Cocktail:

2021: The Great Immurement (here)

2020: Cement & Cerement  (here)

2020: The Colossalist’  (here)

2019: Cremator (here)

2018: Monument (here)

2018: Infinitum (here)

2017: Puritan (here)

2017: The Clockwork Dance  (here)

2017: Fornication  (here)

2015: Emperor  (here)

Also…

Rick Clarke’s The Great Immurement

Opening Chapters (here)

Parts 4-6 (here)

Parts 7-9 (here)

Parts 10-12 (here)

Parts 13-15 (here)

Parts 16-18 (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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