Premiere
Words: Dominic Valvona




Invested with the powers of the Zion cosmological, the afflatus Norwich-based troubadour of psychedelic folk and gospel liturgy John Johanna turned Judaic augurs into a sublime songbook of post-punk, dub, indie, and Krautrock on his most recent, and well-received, LP Seven Metal Mountains. Using the mountain allegories and metaphors, as laid down by Noah’s grandfather in the vision-dream-revelatory Book Of Enoch as inspiration, Johanna crafted a gospel-raga-blues and Radio Clash prescient Biblical work of art.

The latest single/video to be released from that fine album, ‘Prodigal Son’, arrives just before Johanna’s next performance, supporting alongside the Ursa Major Moving Group ensemble, Faith & Industry labelmates Champagne Dub at the Folklore in Hackney.

The most swimmingly wavy and translucent undulated soulful psych-synth – with just the most vague tinges of South America and Africa – cooing track from that album, ‘Prodigal Son’ is, as the title makes clear, inspired by the atavistic parable. If you need a quick recap on that old adage, it goes something like this:

A father has two sons. The younger son asks the father for his inheritance, and the father grants his son’s request. However, the younger son is prodigal (i.e., wasteful and extravagant) and squanders his fortune, eventually becoming destitute. The younger son is forced to return home empty-handed and intends to beg his father to accept him back as a servant. To the son’s surprise, he is not scorned by his father but is welcomed back with celebration and fanfare. Envious, the older son refuses to participate in the festivities. The father tells the older son “you are ever with me, and all that I have is yours, but thy younger brother was lost and now he is found”

The neo-colourful stop-motion paper cuts sequenced video that accompanies it was created by Studio Kissu, a London based French creative studio. They explain the motivation, themes and methodology thus:

“I wanted to make something joyful and colourful to illustrate love between beloved in a family, and I played with abstraction as the idea of leaving and find yourself somewhere else. I used words to illustrate the strong feelings of missing home while geometry comes to draw the sadness, illustrating human being facing their limit and finding strength in love”.

John Johanna says “ I am overjoyed with Studio Kissu’s video for ‘Prodigal Son’. It far exceeds the bounds of my own visual imagination but I couldn’t have hoped for a more sympathetic treatment of the song! It’s a haunting, strange and delightful exploration of the meanings in the lyric”.




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ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona



John Johanna ‘Seven Metal Mountains’
(Faith & Industry) 19th July 2019


‘And the mountains which thine eyes have seen,

The mountain of iron, and the mountain of copper, and the mountain of silver,

And the mountain of gold, and the mountain of soft metal, and the mountain of lead,

All these shall be in the presence of the Elect One.
As wax: before the fire.’

 

With afflatus fervor Norfolk-based artist John Johanna transduces the mountain allegories and metaphors as laid down by Noah’s grandfather in the vision-dream-revelatory Book Of Enoch into a gospel-raga-blues and Radio Clash prescient Biblical cosmology. Interrupted from Enoch’s visits to the heavenly realms – where, as Johanna’s Strummer fronts Wah! Heat, Gothic redemption goer ‘Standing At The Gates Of Love’ takes its title from, you will find a no-nonsense angel guarding the Pearly Gates with a flaming sword in hand – the Seven Metal Mountains metallurgy passage is as much an augur as observed proclamation. Used here as a frame for Johanna’s second visionary album of spiritual nutrition in a Godless age for the always brilliant Faith & Industry label, the dour liturgy of Judaic tradition and law inspires a message of forewarning and yearns for less materialistic avarice: The actual verset golden anointed title-track that closes this album fashions a pastoral English church vision of the more angelic communal Popol Vuh, and has a certain ray of optimism musically as Johanna croons “when love sets us free.”

In the same mode are the faux-reggae gait, loose but driving anthemic recent single (as featured on the Monolith Cocktail last month) ‘Children Of Zion’, the regal tabla meets Matmos producing Wendy Carlos going Elizabethan processional psychedelic ‘In The Court Of King David’, and the sashaying Malian esoteric trip ‘The New Jerusalem’: Hebrew history and mysticism, and those good ol’ “Babylon is falling” and Tower Of Babel tropes, as overcooked so often in the Dub and Reggae realms, used to great effect as a prescient reminders of our own impending doom.

Even that Babylon titan, scourge of the Judean people, King Nebuchadnezzar gets a seat at the table of rich Biblical imagery and song; the antagonist of the propulsive Sensations Fix fronted by Robyn Hitchcock raga ode to the Coptic triumvirate of passages ‘Songs Of Three’. The longest reigning, all-conquering King of lore, plays a most pivotal part of the history of the Jews of course, having laid siege to the Judah seat of power in Jerusalem, carrying off much of the population into Babylonian captivity – though in kind, the aggrandized Persian King, Cyrus The Great, would take Nebuchadnezzar’s lavish and impressive capital in the sixth century BC, freeing the Jewish population, and allowing them to return back home.

But this is an album that also explores those atavistic Holy Land offerings as translated by various cultures: from Ethiopia to the American Deep South. For example, the George Harrison deft guitar peddling, reed bank gospel soul ‘Deep River’ is an interpretation of the African-American spiritual lament of the same name; Johanna keeping the original yearning for escape from bondage (as inspired by the Jews own enslavements in Babylon and Egypt) lyrics – made famous in the 1929 film Show Boat, and given an even greater gravitas by the booming baritone of Paul Robeson – but honing a congruous new accompaniment. Johanna also sets the Elizabethan-age “idiomatic” psalms of Archbishop Matthew Parker, as put to music by the courtly composer Thomas Tallis, on the bathed in glory Western soundtrack rhapsody ‘Parker Tallis Version’: Imagine Richard Hawley crooning over a Jack Nitzsche does a Ennio Morricone score.

The gospels according to John Johanna (and friends of course, with the prolific and in-demand Capitol K once more on production, and The Comet Is Coming drummer Betamax and Seafoxes’ Karina Zakri both making guest appearances) offer love and caution, not fire-and-brimstone: As the PR spill mentioned, a congruous bedfellow would be PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake. Johanna’s Seven Metal Mountains translates Biblical prophecy marvelously into a vivid eclectic songbook of protestation post-punk, indie, folk, psych and lilting Krautrock.




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