The book of Job is said to be the oldest book of the Bible, which in its current form is not presented in chronological order. This also makes it the earliest Judeo-Christian attempt to answer the question, “Why does God permit suffering?” Some have condemned the book’s seemingly bludgeoning answer, while others have found great consolation in its pages. Job may suffer as we suffer, but his trials are worse than most will ever have to endure.
The quick story: God and Satan make a bet that Job will not curse God even if things go horribly wrong. In the course of a day, Satan smites Job’s family, destroys his possessions and gives him a terrible skin disease. His friends come to visit, and at first are so shocked that they can do nothing but sit beside him in silence. Then they insist that Job must have done something wrong to deserve his disaster. Job remains inconsolable. He insists that he is blameless, and demands an answer from God. Finally God speaks to Job, asking, “Where were you when I made the world?”. Job “repents in sackcloth and ashes”, confessing that he should never have tried to speak of things beyond his understanding.
An additional ending (not in the original manuscripts) mutes Job’s suffering, as God rewards Job’s perseverance by returning twice what he has lost. This neutering works against what may be the story’s main point: that Job simply wanted to know that God still existed, and was rewarded for his search. In his book God, Jack Miles posits that God is embarrassed by the paucity of his answer and subsequently retreats, assigning his future messages to angels and prophets. This fanciful reading ignores the fact that the manuscript is so old; in order for the theory to make sense, the book of Job would need historical placement after the Torah.
MB + ICS (Maurizio Bianchi + Andrea Ferraris) have produced a sonic document that reflects the trials of Job, without the happy ending. The gurgles of the title track sound like the shards Job uses to scrape his sores; the bleak, deserted passageways of the album match the sparse, unforgiving desert. Vir-Uz is a lonely album, a desolate, detached and joyless suite that hints at understanding but produces only humility. A bell rings from time to time, but for no one; it’s just a bell. And yet, the very fact that the album has been produced – the winds allowed to blow, the insect buzzes to intrude – testifies that the artists have been inspired by Job’s struggle. Against all opponents, seen and unseen, Job goes on: his anger and confusion become his bread. By the end, he is transformed, honed, renewed, although possibly unsatisfied. Still, in a strange way, he has been blessed.
The horror of Job’s condition is reflected in the album’s steadily growing drones. As the recording progresses, it becomes more immediate, mirroring the early stages of grief. The lonely, inhospitable tones of the middle tracks mirror the ineffective response of Job’s friends; in this, he is truly on his own. The rustlings found in the fourth minute of “Turmentaj Abscesoj” seem like those of a man unable to find comfort, or the stalkings of an unseen enemy. A choral hint emerges at the album’s center, intimating that some comfort may be near. Crunching distortion seeks to crush this modest hope. Organ tones and static shear suggest the arrival of the Almighty; this combination is a laudable attempt to score the unknowable. And then a fragile peace emerges: the border between knowing and not-knowing, presence and absence, God and not-God: the sublime in-between. In this place, Job will need to rest for the remainder of his life. MB + ICS do well to allow this moment to expand, instead of offering insertions, fake reassurances, Disney endings. Sometimes the struggle is all we have, and without it we remain undefined. Vir-Uz remembers the importance of the unresolved, and is more honest as a result. (Richard Allen)