The recent retirement of Robert Fripp, the guitarist and leader of King Crimson, has left a considerable – and somewhat unexpected – void in the musical world, as he was still a guest performer on numerous recordings even though he’d effectively been forced to end his touring days in order to devote his time to reclaiming the vast sums owed to him due to succession of changes in record company ownership and management. A tip to any musician still looking for that major-label deal: spend a couple of hours trawling through Fripp’s online diary to see how lawyers and accountants will obfuscate and filibuster to avoid actually paying any royalties, and how it has a direct effect on the creative life of an artist. Then, maybe, do it yourself, as Márcio da Cunha has.
With Fripp now devoting his time away from the guitar, there’s a definite gap in the market for a player with a similar sound, and as luck would have it, the Portuguese da Cunha is just the man for the job. Operating as the one man unit Locust of the Dead Earth, he captures not only the sound of Fripp on several tracks here, but also the attitude, combining the rockier elements of latter King Crimson with the more ambient side of Fripp’s introspective Soundscapes work that alienated Joe Satriani fans the world over. But da Cunha has more in his arsenal than that particular sound, and there are nods to Stephen O’Malley-style drone in several places, such as the opening of “A Legion Following a Shepherd With No Eyes”; perhaps having the word ‘Earth’ in the band name is a bit of a clue to the Locust’s influences too.
Mithridate is an impressively varied work, with da Cunha adding organ, drum machine and ghostly vocals to tracks to provide a touch more dimension and depth to the otherwise guitar-focused arrangements. Also, and arguably more importantly, he doesn’t get carried away with showing off his playing skills with solos or needlessly noodly passages; this is guitar music that’s about the music, not the player’s abilities. As a result, it is a worthy heir to Fripp’s output, as it shares a similar approach to the role of the musician as conduit and is full of invention and surprises (check out the double-speed rhythm of “Nails” for example). Da Cunha’s quite the versatile artist, given the differences between this and his previous record as Mandrax Icon which is a convincingly gruff take on Americana. On this evidence, Márcio is a one-man record label roster; so long as he stays clear of the bean counters at Universal, he should do just fine. (Jeremy Bye)