While I listened to Then It All Came Down, I read the interview it’s based on, a 1973 Truman Capote piece with Bobby Beausoleil, one of the Manson Family members who killed musician Gary Hinman in 1969. As I stopped every once in a while to process what both the text and the music were expressing, I started to feel an acute kind of dread, a mix of sadness and fear that bordered on the paranoid. It was a process of un-enlightenment, a slow and creepy movement towards despair that nonetheless had moments of sudden shifts in mood where light and dark did not clash but came together as one. It was an alchemical horror, an eerie psychedelic expansion of the mind that has left all traces of humanity behind, perverting the inherent idealism of transcending our material limits into an abyssal dream that knows nothing but the void of final, apocalyptic endings. By the time Beausoleil is cornered by Capote into speaking out of a shallow leap in logic, as he states that his terrible acts were good, I was hit with the worst of it, with one of the best ‘uses’ of metal I’ve ever heard – for a few minutes after it had ended, I became hopeless, and it hurt.
The album develops like a transition from light to dark, as if there was an ultimate fall, but there’s a lot happening at the level of details that hints at something not quite straightforward. The first third of the long piece starts out with an organ drone and guitar strumming, like a lost Rameses III track, eventually adding a bright chorus of women that comes into and out of the fore while the drone sets up a funeral undertone. There’s something strange about this reflection of an ascent, something that weighs it down, a tension that cannot be resolved because, after all, thinking traditionally all that heavenly beauty is not to be achieved in life; its promise of perfection necessitates a commitment to death, to the very end of times, for in this view of the divine there is no room for it to be human. So Beausoleil reveals along the interview, a twisted form of hippie revolt that comes to worship peace as stillness and love as cruelty, pushing its rebellion against Reason into a natural state that is not so much an ideal community of cooperation but a wasteland paradise of chosen ones as faithful servants of an irreversible march towards nothing.
The second third accordingly breaks out with black metal guitars as Leviathan’s vocalist roars: beneath the grand promise of aesthetic fulfilment lies an ugliness that flashes its teeth, that growls with hatred. And yet, as in the interview, it seems deluded to think of such hatred as hidden, as sinister, for it is fundamental to the view, to the vision, of this far-gone hippie keen on changing the world for what he thinks is something better, a ‘natural’ way, a ‘beautiful’ way, a ‘peaceful’ transcendence that, after having murdered, can look someone in the eye and sing a tune. If the Manson history is the wicked end-point of all those ideals (and all ideals have one of those), the work of Wrekmeister Harmonies in this album conveys the utter heartbreak such a thing produces, the desolation of a responsibility that says that we cannot simply wish these things away; it confronts the corruption with a collective effort (and what a collective!) that shows, above all, the emotional catastrophe that is Beausoleil’s cult of death, portraying its absolute nihilism as a very human tragedy. Of course, there is no ‘happy ending’, no recourse to a positivity as blunt and deceptive as its opposite subject matter, but by summoning a truly complex network of feelings the music overturns the simplicity (perhaps even the banality) of the murderer’s un-reason.
By the time the third part reaches its intensely quiet finale, something else becomes evident: these veteran metal musicians understand their craft deeply as an art of rage and sorrow, which aims for a negation of one-dimensionality and simple-mindedness. Then It All Came Down is, without doubt, an achievement, an album that flows with ideas and emotions that drive the source material into a powerful artistic statement on aspects of humanity that are usually evaded for fear of the painful realization that we have an infinite potential for horror as much as for good. (David Murrieta)