Only in the digital age might a Philadelphia drone artist find a home for a new album in Japan, but that’s what happened to JOHN 3:16, whose team-up with Anthony Donovan is available on CD in Japan and on iTunes everywhere. It’s encouraging to think that good music will find a home, even if it’s not the expected one.
JOHN 3:16 (Philippe Gerber) has always straddled the line between good and evil, which is most apparent in the contrast between his nom-de-plume and his dark-edged music. The addition of Donovan brings the sound further to the dark side, as guttural and often gibbering voices rend the garments of the mix. These incursions are like unexorcised demons, railing at their godly tormentors. The first can be heard in the background of “Strand Apart”, straining at the chains while a second, pained voice penetrates the foreground. By the end of “La facteur de la verite”, it’s all-out protest, spitting and wrenching and angry distortion. While these moments are few, they dominate the tone of the album, whose very title suggests witchcraft and something that seems like witchcraft, but isn’t; one thinks of Moses’ miracles being copied by temple magicians.
Donovan does more than vocalize, of course; like Gerber, he contributes guitar, bass, keyboard and percussion. The latter tends to be of a ritualistic nature, as befits the theme. One imagines cultish, hooded figures passing in shadows, trailed by tendrils of smoke. The breakdown of “Orphite and Orphan” offers something stranger, more Cthulhulian in nature, a tangled mass of electronic tentacles that thrashes around, as if bursting blindly from an enchanted mirror. This leads to the longest and finest track, “Prolegomena”, whose title likely refers to Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Present Itself as a Science. Like Kant’s work, the track takes a while to set up its salient points before bounding into the grounded. For the first few minutes, the click is the loudest sound, while the guitars practice polemics in the distance, preparing to make their move. A screech announces the shift, and then the track becomes a toppling Tower of Babel. The pure instrumental thrust creates a wall of impression, freeing the mind to think beyond the confines of the notes. Only in the final minute does a bleeding voice attempt to break through the cacophony, but it’s too late; the languages have been scattered. The chaos that follows in its wake is a natural outgrowth of this destruction. (Richard Allen)