John 3:16 ~ עשר

Few recording artists make it through their first decade, and even fewer remain relevant during that time.  One way to buck the trend is to have a distinctive niche and sound.  For John 3:16, this means a Scriptural basis, an apocalyptic lean and a brand of post-rock that borrows from The Cure.  The title is the Hebrew word for “ten.”

As mentioned in prior writing about John 3:16 (Philippe Gerber), it’s great to have a Biblical take that is neither saccharine nor screamo.  When tackling such subjects, lesser artists are either too careful not to offend or too careful to offend, either clearly religious or clearly anti-religious.  The artist may take his name from the New Testament’s most famous text (held aloft at sporting events), yet he plumbs the Scriptures for their depth of power rather than for their sermon-producing capacity. As such, עשר is a soundtrack that by its very existence becomes part of the “living word,” despite the fact that apart from a few spoken samples (“I Am the Alpha …”) it uses no words.

From the very beginning the listener is plunged into a world of prophetic urgency.  “The Sun Shall Be Turned Into Darkness” bleeds the thickness of a swarm of locusts, while tossing listeners back to The Cure’s Disintegration.  Consider this a cross between such music, shoegaze and literal doom metal (as the entire album is about doom).  The pace of these tracks is slow, yet inexorable.  Not until “The Holy Mountain” does the pace quicken.  But the album also flows like the River of Life (another Scriptural reference and the name of another track), serving as a reminder that not all are doomed; there is in fact a way through the fire.  Given the fact that the album is three hours long, it would make a perfect score to a home reading of the book of Revelation.

A perhaps unintentional side effect of the music’s length is its ability to conjure feelings of reflection, and possibly even remorse.  In religious terms, the next step would be repentance.  As one sinks into the music, one is carried on waves of guitar deep into an apocalyptic night, what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.”  Or perhaps it is no coincidence; after all, the album is released on Maundy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper, of betrayal, denial and prayer.  This is the night on which Christ is arrested ~ the following day he hangs on the cross for three hours, the length of this album.  And while we’re not suggesting that this is music to accompany the crucifixion, its inner turmoil might accompany the despair of Peter after the cock crows.

Disregard the foreboding cover and put aside your fear of apocalyptic texts (which include not only Revelation, but Mark 13 and the book of Judith).  Even in the midst of Disintegration, Robert Smith found light; and Gerber does the same here.  “Appolyon” is a free-flowing piece whose percussion is more likely to inspire trance-like dancing than weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Album highlight “Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand Angels” benefits from crisper mastering and a louder drum setting than prior tracks.  Initially slated to headline an EP, it was previously available only on YouTube.

The set’s unofficial subtitle is “B Sides and Unreleased.”  This is a lot of solid material for any artist, and it’s surprising to note its consistent quality.  The digital bonus material offers alternate takes and rarities, but nothing is a throwaway.  It also includes the album’s longest track, an extended version of 2016’s “The Burnt Tower.”  Three minutes longer than the original, it eliminates the long introduction, greatly reduces the coda and concentrates on creating a feeling of sustained drama.  There are also four tracks short enough to be singles, although we suspect they will never exist as such; this isn’t music for those sorts of masses.  “The Fountain of Life” comes closest; it’s the catchiest track of the batch.  Once again, mastering makes one track surge from the speakers, as “I Am the Light of the World, The Truth Shall Make You Free” makes its initial impact through volume; yet such is to be expected given the ten-year span of these selections.  A happy tenth anniversary to John 3:16, and best wishes for the next ten if the world doesn’t end before then.  (Richard Allen)

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