Jarboe returns with ‘The Cut of the Warrior’ (album stream & review)
The year 2018 was pretty solid for thought-provoking, metal-adjacent artists of all stripes -- especially from female-led projects. From Emma Ruth Rundle’s drone folk, Anna von Hausswolff’s neoclassical darkwave, and Puce Mary’s industrial hellscapes, to the psychedelic jazz of Lonker See, Esben, the Witch’s ethereal post-rock, and even Marissa Nadler’s gothic pop -- they all received (and deserved) attention from fans of the dark arts.
It is likewise fitting that the year culminates with a new release from Jarboe as she was likely an influence on most, if not all, of the musicians above. Her decade spent in the legendary experimental band Swans thawed the brutality of the band’s earlier material, adding texture and nuance to the experimental New York group. Although her contributions to the reformed group has been limited to some vocals on 2012’s The Seer, she has an extensive catalogue of solo releases and collaborations with the likes of Neurosis, Justin Broadrick (Godflesh/Jesu), and Helen Money (cellist who worked with Yakuza and Russian Circles) and released a 2013 solo album Arriving Angels on Profound Lore.
The body of work is formidable and expansive as she uncompromisingly followed her muse.
The overarching theme of Jarboe's latest release The Cut of the Warrior, released today, is Chöd, a Buddhist spiritual practice where a practitioner uses ritualistic meditation to cut through the ego, hence the title. According to Wikipedia, “the Chöd practitioner seeks to tap the power of fear through activities such as rituals set in graveyards.” The album would actually sound pretty good in a cemetery, especially on a breezeless day where one could serenely excogitate life while among the lifeless.
The release encompasses four songs, each of which is credited with Jarboe for all lyrics, vocals, and instrumentation. Three of the songs have alternative mixes that flesh out what could have been an EP into a full-length release.
“Wayfaring Stranger in The Bardo” is set to solemn organ chords which, along with her hushed, breathy chants come off as a church hymnal with just enough dissonance to seem out of place at Sunday service. It is adapted from “The Wayfaring Stranger,” a gospel/folk song that dates back to the early 19th Century. Johnny Cash did a dark, haunting version of the track in 2000 -- in his version he is going to see his mother, but in Jarboe’s take, she doesn’t reveal the destination… the safe money is it doesn’t matter.
Members of perplexing avant garde project End Christian remix the song. This version removes most of Jarboe’s lyrics, relegating her vocals to a droning sigh that is underlain beneath extra keys and samples. If Chöd is often practiced in graveyards, this one is 20,000 leagues under the sea at the scene of an ancient shipwreck, with eerie pulses slowly drifting through the murky depths.
The Buddhists consider the term “Karuṇā” to mean compassion. Jarboe turns the track of the same name into a meditative calliope of sorts; the keyboards could be from a carnival in a dream while she screams softly and chants loudly a few simple words: “Om. God. Karuna. If you call her she will come.” In other hands, it could be whimsical, but not here. It seems oddly foreboding. Perhaps compassion takes a lot of work.
Ambient duo Byla, made up of Colin Marston (Dysrhythmia , Krallice) and Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia, Gorguts, The Sabbath Assembly), worked with Jarboe on 2008’s MahaKali, and they return to remix “Karuṇā.” Ironically, it is likely the least metallic thing on the album, with lush keyboards owing more to darkwave than anything else.
“Feast” is the only cut which stands alone without an alternate take. It also stands out as the closest thing that The Cut of the Warrior has to a single. It runs less than four minutes and has more lyrics than the rest of the album combined. Jarboe practically speaks them on a breathy manner while a drum machine lightly but sternly creates a somewhat industrial backdrop. This stands out on an album that seems far more organic than mechanical.
Meanwhile, “GodGoddess” seems more genial, with what sounds like a harpsichord churning beneath looped vocals. The alternative mix by Kris Force, the San Francisco-based violinist who has added strings to several Neurosis albums, is surprisingly minimalistic. It closes the album with thirty seconds of gradually increased static, which is actually a perfect way to end the release, as if rousing the listener after an hour of contemplative medication.
Jarboe's The Cut of the Warrior is out now via Translation Loss Records. Jarboe just played some rare shows in support of the new album, including one at Market Hotel in NYC. Check out some photos from that in the gallery below:
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