Death In June: Peaceful Snow, NER, 2010
Peaceful Snow! In other words, piano and Douglas P.’s baritone voice – we can conclude in short and swift terms that this is the new album from the English band Death In June. The recording was made as a collaboration between Miro Snejdr, a Slovakian musician, and even more obscure “underground” artist, and the original founder of Death In June, Douglas Pearce. So thus, the band, which started in England in 1981, is now not only English but also Slovakian as well – at least in part on this new recording! We cannot see a photo of Miro Snejdr in the booklet. The black and white picture shows only his right hand with a tattoo on his skin of Death In June’s Whiphand 6 symbol and Douglas P.’s well-known motto: “It Is The Fate Of Our Age That We Fight In Isolation.”
The photo can be interpreted as a question of disappearance, or of hiding one’s body, identity, and its metamorphosis into art. According to Douglas P., who now lives in Australia, he has not even met Snejdr. They just sent the sound recordings to each other and recorded and mixed them in separate studios. The whole idea started when somebody sent a link of some YouTube videos of Miro’s piano-interpretations of the previous album The Rule of Thirds (2008) to Death In June’s Yahoo-group. On these we can only see and hear Miro’s hands playing the piano. Soon after that, the first 7” single came out with two new songs: the new album’s title track, Peaceful Snow and The Maverick Chamber. The first two piano-pieces may have surprised the fans of the band. Even though the previous album had low key instrumentation, thanks to the guitar-centric songs, it was much closer to the usual Death In June sound. In his recent interviews, Douglas P. states that his last two recordings represent the “Totenpop” genre. According to the band’s discography, we can describe Death In June’s musick as an ever changing flux: Pearce used to play punk in the group Crisis (1977–1980), after which he founded Death In June in 1981, with Patrick Leagas and fellow Crisis band member Tony Wakeford. In its first period, until 1985’s Nada!, they were into post-punk, combining industrial noises with new wave, semi-acoustic and mechanical sounds. Since then, DIJ’s albums have confused the fans fond of categorizing.
The new album is made with good taste, and it is against the imitators of DIJ’s style, against the expectations of the so called “Neofolk” bands and fans. The minimal effects are nowhere intrusive, they always appear in the right time and place, they question the uniformed genres and the idea that DIJ have became a band for relaxation. The definition of the genre named by Pearce is provoking: Totenpop ironically alludes to Totenkopf. This gives a richer dimension to the style which tempts the listener to use the historical background. This is one of the main characteristics of the band’s manipulation of symbols: to generate tension between different expectations of the listeners which are combating each other. The experience with the iconography of the new album is identical: we can see a figure in a uniform with a white, worn mask on black and white photos. The title of the song The Scents of Genocide is provoking in the same way, just as Rose Clouds of Holocaust, which evoked many debates in the past, or the band’s name, which can be interpreted both as a band member’s mishearing, or as a reference to The Night Of The Long Knives. DIJ does not fear subversive, repressed, banned contents. However, this devilish teasing is misleading, the listener forgets the other side of the whole, which is opposite to the easy labelling: the band’s art pieces are ruled by their own symbolic and poetic logic. Douglas P. is careful not to freeze the process of interpretation in his statements and in his art as well. According to the latest interviews, this is the reason we cannot find the lyrics of the new album. Douglas P. finds the possible new lyrics – and variations thereof – originating from certain pieces of mishearing – important. For example I heard the word “grieving” as “gravid” (derived from the Latin meaning pregnant) in the following part of the song Fire Feast: “When madness rains in this fire feast, and clarity does not come, I leave it up to my instincts, grieving sadness of the Sun, grieving madness of the Sun.”
The musical nature of Peaceful Snow is also open for different approaches: firstly, it recalls the romantic tradition of “lied”-compositions (vocals and small orchestra or just piano). The soft sound of piano gives fine shades to Douglas P.’s voice. The piano-melodies are thick, but played without virtuosity, full of repetitive solutions; they create a homogeneous sound material along with deep and emotional vocals. However, the background effects, the small noises of the distorted refrains on one hand alienate for moments. On the other hand they deepen the intimacy, which grows between the listener and the album. Besides romanticism, the music reminds me of the bar music of the early 20th Century. The “deviant lieder” could probably be heard in bars with S & M parties or in venues of some other subculture, where even one of the Douglas P.’s favourite authors, Jean Genet may have appeared. The main topics of the album are murder, history, “Europa”, madness, loss, desolation, isolation, loneliness, love and hate, transcendence and the imminence of death. In the band’s earlier period, a certain individual “heroism”, as represented in Yukio Mishima’s art, can be found. On the last two albums, it seems that the lyre of personal experience is more present, which resonates to the thought of passing over. One of the exceptions is the Red Odin Day, a song which alludes to ancient Anglo-Germanic mythology. The next line evokes hatred in a Pagan manner and not Christian morality: “Hatred is my best friend on Red Odin Day”. This “deviant lied” is followed by My Company of Corpses, which is much more intimate: its atmosphere is shaded by the melancholy originating from the loss of friendship. But Our Ghosts Gather brings out the sounds of confidence and hope, it consoles with the possibility of existence after death.
The continuous changes in genre seem to show that creation for Douglas P. is a never ending metamorphosis and an attempt at self-definition. Nietzsche in his Beyond Good and Evil writes: “Under conditions of peace the warlike man attacks himself.” As far as I am concerned, the songs of Peaceful Snow are fed with the fight of intro (and) retrospection. The interpretation of the past is constructed with the re-contextualisation of the frequent self-citation. Pearce often publishes his older materials in a new context (for a variety of reasons): with different instrumentation and occasionally rewritten lyrics. Besides the double 10” LP version on both picture disc and coloured vinyl the first 3000 copies of this recent album on CD consists of two CDs (or, with even more extra material on the USB version): the first CD contains the new songs, the second CD the piano reinterpretations of the old ones, without vocals. Miro Snejdr’s piano brings out the „doppelgängers” of the DIJ classics, puts their nature in a different light, and often dims the period-piece harshness of the originals. Just as in the case of reinterpretations of classic compositions by conductors, the swarm of ideas – filled with tiny fragments – are interesting here as well. Douglas P.’s baritone with a cold, icy atmosphere is replaced with the piano’s warm tone which is usually coloured by playful but not too ornamental phrases.
Peaceful Snow is an excellent art piece for those who are attracted to poetry and fine provoking aesthetics. No matter how much this new album is different from the previous albums one thing though has not changed: the face transforms but – the mask remains.