The Maledictions - Taking Up Serpents - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Maledictions - Taking Up Serpents

by Rob Taylor Rating:9 Release Date:2018-11-06
The Maledictions - Taking Up Serpents
The Maledictions - Taking Up Serpents

‘Taking up serpents’ is all about confronting your demons in the most direct way. ‘Demons’ are not corporeal. They can’t be literally confronted, they are illusory in a sense, but real emotionally and figuratively.

On the other hand, if you’re not into self-reflection, and you want to be literal, and give darkness a name, well go ahead and call it the Devil. Pentecostals literally took the gospel at its word and encouraged one another to handle live rattlesnakes for instance. Or be condemned to hell. This is self-evidently conceited and literally stupid, but I’m a big supporter of natural selection, and I think Kevin Orton of The Maledictions might be as well.

Orton isn’t looking for anyone or anything to provide absolution or penance. He looks inwardly on Taking Up Serpents, and lets music be his confessional. Gothic American folk music deconsecrated for your listening pleasure. Orton may be raising the hairs of the holy ghost but that ghost is the music’s passive servant. The febrile screams and alpha drumming on the title track punch the demon’s lights out and pave the way to more hedonistic desires. Unlike Lift to Experience’s frightening first testament allegories, Orton’s imagery is the torn limbs of mankind’s violent confrontation with itself, rather than fear of a higher power’s judgement. He is like the Sam Peckinpah of music. A mixture of the cognitive and the visceral. Let's not forget he's a great music writer as well.

The music on Taking Up Servants waivers between boisterous rock ‘n’ roll, Cramps and Gun Club style (‘Killer Inside’), bittersweet and haunting little folk lullabies (‘Black Iris’), and feral Americana. ‘Black Iris’ is a standout for me. Orton has a baritone voice similar to that of Nick Cave, but unlike Cave, adapts it with greater success to folk balladry. He may not have quite the menacing growl of Cave but man, he can swoon. ‘Black Iris’ is wonderfully complemented by the misty vocals of Suzanne Keizer and Erin Moon, redolent of another era, another world even. The guitar playing on the album is clever, snaky (to keep with the theme) and almost conversational, augmenting and virtually shadowing the mood of the songs.

Orton’s long term friend, Andrew Townsend co-wrote the album and plays electric guitar. Suzanne Keizer plays some fabulous steel guitar on ‘Love & Gold’. Andre Fratto plays theremin, bass, drums, guitar, and piano, and also did the string arrangements.

The song that is most personal to Orton is ‘Twilight’, The soft glow of intermediate light may connote solace, calmness, and reflection, but it also static and flat. There is no celestial ray of light which can magically beam happiness upon us. So, we make our inquiries inwardly and brace ourselves for the hard truths. Found a hollow place in my soul/filled it up with a god-shaped hole; ain't no hexing or backward spell gonna put out this little hell; light a candle for my sins/might as well piss in the wind.

Taking Up Servants does serve as some absolution through song, but there can never be true remission. No cancellation of personal debt. There is never one path to light, just as there is more than one path to darkness. The two are not polar extremes either. The demons are only ever displaced by something that is more tangible for the moment. ‘Kicking against the pricks’ on the song ‘Final Rain’ I think is a reference to the Greek proverb about a pointed piece of iron used to steer animals in the right direction. The harder you kick against the prick, the more it’s driven into your flesh.

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