Eldritch light on tales of Northern rumble - a conversation with Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead - IN SEARCH OF SPACE #134


“Why doest thou hide thyself in clouds
From every searching eye?
Why darkness and obscurity
In all thy words and laws
So that none dare eat the fruit but from
The wily serpent’s jaws”
Excerpt from To Nobodaddy by William Blake

Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead were real, as I grew up I’d been told stories of a band called Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead but never really believed them. I began to have strange dreams, visions of a towering, impossibly thin man who took… skin… and brought with him behind him always a great and terrible rumbling like the sullen grumbling of some unfathomable darkness. Under discussion I discovered a lot of my friends had had similarly nightmarish visions, which only became worse under the influence of psychoactive drugs. Then we discovered a new band, the Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead. We had all heard, we had all understood, and we had all gone slightly mad with the horror of it all. We had all heard the stories as children, as young men we had all read the Necronomicon and thought we had understood it. We fancied ourselves that we could imagine the land beyond, that we could envision Leng. It wasn’t until Leng was conjured before me and I went there, from a basement under Auld Reekie’s damp and dusky time-worn cobbles under gibbous moon, on waves of Melvinite grumbling amplified to the sound of the sun tearing apart, channelled through three men, their instruments and a sea of fine Scots malt bong water, it wasn’t until one night that I realised exactly what Leng was… that it was a horror beyond imagining. Nothing, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing the unknowable, of Leng, of Innsmouth, of Dunwich, to see that placid island of ignorance in the black seas of infinity for what it was, to understand that there are horrors out there beyond the snows and over the mountains impossible for the human mind to sanely comprehend. On a hazy crashing tide of psychoactive distortion, and by printing in the infernal method; by taking the audience apart, tearing and mangling in a fiendish and unspeakable fashion, that they have not yet done; but Jackal Headed Guard of the Dead have taken us to Leng; I observed such an occurrence, towards the end of the set as the plateau was reached, I observed behind the band a vast spectral Viking ship crewed by ghosts sailing in the infinite vastness of space, except the single man at the helm, who appeared to be alive… and pointing behind me and screaming. ‘Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!’ With a shrillness and look in his eyes that was immediately distressing. As with Edinburgh doom Of Spire and Throne, after each listen I fall into reluctant and fitful slumber and have strange vivid apocalyptic dreams, of nightmarish lightning crashing all about me, of beings coming from the stars and waging unholy wars upon man, of horrors that before Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead were beyond the imaginings of man, but now in my nightmares made flesh.

Only intoxication could soothe my troubled mind, so I turned in the threshold and retired to the bar, where we would wait for the Lovecraftian Leng summoners to appear. We had no way of knowing, but there was a tangible sense that even from this distance, we would simply know. All at once we decided to renew ourselves and make for the venue, perhaps the Cthulhu rumble had not yet commenced and we would be able to steady ourselves against it better from within. Upon reaching the threshold there was the most almighty racket, a loathesome night-spawned flood of corrupted organics, men reduced to ratlike scuttling jabbering daemons in the wave of this horror, the tavern was exploding with leprous horror. It came to us to hold the line against the tides of maddening din being pumped out of the back room. Inside the mist was thin, and the violence more pronounced. Through the darkness and the twisting writing mass of deformed mutated or mangled forms and the acrid choking stinking mist that hung in the air between me and the stage, I tried to make out what horrifying monstrosities had taken the stage to be producing such damaging cacophony. A haunting electric cry, a digital laughter compacting infernally into one awful drawn-out moment all of the horror and anguish and hatred and loathing of three lifetimes; using the most powerful and infernal tool to strip flesh and burn their initials into the scuttling beasts before me, rock and roll, I now understood, was but the passing of the old gods and this new thing was not rock and roll in any sense, though it was meant to be understood as such. Certainly the show is one of wizardry, not imagined or superstitious, but of real concrete electric wizardry. At last I glimpsed the stage, and the plain men who were upon it; who are they? I wondered, who appear to be men who are lambasting these poor indescribably shapes of men who mixed with the alien entities writing in the pit of noise whirling about them. I was convinced any moment I would be seized and devoured horribly by some invisible cosmic monstrosity, witnessed with horror by the few people remaining in this room whose sanity remained guarded behind a veil of shock and incomprehension as mine did.

Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead, pre-Leng.
Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead are a group whose purpose cannot be mistaken. They don’t even draft in some hirsute hired geek to stand at the front barking clichés and strutting about like Iggy rooster on acid to make the whole thang; such hubris wouldn’t be a part of any Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead show and survive. This is instrumental doom. Sightless drugged eyes glassed over look out, even the playing becomes possessed, mechanical and spasmodic; their shows are a blind unrecognizable orgy. They have recordings too, Grimoire set the tone, and the Sky Has Been Riven and Our Flesh Has Been Rent were bizarrely short and thumpingly well-formed pieces of rock addition, both clocking in at around a half an hour and adding mountainous pre-recorded on-call horror to the spectral incantations prescribed live, as well as giving the world some of the best titles yet conceived. They’ve also taught us how to make cannabis tea in their videos. All that hideousness, and abundance of joy, and I went to meet them (bass priest Chris and guitar guru Concrete). Discussed in conversation too fractured to transcribe were vetoed songs about Star Wars, live-action role play and playing with ‘art installation bands’, as well as offensive album artwork. And I entered a world of bizarre filmic fantasy, and labyrinthine in-jokes.
 
A young Jackal-Headed Guard of the
 Dead transition between this reality and Leng.
On Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead’s popularity, and origins. “Bizarrely enough, in some ways, I’ve had a better reception from random strangers playing this music than I have playing in every other band” says Chris. “It’s good fun to do amazing rock poses while pissed up and think we’re amazing – Chuck Berry moves”.
When it started, I was in Man of the Hour and I wasn’t thinking of anything else at all, [Chris] was in Tyrant Lizard Kings, both had albums out, both touring the albums, and when you’re doing that it can be quite… urgh… we have to play the songs people want to hear ‘cause otherwise it’s pointless, and all these regulations and can’t do this and can’t do that… and sometimes you want to make a sound like… [fart noise]… for half an hour, and do that, and eventually all the other bands disintegrate and you’re left with that, as the only one left”.
A lot of the time when you’re monged out the songs will become longer by default, exponentially.”
Tommy and Chris - 'we overcome by spewing forth'
 
Tommy Concrete leans back on the sofa, in the flat above Bannerman’s bar but still in the depths of Edinburgh’s man-made cowgate canyon, they both take long draws of a hash pipe filled with what, I cannot say; “So are you gonna do vocals? Or have done vocals at any point?”
Nuh, I don’t think so
Quite a few people mention it, dunno, just go back to it being totally simplistic, dunno, I think, it’s just Tom said, a singer would just weaken what gets presented
Yeah, I dunno, at our very first practice we had singing, we were both doing it
And then at the next practice we didn’t have any singing, and it was at least ten times better
But it works, because we had a mix of vocal styles. My favorite band in relation to Jackal-Head is Runemagick, Swedish doom death metal band, and my personal look at it is doom death metal, like Morbid Angel, with really heavy guitar, so if you put my singing on it, then suddenly we’re a death metal band, and that’s completely alienating to 99% of the audience. Okay, so maybe we could have a more like Tyrant Lizard Kings sort of like stoner doom rock and roll sort of vocals, which would alienate the other half of the audience, ‘oh, I wanted it to be death metal’, ‘oh, I don’t like the poofy singing’ and you just end up with a different five knobheads, but if you have no singing, then everyone can listen to it.”
“So being instrumental actually opens it up?”
That’s what we found out, it wasn’t on purpose, we did a tour, three nights in a row, we played with a stoner rock band and go down, the audience could understand it, play with death black metal bands the audience could understand it, could play with indie fucking cosmonaut art installation bands and they could understand it as well, ‘hmm, yes, it’s instrumental, hmm, what a point you’re making’ but if you had any sort of vocal, it would have been good vocals but you’d have pissed off every audience but one on a tour like that… so the no-vocal makes it bizarrely commercial.”
I think a part of it was just not being fucking bothered. If you sing, you play a bit of guitar, but if you’re playing bass and singing, you’re pretty much rooted to the spot most of the time so it’s good fun to just be able to [move around]
The Grimoire artwork that caused so much offense.
 
And on the new record: “Well we’ve got some stuff written, and I think everyone in the band would agree we want to put something together that’s a bit longer. We’ve had two albums, EPs, whatever you want to call them, of the stuff we’ve previously done, and they were both half an hour.”
“So you’ve got longer songs? Or longer albums?”
Well, funnily enough we’re a doom band so we just repeat everything half-time, maybe have a bit where everything drops out and the guitar plays the main riff for a while
We’d like to do some stuff we know we aren’t gonna play live, so that we’ve got, say, the album’s an hour and thirty minutes of it is written, and thirty minutes where we could put loads of overdubs on it maybe even like a twenty minute song. But we don’t really know.”
Yeah, a lot of the time, a lot of the songs full stop were from spur-of-the-moment riffs. We knew how the songs all went before we went into [the studio]. We’ve always got a rough idea, it’s nothing too hard

Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead return, in a haze of foul smoke to the stage of Bannerman’s bar in Edinburgh on Friday the 14th of December, and the next day in Newcastle, so be sure and witness for yourself the stomp of one of the most eldritch doom bands in full flow. Until then, their bandcamp is always open with both of their current releases free to download. And lo, I looked down from the seven hills of Edinburgh to the Forth only to see the mountainous shoulders of the slimy cyclopean creature ease out of the waters. The stars have aligned! A new age of darkness is upon mankind. Cthulhu walks! Cthulhu fhtagn! Cthulhu fhtagn!

“Everyone listened, and everyone was listening when It lumbered slobberingly into sight and gropingly squeezed Its gelatinous green immensity through the black doorway into the tainted outside air of that poisoned city of madness” H.P. Lovecraft

Written under madness by Steven.

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