What happens when an artist fascinated with death forms a band with members of Singapore Sling and The Brian Jonestown Massacre? Well, you get some seriously trippy stuff, my friend. What you get is Dead Skeletons.
I always have my eyes open for Dead Skeleton releases because they don’t show up for sale too often. I enjoyed Dead Mantra (2010), Dead Comet (2013) and Live in Berlin (2016), so it wasn’t much of a stretch to plunk down my money for a copy of the 2011 Om Mani Peme Hung 7″ the other day over at Reykjavik’s Lucky Records. I even mentioned it to band member and artist Jón Sæmundur Auðarson when I visited his gallery during Airwaves, and he seemed surprised that I’d been able to find a copy locally. Some of Jón’s art includes screen-printing using records as the canvas, and I picked up another of these during that visit to hang alongside the two I bought on previous trips.
But back to Om Mani Peme Hung. It’s exactly what you’d expect – a psych-trip wall of sound with some Eastern influences and an almost religious-trance-inducing vibe. Neither song lets up – they just keep coming at you, relentlessly, pulsing their ways into your brain. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, but if you like some hard psych you’ll definitely enjoy Dead Skeletons.
I was stoked to hear that the Icelandic psych band Dead Skeletons had new vinyl release coming out this year, even more so because it’s a live album. We’ve been fans of artist Jón Sæmundur Auðarson for years, and I even have a few of his screened prints done on records hanging on my walls. His musical project, Dead Skeletons, is some trippy-ass psych and pretty damn awesome, so I made sure to pre-order Live In Berlin.
Released by Fuzz Club, there are multiple versions of this on vinyl. It’s a three-sided double album, the fourth side being a screen print of the band. I can’t unravel all the different versions… sounds like there’s a white splatter edition of 1,000, a black with yellow splatter edition of 300 (hand numbered on the reverse… this is the one I have), and a hyper-limited black release in an edition of 10. It’s all very complicated. I can’t even keep track of all these random editions.
Regardless of the complicated nature of Live In Berlin, it’s pretty fantastic. In fact, it’s some pretty heavy, deep psych, a la Singapore Sling or something. Some Joy Division here too, maybe a touch of Mallevs. It just sounds good, man. Heavy and rich and deep and trippy. You can check out the whole thing live HERE, and if you ever find yourself in Reykjavik, do yourself a favor and track down Auðarson’s gallery HERE. You might just come home with some cool stuff.
Live albums always come with a certain amount of risk because you never know what you’re going to get in terms of sound quality. If the show was recorded through the sound board, or using professional equipment, the raw energy of live performance can be captured in a way that generally isn’t possible on studio releases. Perhaps it’s truer to say studio recordings lose some of their energy because people won’t let it out of the studio sounding raw, instead splicing, dicing, and otherwise “cleaning up” the sound, a trend that has only gotten worse as more powerful editing tools have become more widely available. Regardless, live albums are a dicey proposition, and live punk albums even more so since the quality tends to be even lower on average.
With that in mind, I passed by Live in Berlin as I flipped through the Miscellaneous I section at Hi-Voltage Records a few weeks ago, but I came back to it a few minutes later because I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I’m not entirely sure why, as I knew nothing about the Instigators and I have no particularly affinity to Berlin (I’ve never been to the city, but I am a big fan of the song “The Metro”…). The cover may have trigged some type of subliminal flashback, since it reminds me a little of the cover of Black Sabbath Volume 4 (work with me here, people) and I used to listen to a fair amount of Sabbath back in the day. Whatever the reason, the price was right, and it was on cool purple marbled vinyl, so into my stack it went.
The recording mix on Live in Berlin is low and the vocals sound tinny to me, and without an equalizer I pretty much have to take what comes out of the speakers. That being said, it’s far from terrible quality and the vocals are clean and clear, so as long as I can cut through Andrew Turner’s English accent I can follow along. One of the things I really like is that the album sounds like it is a linear recording of this show – it includes a bit of Turner talking to the audience between songs, and there aren’t any obvious cuts (other than at the very end of side B), so this really feels a lot more like a continuous live experience to me.
I found myself getting more and more into Live in Berlin as the album went on. I don’t think this was as much due to the songs on the second half of side A being better than the first, but more that I felt like I was part of an actual show (during some of the quiet moments, you can even here people talking in the crowd). It’s solid punk and worth a listen.