Full disclosure here: the very nice people at Mercyground sent me :ankoku butoh: for review. Which made me clap my hands with glee, because honestly, I would have purchased it. I love Faith & the Muse, and have loved them since I read about them in Carpe Noctem magazine and sent off a money order to purchase Elyria way back in 1994.
:ankoku butoh: is not just a new Faith & the Muse CD. Oh no, there is also a DVD and a book (not a CD case insert) of art and lyrics. The only downside to this package is that, well, it’s a bit pricey. ($29.99 USD) But! The DVD contains a concert video (filmed at Convergence XIII, and hey, I was at that show! Oh, nostalgia.), music videos for two of the tracks off of :ankoku butoh:, an interview with Monica Richards and William Faith, and a section of “Rarities and Extras” that includes videos and performance footage of tracks from previous releases. So all in all, a visual retrospective feast, especially for Faith & the Muse fans who’ve never been lucky enough to see the band perform live, or who had no idea that they had made music videos.
To me, Faith & the Muse are a classic Goth band. Their songs are always lush, with William Faith’s guitar providing a driving framework for Monica Richards’ soaring voice. Add drums, bass, occasional lashings of violin and harpsichord, and lyrics that are steeped in romance and haunting imagery, and the result is mesmerizing. Many bands have tried similar things, and come off as, well, trying, and sound like they’ve breathed in too much pretension with their AquaNet hairspray. Faith & the Muse never sound calculated, as if they sat down to figure out how to sound As Goth As Possible; their passion for what they’re doing and the ideas they want to communicate glimmers at the heart and edges of each song they create.
With :ankoku butoh:, Faith & the Muse move their focus from Celtic-tinged spiritualism to more Japanese and Shinto influences, complete with Taiko drums providing a thunderous counterpoint to William Faith’s arrangements. References to Japanese mythology and nature worship weave seamlessly into Faith & the Muse’s usual themes of becoming aware of the unseen world around us. The Faith & the Muse website Mercyground describes :ankoku butoh: as “13 brand new sonic atavisms for the warrior within”, and each song does have a sense of defiance, of standing one’s ground and standing up for one’s beliefs.
“The Woman of the Snow” opens the album with Monica Richards’ gorgeous voice layered over itself to create a wordless and shimmering curtain, trailing into the delicate, dreamlike instrumental of “Kamimukae”. “Kamimukae” builds in intensity until it crashes into the guitars at the start of “Blessed”, a passionate tribute to opening your eyes and staying true to your own personal vision. You could almost say that Faith & the Muse specialize in the sort of delicacy which grows into an anthem-like call to arms. I wouldn’t say that “Blessed” is a sure-fire Goth dance floor hit, but it is an exhilarating track that is the musical equivalent of walking through a blustery day at dusk, your hair and coattails whipping about, with shadows dodging your footsteps.
“She Waits By the Well” is another stand-out track. At first listen, it’s a hypnotic invocation of emotional devotion. It is only after listening a few more times that the obsessive and poisonous longing at the heart of the lyrics makes itself known. It’s a fabulously creepy, atmospheric song, and I would love to see one of the more Goth-influenced tribal belly dance performers (such as Serpentine, who have been performing with Faith & the Muse) perform a routine to it.
“Sovereign” is one of the songs that features William Faith on vocal duties, and it is a classic Faith & the Muse track. The layers of guitars and choruses with Monica Richards give the song a feeling of immediacy, a sense that this is the soundtrack to something unexpected and amazing happening while you’re standing in the darkened corner of the nightclub. Something that will change the day-to-day grind into something that is perhaps unsettling, but ultimately what you needed, even if you didn’t know it.
Obviously, I am enchanted with :ankoku butoh:, and am looking forward to seeing Faith & the Muse in concert again. My only quibble with the new release is that it may be a bit intimidating for people who aren’t already Faith & the Muse fans. If you’re just discovering Faith & the Muse, you may want to start out with some of their previous releases, such as Evidence of Heaven or The Burning Ground. But do yourself a favor and listen to Faith & the Muse. You won’t be sorry.