What a piece of work is
a man 1537! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Hamlet (Act2: Scene II)
Well, Hambo my old bean, ‘Quintessence of Dust’ is the side long opening track of Transmaniacon Plays The Darkening Plain and a stone(r) cold slice of genius pie. I picked this album up when it was released in 2014 because of the brilliant Ian Miller cover art and the fact it looked really damn heavy and I’ve never looked back. The fact that it is on red-splatter vinyl and there are only 300 copies of it in existence on LP is just the geek boy icing on the spiky android cake.
You can have loads of genre bolting together related fun with Transmaniacon, as this is definitely the finest doom prog proto-metal punky sci-fi stoner rock LP I have ever owned, or indeed am likely ever to. Not that any of that is remotely relevant to anything anyway, this is quite simply great music. If there was any talent related justice these chaps would all be showing us around their platinum and diamond encrusted tropical mansions on MTV cribs every day of the week.
I have never read, or to my knowledge even glimpsed, John Shirley’s 1979 novel Transmaniacon but the music herein started life as a mooted soundtrack for an abandoned film of the book as all good doom prog proto-metal (etc etc) LPs should. Transmaniacon opt for the tried-and-tested Iron Butterfly and Rush route of an epic on Side 1 and a clutch of other tracks on Side 2 and boy does it pay off.
The epic in question is ‘Quintessence Of Dust’ and my poor weak brain’s interpretation of the story is that of a diseased population being sent out into space to be disposed of and coming back as a half-human half-robo killer hybrid hellbent on extracting a bloody revenge for their travails. I assume this is based on a true story. Basically, your full-on future-ocalypse man-machine scenario and the pay off is that to defeat the monstrous we must become monsters ourselves, which I half-remember as a line from Nietzsche*. It is, with a twist or two towards robots, close to the plot of my favourite disco holocaust LP Cerrone Supernature. So much for the theoretical side of things, but does it rock?
Of course it does and not like anything else in the whole of the 1537. The guitars storm, soar and rage, there is some quite frankly Jon Lord-esque organ passages and the vocals are really something else, there’s a great sneery, punker quality about them which I love. As if all that wasn’t enough, Lydia Lunch makes an awesomely sinister appearance about a third of the way through, to great effect, as a dead-voiced narrator who intones lines like ‘shiny metals that never rust / Weak animals that must be crushed’.
It is difficult to sum up a track like ‘Quintessence Of Dust’ because of the sheer unwieldy size of it, both in terms of length and sheer ambition. The fact that the tension and excellence of the track is sustained throughout is testimony to just how great this is. Monster will do.
The musicianship Transmaniacon display on The Darkening Plain is top-notch. Bassist Steve Cox’s keyboards really grab my attention as do Simon Halliday’s vocals, which take the sound far further towards Killing Joke than Queensrÿche. Paul Cox and Ged Murphy’s guitars chug and lash hard, as and when required. On top, or beneath, all that Karl Hussey’s drumming is a versatile energetic thing that glues and propels things together/onwards. Phew!
But can Transmaniacon avoid the old trap of the epic first side so hugely outweighing the second that it is, to all intents and purposes, irrelevant and unmemorable? Fear not gentle reader, they do.
The three tracks that make up side 2 of The Darkening Plain whilst not conceptually linked, albeit sharing a pessimistic outlook (‘The oppressive weight of expectation/ Sordid reality of homo-sapien’**), are not much of a departure in sound for the band.
The pick of the three for me is ‘An Eye For An Eye’ which is a genuinely angry cut which jogs along at a great chugging pace and is graced with yet more great organ work from Steve Cox – it sounds like a furious Deep Purple; which can only be a good thing.
I cannot find anything else by the band online, or even anything about them after The Darkening Plain. I suspect that this LP may well prove to be one of those tantalising single-shot affairs where something really great just coalesces out of the aether and then, just as mysteriously dissipates leaving us standing alone and energised on The Darkening Plain.
*Friedrich, not Jack.
**when I was reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind earlier this year the eMail filter at work took offence at the ‘homo’ in ‘homosapien’ and assumed I was bandying around homophobic insults. I may write an angry concept LP about it.