archive review originally posted on the losing today site c.2006 ……
DRAGON OR EMPEROR
DRAGON OR EMPEROR
Well wired and wonderfully so.
The mere mention of the fact that this, the debut full length from Leicester based duo Dragon and Emperor, features a certain Aaron Moore, better known in the musical fraternity circles as being a whole one quarter of those weird surrealist avante art eccentrics Volcano the Bear, might cause the raising of a nervous frown among the greater more attuned record buying populace. For over the ten years the keepers of the Henry Cow flame have tormented, amused, puzzled and scared many a hi-fi to differing degrees with an extraordinarily abstract body of work that has refused to be categorised. Extra curricula activities that have taken the form of splinter groups and side projects such as the one ensemble of Daniel Padden, guignol, songs of Norway and earth trumpet have only sought to extend the roots of the VTB family tree into the realms of the acutely obscure.
So with that small detail in mind its strange then to find one such family relative actually engaging to a notional formulaic script of sorts. Note we did say of sorts. Nine tracks 37 minutes in length using just drums, bass, piano, trumpet and vocals – and what a sound. The thing that sets this collection aside from other VTB related releases is the fact that its immediate – each of these buckled beauties fester and lurch from the grooves as though bitten by some mutated shredded swamp dragged jazz funk bug over which fellow Songs of Norway collaborator and Black Carrot front man Stewart Brackley’s vocals (think Pere Ubu’s David Thomas with DNA traces of Don Van Vliet – [check the minimalist percussion and vocal only ’Fast Apache’] and Jello Biafra) surge frantically between states of petrified panic (as on the wildly bastardised proto metal pogo ear popping rout of the scathing ‘the People’ which traces its blood line directly to ’Release the Bats’ era Birthday Party as though done by a particularly schizoid Japanese uber punk thrash combo) to the eerily grim foreboding death rattle of the chilled to the bone unnatural black carnival of the tribalistic Tom Waits fronting a particularly pensive and doom laden Joy Division ‘Slow Toms’.
As to the sound – f*cking mental – the wilfully potent slices of fuzzed black and blue bruised blues that Dragon or Emperor ingest and regurgitate with such agitated aplomb are culled from elements of early 80’s Californian hardcore (in particular the Minutemen on the ravenous gnarled grind of agit frenz of ’No Pay’), grind core, hyperventilating angular pop and stoner – check out the warped white hot stutter howl of the Flipper-esque ’Never know what to say’. Caustic it may be – but playfully so – at times sounding like some kind of anger management jam with Moore pounding out a gripping floor rumbling underpin that’s blistered and pummelled in equal measures by Brackley’s low slung curdling bass groove onto which fragments of musical genres past and present are interwoven, cross referenced and dragged screaming from their safe native habits. Just think – how many times will you ever get to hear Zeppelin motifs fused with the Melvins glue wired into a lysergic Hendrix haze of the like as found looming large on the opening ’Part of me says’ or Mark E Smith being out – Fall-ed as on ’Your Success’ – not very often I suspect. In a word stunning.
Key tracks –