With a band name like that, it’s easy to get attention, and for all the wrong reasons. Admittedly, I only gave this a once over because of the name, half expecting to turn it off once the Bible-thumping started. The other half of me vaguely recalled hearing John Peel (I can’t think who else it may have been!) playing something by a band so named waaay back in the mists of time, and as such, suspected all may not be as it seems, and thankfully, that turned out to be the case. Contrary to the obvious impression given, the band name is taken from a terrorist group in Luis Buñuel’s 1977 surrealist film, That Obscure Object of Desire. It seems that this enigmatic band from Liverpool have made a sum total of four albums in 35 years, including this release, which only adds to the perhaps deliberately cultivated air of mystery.
Overt Gothic religious imagery swirls through the shadows of the main album, Songs of Yearning, with musical prayers sitting alongside spookily ambient reflections. The lyrics are in at least four, maybe more languages, creating a drifting and sombre atmosphere over slow, thoughtful music led by acoustic guitars over understated electronica, with Eliza Carew’s* cello adding darkly to the tale. This is introspection at its most poignant. The spirits in these grooves are sometimes sombre things, aided and abetted by the aforementioned mournful cello, as is the case in opener Avatars, which opens with a single repeated slowly strummed chord over a reverberating rhythm, and which closes with a quietly tolling bell, being a case in point.
Hannah Harper’s* voice is unaffected throughout, with an added hint of world-weariness, nowhere more so than on Ave Maria, where the sadness behind the veil is laid bare for us all to hear. The compositions are uncomplicated, and often starkly atmospheric, as if bearing their souls. Any judgement is ours, not the composers’.
Evoking the cerebral yet emotional atmosphere of an art house movie shot in monochrome, around a tumbledown shack buried deep in a mist-shrouded wood, Songs of Yearning is in no rush to get to any particular destination, and takes its time to slowly reveal itself over several listens. Vespers plays hopscotch in veils of misty melancholy, the vocals lying just out of reach behind a gently insistent melody and subtle electronics. Belonging/O Nata Lux seamlessly combines the fragile, avant ambience of the first part with the devotional interpretation of the second part, and is a perfect representation of the album in miniature. No one song stands out, this is a work that needs to be taken whole, in one sitting, and it is more than deserving of the time invested.
The limited edition bonus album Nocturnes starts off in a more accessible and upbeat fashion, with a straight ahead folk-indie-rock number. If, like me, this package is your first encounter with the band, this comes as something of a surprise, given what has gone before on the main course. We are back to more familiar introspective territory on the following instrumental Falling, a six-minute extended version of the snippet on the main album, wherein waves of quiet instrumentation evoke images of an autumn leaf swaying through a slow descent to Earth. Elsewhere, more folk-tinged pop and darkly medieval pastoral ambience is disturbed by Visions, which in another unexpected twist borders on noise rock. Following that is an eight minute spoken word Kosmische tone poem in Russian entitled Belonging, again an alternate take of a track from Songs of Yearning. The closing track Nightwaves slowly fades to nothing, dying ripples spreading out on still water, the stone cast leaving as many questions as answers, and yet an indefinable vague feeling of completion. While the music is largely conventional, with occasional departures down the alleyway marked “Strange”, it leaves the listener feeling slightly disconnected as if between two worlds.
Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus are not preachers, but something far more subtle than that, separate, apart from the headlong rush of modern life. As such, they seem strangely suited to the current heavy manners, where we have all been forced into an unfamiliar pause for breath. This is the most thought-provoking music I have heard this year, it goes beyond an anodyne “like” or “dislike” (I like, by the way). This can only be a good thing.
Songs of Yearning
01. Avatars (5:30)
02. Celestine (2:07)
03. Kontaktion (for St Maria Skobtsova) (3:11)
04. Ave Maria (3:35)
05. Vespers (3:47)
06. Paradise (3:13)
07. Beginnings (2:02)
08. Songs Of Yearning (2:44)
09. Falling (1:20)
10. Miserere (2:13)
11. Belonging/O Nata Lux (7:24)
12. Prayer (3:11)
Time – 40:19
01. I Carry The Sun (2:02)
02. Falling (6:06)
03. Like The Waters (2:59)
04. Near To The Beginning (4:37)
05. Toujours Pour La Première Fois (1:43)
06. Overture (5:31)
07. Visions (2:55)
08. Opening (8:02)
09. Anthem (3:05)
10. Belonging (3:58)
11. Nightwaves (4:47)
Time – 45:45
Total Time – 96:04
*These are assumptions from Google searches, actual info is hard to track down!
RAIJ are Paul Boyce, Jon Egan, Leslie Hampson, Jessie Main, Eliza Carew, Zander Mavor, Hannah Harper
Record Label: Occultation Recordings
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 5th June 2020