The dearth of live music over the last year has meant many beloved annual events have not taken place. The last gig I was able to attend before the world went tits up was the magnificent 10 Years of Chaos festival from Chaos Theory, with probably their biggest and best line-up ever. To be honest, in retrospect, I couldn’t have asked for a better final gig. With no way for 11 Years of Chaos to go ahead, in its place a fundraising compilation album has been released with all proceeds going to Chaos Theory and (until 22 March) the campaign to save The Black Heart. Although it has a suggested price of £20 (or above, if you’re feeling generous), Chaos Theory has recognised that many of us are not as financially well-off as we usually are, and set the price at £15 or more.
Whether hosting a festival or curating a compilation, it is obvious that Chaos Theory carefully considers the line-up. The compilation more of less follows the formula of the festival, but because logistical details don’t need to be taken into account, there are fewer restrictions, and the compilation flows immaculately. As she did two years ago for the 9 Years of Chaos festival, Kate Arnold opens proceedings – and it’s a breathtakingly beautiful beginning to the album. Kate’s Bandcamp page describes her music as “electro-medieval loopery on hammered dulcimer, violin and vocals”. absolutely gorgeous.
Like most of the tracks on this compilation, Kate Arnold’s is taken from one of her previous releases, but there are some exclusive tracks here, and the first of these comes next. Thumpermonkey have been around for some time, but first came to my attention after Sel Belamir of Amplifier took the band under his wing, with his Rockosmos label. The Electricity EP, from which the original version of this track comes, was my first Thumpermonkey purchase. This sparse and stripped back version is not just a new recording but a very different arrangement . It’s still easily recognisable, but it’s brilliantly reimagined. I don’t know that I would ever have expected to make this comparison before, but Thumpermonkey are reminiscent of Alice in Chains unplugged here. And I love it.
Brigette Handley provides a similar experience with a pared down version of the opening track of the Dark Shadows album, Autumn Still…, but it doesn’t work so well for me as Thumpermonkey. As impressive as Brigette’s vocals are, bereft of the post-punk rhythm and menace of the original, I find the song loses a lot of its impact. Nevertheless, this is an interesting “other side” to the song. From two covers of their own music, Maud the Moth, whose album Orphnē I reviewed last year, provides a cover of another band’s music – the Cocteau Twins’ Alice. It is simply wonderful, and Maud the Moth completely makes the song her own. And honestly, as much as I like the Cocteau Twins, this cover is (for me) better than the original in every way. Completely captivating and consummate; stirring and sublime.
I enjoyed the next three tracks, all three of these bands being new to me, but the next track that really grabbed my attention was Prisa Mata (who I’d also never heard of previously). This is the first real slice of doomy, blackened, sludgy heaviness, and it’s deliciously so! It comes at just the right time, too, and shows how well Chaos Theory have sequenced the track order. I can almost visualise this point in time as if I were at an actual live Chaos Theory gig. Greater volume does not mean greater talent, but as the more reflective solo acts were left behind, and the bands took to the stage at 10 Years of Chaos, there was a notable change in the atmosphere. That Chaos Theory manages to translate this to the compilation is a magnificent achievement.
Casual Nun follows Prisa Mata perfectly. Unlike the previous few, Casual Nun is band of whom I was aware, but had never really listened to. I reviewed their so-called “sister band”, Kooba Tercu, last year, but even if there is some shared personnel, the sound is quite different. It’s no less intriguing or enjoyable though. This is a very catchy number stuck somewhere in the liminal space between toe-tapping and head banging. Some form of bodily swagger is inevitable. And if you’re not moving for Casual Nun, then Vodun will definitely do the job. I’m not sure I need to say much about Vodun, who are surely one of the most well known bands on this compilation, and who were one of the main attractions and one of the highlights for me at last year’s 10 Years of Chaos. My biggest regret from that gig, though, was not making more of an effort to see both of Arabrot’s sets. What I saw was great, but I foolishly missed out on their second set, as I chose to sit and take a rest upstairs. Arabrot contribute an awesomely groovy beast of a track which only serves to remind me of what I missed!
Memory of Elephants were another act that blew me away at 10 Years of Chaos, and nothing I’ve heard from their studio releases matches the live experience, but their presence here is appreciated, for sure. However, once again it’s the new that impresses me more than the familiar. The Display Team is an awesome discovery for me. Kavus Torabi joked about a new extension of the Canterbury Scene called The Lydian Sound on a Kscope podcast. I can’t remember if The Display Team were mentioned, but if not, they surely should be, having the same Cardiacs meets Canterbury sensibility. Absolutely amazing! They’re followed up by A Sweet Niche, who might just be the jazz chapter of the Lydian Sound. OK, that’s pushing it, but A Sweet Niche were just as new to me, and just as impressive. And the treats keep coming! Yowie are an awesome power trio, most definitely centred around their rhythm section. This is some addictively groovy drum and bass action, with a guitar garnish. A perfect confection of percussive delight, iced with some sweet riffs. Not so much Yowie, as yummy. Please sir, I want some more!
Kylver marks the first point, if I’ve counted correctly, where contributors with no female members catch up with those who have at least one. Although Mammoth Weed Wizard Biscuit briefly put the females back on top, this is pretty much where the tables turn. But still, as always seems to be the case with anything Chaos Theory hosts or curates, there is a refreshing balance. So many gigs and festivals fall short when it comes to diversity, but Chaos Theory has always been inclusive. It shows in their line-ups, and it shows in their audiences, and it’s one of the greatest things about Chaos Theory, as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, Kylver are great, and MWWB are another band I enjoyed at last year’s festival. Unfortunately, Dave from MWWB has been fighting for his life since the beginning of January, after contracting Covid and suffering a stroke. Get well soon, Dave!
Time for another exclusive. The Fierce & The Dead recently released a live EP comprising three tracks from the last show they performed in 2020, at The Hope & Anchor. This fourth track from that gig is available only on the 11 Years of Chaos album. The Fierce & The Dead are the deserved headline act for 11 Years of Chaos, and see us off in Euphoric style. Of course, in typical Chaos Theory style, the headline act doesn’t mean the end of the show. They’re followed by Drekka, with a quite dramatic change of pace, and a very nice one too! You can call me to this prayer anytime. A hierophant is someone who takes an audience into the presence of that which is holy, so appropriately after Drekka comes Five the Hierophant. I admit it. I’d never heard of these guys, so shame on me. Their combination of drone, doom and jazz is intoxicating, and they have certainly made a convert out of me.
As we move deeper into the after party of a Chaos Theory gig, the last few tracks may not appeal to some as much as what preceded them, but I can definitely recommend not pressing the stop button just yet. Perhaps some of the music may be out of your musical comfort zone, and it’s definitely not all my usual listening, but I really enjoyed all of these final tracks. The highlight was absolutely Aphexia for me. Another new artist to me, but I definitely fell fast and heavy for the awesome stylings of Ophelia Sullivan. I love her track on this compilation, and it’s easily one of my favourites here. I can’t wait to hear the new Aphexia album, which is coming very soon.
I realise I’ve not mentioned every track, but it’s only because the review is lengthy enough as it is. It’s certainly no reflection of the quality of the music. There’s not a single number that I don’t like. It’s an absolute must for anyone who has enjoyed a Chaos Theory gig, and I’m sure I won’t be the only listener who is instantly transported back to the heady atmosphere and energy of being there. And for those who haven’t (yet) attended a Chaos Theory gig, then this is a perfect taster. I admit, I’d rather be seeing these bands live, but this really is the next best thing. Fingers crossed for 12 Years of Chaos being something we can experience in person!
01. Kate Arnold – For Barely One in a Thousand (The Practice of Lights) (3:35)
02. Thumpermonkey – This Is Not a Fire (Lockdown Version) (5:04)
03. Brigette Handley – Distant Mind (4:52)
04. Maud the Moth – Alice (4:22)
05. Black Orchids – Lament (4:32)
06. Flies Are Spies From Hell – Nearly Saw a Light (9:24)
07. Sümer – End of Sense (8:27)
08. Prisa Mata – Crooked Trees (4:51)
09. Casual Nun – A Light Plague (Radio Edit) (4:00)
10. Vodun – Ascend (4:49)
11. Årabrot – The World Must Be Destroyed (4:41)
12. Memory of Elephants – Dark Lunch (2:56)
13. The Display Team – Crack Packs (7:37)
14. A Sweet Niche – La Cuisine (Live Big Band Version) (4:56)
15. Yowie – Absurdly Ineffective Barricade (5:39)
16. Kylver – Hy-Brasil (5:21)
17. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – Yn Ol I Annwn (6:35)
18. Boss Keloid – Locking Stumps (5:49)
19. The Fierce & The Dead – The Euphoric (Live at The Hope & Anchor) (3:41)
20. Drekka – Call to Prayer (6:18)
21. Five the Hierophant – Fire From Frozen Cloud (8:05)
22. Thomas Ragsdale – Blackwood (3:15)
23. Aphexia – Blissful Smile (3:56)
24. Metalogue – Apposition Breach (Chaos Theory Edit) (7:03)
25. Riotmiloo – Vile Butterflies (Chaos Theory Mix) (4:12)
26. Scald – Cold (9:04)
Total Time – 143:04
Loads and Loads!
Record Label: Chaos Theory
Date of Release: 26th February 2021