The Canadian experimental noise merchants return with a soundtrack to the classic 1926 silent film Faust directed by F.W. Murnau. It tells the legendary tale of temptation, corruption and redemption, and Mahogany Frog certainly succeed in producing a soundtrack which matches the darkness of the story.
It was conceived before the recording of their last album, In the Electric Universe, and performed live, but shelved until that record was complete. It was then recorded in the studio, and the finished album is a seamless tapestry of both live and studio recordings. It differs in tone completely; where In the Electric Universe was upbeat and polished, this is a dark, raw and brooding work. The sonic landscape is desolate, frightening and hostile. They conjure a sense of emptiness and loss, and hint at hidden horrors. There are moments of ethereal beauty, but they tend to be scarred by screams and howls of anguish from demonic forces. It’s certainly not an easy listen, and as each piece slips into the next, it demands being played in its entirety in one sitting; it is however, a rewarding experience. It is like finding something intriguing and yet horrifying, and being unable to look away. The band utilise their trademark fuzz guitar histrionics mixed with almost ambient brooding electronics, dense keyboards and passages of minimalist ritual percussive sounds.
The work begins with what sounds like a slowly tolling bell, and immediately there is a sense of foreboding and menace. Faust I makes that menace a reality in devastating noise, guitars screaming in agony before playing a chord sequence of sinister savagery. This is the Faust theme, and it soon gives way to an uneasy peace before the chord structure returns with organ adding to the sonic artillery. It might sound from that description as being unlistenable, but it’s actually visceral and exciting, and sets the scene brilliantly. Plague I is ushered in with a woozy fairground organ, setting us up for a village about to be ravaged by pestilence, but there is a sad kind of melody which is rather touching. This seems to be at the heart of Mahogany Frog; they might experiment with noise but we are never far from a reassuring melody and toe-tapping rhythmic device. For every cat strangling sound, there is a complementary dreamy soundscape to soothe the furrowed brow. A Decision of the Flower, for example, is built around a gorgeous electric piano motif, with other-worldly electronic sounds before a darker mechanical organ riff insinuates itself. It’s still a lovely piece, but the mood has been changed just enough to remind you what this band are capable of. It makes a great interlude before Flying Carpet II: Sword Fight. Tribal drums and distant fuzz guitar set the scene for the fight, and you know when the fight begins from the sudden audible change. If you watch the accompanying video, which uses footage from the film, you get the sense of how well the band have married their music to it. As we gradually move towards the climax of the album, where Faust throws himself on the funeral pyre, thereby finding redemption, the soundtrack provides a suitably dramatic accompaniment. Stoned II: Funeral Pyre sees a return of the Faust theme in slightly different form, before it segues into Faust III: Ascension. It is at once cacophonous, bombastic, uplifting and triumphant, and makes a satisfying conclusion to an ambitious work.
I’ve not described every track, as it really stands as a continuous piece, but although it is a dense and dark work, there are enough chinks of light to make it a great listening experience. I very much look forward to hearing what this quartet come up with next.
01. Introduction (1:14)
02. Faust I (including Alchemy) (4:29)
03. Plague I (4:32)
04. Dirge I (7:46)
05. Crossroads (9:42)
06. Stoned I (2:44)
07. Flying Carpet I (4:44)
08. Faust II (1:19)
09. Introduction II: Smokey Reflections (2:18)
10. The Mando Glass (2:33)
11. Muhme Marthe (4:04)
12. We Encircle Within This Ring (5:09)
13. A Decision Of The Flower (5:33)
14. Flying Carpet II: Sword Fight (5:42)
15. Dirge II (4:19)
16. Plague II: Insanity (3:34)
17. Stoned II: Funeral Pyre (3:50)
18. Faust III: Ascension (1:49)
Total Time – 75:21
Graham Epp – Guitar, Keyboards, Electronics
Jesse Warkentin – Guitar, Keyboards, Electronics
Scott Ellenberger – Bass, Keyboards, Electronics
Andy Rudolph – Drums, Keyboards, Electronics
Dan Moroz – Bass Clarinet (on Crossroads & The Mando Glass)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Canada
Date of Release: 25th March 2022