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Vibracathedral Orchestra - Wisdom Thunderbolt

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Artist: Vibracathedral Orchestra

Album: Wisdom Thunderbolt

Label: VHF

Review date: May. 7, 2007

There’s something majestic about the music of Vibracathedral Orchestra. The Leeds-based collective’s moniker alone implies a humming, symphonic glory yielded to celebrate transcendent existence with a vibrant fervor. Their choice for album names also aptly parallels the mystical intent, with the 2002 VHF full-length Dabbling With Gravity and Who You Are the most germane of titles for their folk flotation – seemingly weightless, but filling an immense cerebral void at the same time.

Wisdom Thunderbolt seems an equally appropriate title for the new slew of Vibracathedral jams represented within, all recorded in 2006 and early 2007. The hand-rendered artwork of Sunburned Hand of the Man’s Hexit (a.k.a. Michael K) provides an image of mind on fire, ignited by direct impact of screaming introspection. Wisdom Thunderbolt marks the first widely available release since Important’s 2005 issue of Tuning to the Rooster, which itself was a collection of the group’s excursions into a 24-track studio in 2002-2003. With core members Neil Campbell, Mick Flower, Bridget Hayden and Adam Davenport all very active in their own projects of late (Campbell with his Astral Social Club solo work, Flower with his Chris Corsano duo, among other collaborations), it’s a delight to see they’ve found the time to deliver another full-length release as a unit, as opposed to the numerous, limited-edition CD-Rs and 7”s that constitute much of their work. The album also benefits from guest appearances by equally hard-working musicians in the underground scene: Chris Corsano (now strangely employed as Bjork’s new drummer), Matthew Bower (Skullflower, Sunroof!, etc.), Pete Nolan (Magik Markers), and John Godbert.

Culled from recording sessions at home and in public, Wisdom Thunberbolt is a return to the two-track method usually employed by the group, breathing through the muddy transcription of a kitchen saturated with droning improvisation and mind-expanding psychedelia. The group employs the same attempts at aural enlightenment that they’ve practiced for about a decade now; cultivating a dense cloud of free-folk that blends shimmering guitar colors, shambling percussion, synth whirls and electronic injections.

The opening title track gets right down to the disorienting side of the group, churning through ethereal vocals and gurgling keyboard textures, ultimately descending into a drum-led jamboree. The jolting track edits are still in effect, cutting into one another as if the jams had been happening for years, gathering slowly from cosmic dust and piecemeal instrumentation. Most effective is the false start of “Sway-Sage,” teasing a sorely out of place guitar blues breakdown before jerking into a monumental space rocker, courtesy of special guest Pete Nolan’s raucous drumming. The track then descends steadily into a queasy lurch of grinding guitar and synth noise, melting the rhythm into a flurry of cymbal crashes and dizzily fluctuating distortion.

Such blazing moments have their balance, countered through the brooding build of “Ochre Dust,” which owes part of its shamanistic screech to Bower’s guitar evocations. Even at its darkest and most lurid moments, things seem constantly on the verge of exploding, teetering through dense improvisation but constantly driving the theme forward. The album’s longest and perhaps most properly titled track, “Rainbow Whirlwind,” shows the group in top form, constructing a behemoth of clatter around an oscillating synth tone and then gently deconstructing the chaos back into shuddering beauty. It’s this brand of concentrated commotion that propels Wisdom Thunderbolt to places above and beyond that of many folk-drone outfits, and reaffirms Vibracathedral Orchestra as true luminaries of the psychedelic scene.

By Cole Goins

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