Vatican Shadow, Remember Your Black Day

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Artwork by Jennifer Coates

[Hospital Productions]


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Remember Your Black Day is Vatican Shadow’s debut album. While my shelf full of Vatican Shadow records that run upwards of 40 minutes might contest that point, Dominick Fernow would retort that all of his previous releases under that name were either compilations or released initially on cassettes — that Remember Your Black Day is the first Vatican Shadow release fully conceived as an LP. Yes, it seems a bit nitpick-y, but it does raise some interesting points about what an “album” is and the ways an established producer with 10 distinct releases can approach something like a “definitive” statement. It ticks all of the boxes, aesthetically, that the Vatican Shadow project has come to represent: a black plume of smoke rising above Baghdad on the cover, track titles that read like headlines from the War on Terror, but those have all remained consistent throughout the project’s history.

How do you define an album? Is it just by format, or is it by feeling? And we came to the conclusion that it’s about feeling [….] It’s a return in the sense that it’s not dealing with one theme, it’s dealing with many; as opposed to a kind of concept piece which focuses one sound or one idea thematically or lyrically. […] I guess that’s how I’d define the real albums. Dominick Fernow

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Based on that quotation, Fernow would probably contend that it’s the variety and lack of a single, unifying concept that makes Remember Your Black Day the first “proper” Vatican Shadow album. Looking back at the project’s discography over the past two years, it’s true that his releases are often variations on a single theme. Jordanian Descent presented us with two extended warmongering dance cuts, and Atta’s Apartment Slated For Destruction featured four melodic rhythms that were all nine minutes long, while Ornamented Walls paired a previously released live set with a B-side full of sketches and versions.

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“OK, fine,” you say, “it’s his debut album, it’s not his debut album — what does it matter? Is the record any good?” Well, indeed, if Remember Your Black Day wasn’t such a mixed bag, it wouldn’t matter at all, but it is. This seems to recast the “proper album” posturing in new light. “Circumstances Quickly Become Questioned” starts strong but ends immediately, followed by the slow dirge of “Tonight Saddam Walks Amidst Ruins.” It’s a classic bit of Vatican Shadow mood setting and tension building, but early-album momentum gets snuffed out by “Muscle Hijacker Tribal Affiliation.” 808 kicks and distorted drones set the scene with metallic percussion, but the percussion soon drops out to leave a rather bland synth line standing alone. The track ends up going nowhere, which is a shame because next cut, “Contractor Corpses Hung Over The Euphrates River,” is one of Vatican Shadow’s strongest to date. Pummeling kick drums, far-off guitar chords, unsettling melodies, and head-cracking percussion stacked on top of each other to blissful effect.

Which brings us to “Enter Paradise,” whose distorted guitar riffage in what’s nominally a techno record is perhaps an attempt at the variety hinted at above. Personally, I find the black metal guitar riff a bit over the top — it never really gets any more interesting in repetition — but its surroundings all conspire to obscure it. Given the throbbing triplet bass line and the slow-paced percussion getting funkier with each bar, its easy to forget the guitar is even there. From here on out the album is smooth sailing: the fleet-footed building of the title track is sure to get play at your darker clubs, ditto the raucous mouthful that is “Not The Son Of Desert Storm, But The Child Of Chechnya.” “Jet Fumes Above The Reflecting Pool” sees the record out on a high note, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that something is slightly off about the whole thing. Remember Your Black Day may contain some of Vatican Shadow’s strongest material to date, but the record’s weaker cuts threaten its momentum precisely when it needs it the most, and make it an album best enjoyed piecemeal. With every listen, high-points such as “Remember…” and “Contractor Corpses…” get even better — their raw, straight-to-the-jugular intensity gets more furious with each spin, which throws into stark relief those meek tracks that seem to be simply biding time (“Muscle Hijacker…”). As an album, debut or not, and as a front-to-back listen, Remember Your Black Day does not rate as Vatican Shadow’s finest, though some of its tracks most certainly do. Flaws and all, however, it is a fascinating listen, and one that delights just as it frustrates.

Jimi williams  on October 31, 2013 at 2:32 PM

Slated for Demolition

aaroninky.  on November 7, 2013 at 4:43 PM

Picked this up at the record store, understanding it was explicitly his ‘first’ album… but I’m a little disappointed, if I’m honest. The material just isn’t as compelling as some of his earlier stuff, and if this is his first ‘proper’ release, then I question why he still has the terrible, tape-cut ‘stops’ to his tracks. Half of the albums best songs just abruptly end, as if it was recorded straight from a tape or live jam. The mastering isn’t that impressive either, so the whole experience seems a little flat to me.

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