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Silmaril - The Voyage of Icarus

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Artist: Silmaril

Album: The Voyage of Icarus

Label: Locust

Review date: Feb. 22, 2007

It’s 2007, and the Christian virus, having established a worldwide empire that forces all comers to define themselves by or against it, shows no signs of imminent decline. Maybe that’s good news for pop music. For it is Christianity that, by pitting humans against their baser instincts, inspires the deepest, most paradoxical, most effective pop music, whether it’s the Saturday night / Sunday morning angst of Hank Williams, the proud desperation of Al Green, the grim fables of Nick Cave or the self-loathing bitterness of the Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks On Me.” Were it not for God, pop musicians would need a whole new rundown of riddles to ponder and neuroses to nurse.

Few have pondered harder than Matthew Peregrine, creative director of the churchy early ‘70s folk ensemble Silmaril. The group met at a Catholic youth retreat, and Peregrine was a practicing Catholic Pentacostal. (The Pentacostals are the ones who believe that, to be saved, they must go beyond gossiping and mumbling hymns, have a “personal relationship” with God, and let the Big Fella breathe down their necks at all times.) The Silmaril kids were also, as some of you may have discerned by now, fascinated with the thick arcania of Tolkein. But it wasn’t just a filtered fascination with the black art of imagination that gave Silmaril’s music a self-destructive edge. No, Matthew Peregrine was very, very gay, and no amount of evangelical fervor could change the tingle in his loins. Years after Silmaril dissolved, he became a hardcore leatherman. But, right here, we’re stuck in his conflicted, ascetic, gay-for-Jesus hell. And, man, is it compelling.

Silmaril cut one LP in its time on this earth, the weirdly forlorn (but disturbingly optimistic!) Given Time or the Several Roads. It consisted mostly of acoustic ballads, usually detached (in a wannabe-mystic sort of way) but sometimes remarkably tender and wise (“Given Time”). The voices, both male and female, bleed a poisoned irony that can only come from extreme self-consciousness, and thus drink deep of the mortal pain that gives music soul. This is no hippie freakout. This is a deep, resonant conflict. It’s art defined by elements in its creators that they could not release through any other avenue.

Peregrine wanted to make a second album, a much darker affair. He wanted to… brace yourself… add minimal sitar accompaniment to Silmaril’s threadbare folk stylings, sing somewhat darker, more explicitly apocalyptic lyrics, and otherwise keep everything pretty much the same. This notion created a controversy that destroyed the band. That’s the sort of detail-orientation we’re dealing with here, and it is exquisite. Although that second platter didn’t see the light at the time, Locust has kindly resurrected a few tracks here. Now we can hear Peregrine’s poker-faced recitation from the Book of Revelation (“Revelation 13:11:18”), the most haunting moment of a quick, agonized and gorgeously unsuccessful career.

By Emerson Dameron

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