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A Handful of Dust - Now Gods, Stand Up for the Bastards & The Philosophick Mercury

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Artist: A Handful of Dust

Album: Now Gods, Stand Up for the Bastards & The Philosophick Mercury

Label: No Fun

Review date: Apr. 2, 2009

A Handful of Dust trafficked in exhaustion. It’s the sound of two men – Alastair Galbraith and Bruce Russell – done with the world. Now, in answer to the opportunists, charlatans, and pedants, they’ve chosen to exhaust those willing to pay them any heed. The double-disc reissue of Now Gods, Stand Up for Bastards and The Philosophick Mercury offers more than two hours of most opaque and inactive argument against the new world order. It arrives at a poetically appropriate time. The global market barely shambles along, stretched thin and torn down by chimerical investment schemes, looking for The Evil Bastard to blame. A secular apocalypse seems imminent, and these questions demand answers before The End.

But A Handful of Dust offers no resolution beyond the ineluctability of an ending. They don’t even address the question; there’s too much to be worried about with just the threat of personal collapse. The scale – and the stakes – are much smaller. “I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” reads the full line from The Waste Land. These eight songs of dissonant minutiae are taken and extrapolated over extended periods of time for the sake of scrutiny and agony.

Galbraith and Russell seek to lay bare the machinery for all to see. The sound of industry possesses the composition, drawing from the factory hells that consume men and their souls; grinding, scraping, and howling of metal on metal that is devoid of any real emotion. The songs run like clockwork, set to a glacial metronome that maintains some direction, even if it does take in excess of 13 minutes to move one step forward. Like hitting the event horizon, doomed to a specific ending without knowing what the end sounds like.

Only twice do Galbraith and Russell emerge from their relative dormancy. First, in swiftly defeated frenzy of “The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast,” and secondly when this primal sound returns like a yoked animal in the fugue-ing “The Book Nature: Chapter the Second.” It’s the only time that Russell let’s his Dead C activity take control, and it ends quickly enough that the song doesn’t leave much to remember it by, washed away by the feedback and pitchshifting monolith of Bastards closer “The Dark Lantern of Reason.”

The shift from Bastards to Mercury moved Galbraith and Russell beyond Eliot’s fatalistic view of humankind to a zone of hollow ambivalence. The dynamism and erratic behavior that grated against each in the first six tracks are worn down. Returned to the state of exhaustion, the final songs both drone on endlessly, obsessive continuations of the same theme with little content to sustain them, more closely approximating Yeats’ “tattered coat upon a stick.”

By the time the record arrives at the holy land in “God’s Love to His People Israel,” Galbraith and Russell have given up on order in any sense of the word. The final track lapses into chaos via passivity, like a deep space transmission of questionably infinite length. The blankness and taxing of the will are evidence of a long journey, but where to? A Handful of Dust left as many questions unanswered as it asks, unfinished and undoubtedly still rambling on somewhere, in a whimper.

By Evan Hanlon

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