When Suicide crashed the ‘70s NYC punk scene, their minimalist electronic nihilism was one of the first genuinely scary things that had happened there in awhile. The homicidal epic “Frankie Teardrop” touched nerves too deep to be numbed by any amount of misanthropy, crypto-fascism or glue-sniffing. Even Lester Bangs, the world’s biggest champion of Metal Machine Music, considered Suicide too icky to touch.
When all that went down, I was swimming happily in my dad’s scrotal sac… but it’s still weird to see singer Alan Vega and composer Martin Rev get canonized like this. Vega’s 70th birthday is coming up, and everyone from Vincent Gallo to Peaches to fucking Springsteen is pitching in on a tribute disc. Once rock’s most off-the-wall frontman, Vega has been plying his Spooky Elvis shtick way past anyone’s attention span. Rev, however, has burrowed further and further into the underground, releasing one uncatagorizable solo alb after another, to almost unanimous public indifference.
Stigmata may not change that, but it doesn’t seem to need to. Even accounting for his career of uncharitable experimentation, Martin Rev’s eighth solo album is something new again. To wit, it’s a haunting, intricate electro-classical record. Although it lacks vocals (save the occasional lonesome “oooh-uh-oooooh”), its religious (specifically Catholic) themes are heavily implied. All the titles are in Latin, and the whole thing carries an air of deep solemnity. The stout calls-to-action (“Laudamus,” “Exultate”) and crushingly sad laments (“Te Deum,” “Gloria”) are broken up by the occasional rays o’ sunshine (the springy “Jubilate,” the happily resigned closing theme Paradiso,” and “Spiritus,” which evokes Carl Stalling at his most playfully eerie.)
Stigmata is dedicated to Rev’s wife and collaborator, who died as he was completing it. In terms of confronting mortality, it’s about as far from “Frankie Teardrop” as one can get.