Review Summary: This is the church. These are the congregants.
You wouldn't expect it by his music but John Darnielle is probably the most metal man alive (well second to Ronnie James Dio). All you have to do is check out his blog "Last Plane to Jakarta" or read one of his editorials in Decibel magazine. The man bleeds metal. He reaffirmed this earlier this fall with the release of the Satanic Messiah
EP. Though it was available as a free download off of his website, those who wanted a physical copy had to buy the limited edition vinyl of which only 666 copies were pressed. Regardless of the ridiculously kvltlike pressing number, Satanic Messiah
is a welcome edition to the Mountain Goats cannon.
When compared to the other Mountain Goats releases of 2008, Heretic Pride
and Black Pear Tree
(featuring Kaki King), Satanic Messiah
is a much more subdued affair. Instead of the full band sound that has dominated The Mountain Goats as of late, the instrumentation on Satanic Messiah
is sparse at most. The only accompaniment given to Darnielle's vocals is either his acoustic guitar or his gentle piano work. Interestingly enough the EP is split between these two sounds. The first two tracks, "Sarcofago Live" and "Wizard Buys A Hat" are the acoustic numbers. "Sarcofago Live" is the first of two songs on Satanic Messiah
to carry a "metal" theme. Behind its fragile chords and melancholy atmosphere, is actually an ode to an obscure Brazilian Black Metal band. On the other hand "Wizard Buys A Hat" is a vitriolic song of anxiety. Throughout the track the tension builds to the final outro of "but if I came here to drown/ I'm gonna take a few people down/ this is the church occupied by the enemy" but unfortunately never sees the cathartic release it so direly needs. The album's title track is the first of the piano driven songs and it brings back the "metal" themes. It is a recollection of events at a metal show where the singer "stepped onto the stage/ like an animal escaping from his cage". The chorus playfully describes childhood idolization by portraying the band's vocalist as "he whom the prophet spoke of long ago has come". The final song on Satanic Messiah
is "Gojam Province 1968". The somber memorial to the 40th Anniversary to the Ethiopian civil war is the highlight of the EP. Darnielle's gentle voice and simplistic piano work may seem like an odd backdrop to such a violent subject but somehow it just works perfectly.
Its hard to believe that for a man that has as many albums as most bands have songs, John Darnielle can still release new material at the rate that he does and still make it seem fresh and not like a retread of his past works. Satanic Messiah's
stronger emphasis on piano is a perfect compliment to Darnielle's story telling and if it's a glimpse of the direction he plans to take the Mountain Goats, then there are good things to come.
For those of you interested, the EP can be downloaded free of charge at http://satanicmessiah.com/