When I was younger I used to follow bands with an intensity and loyalty that seemingly knew no boundaries. I would defend them to the hilt, obsessively look for their chart position, and buy every new record blind on the week of release.
Things are different these days. For a start few of the bands I like ever trouble the charts, while in these days of music streaming it is a rare thing not to be able to try an album out before committing to paying money to download or purchase a physical format; vinyl in my case. I also find that I am much less likely to automatically dig an album from an artist or band whose previous output I have really rated. I am not sure whether to put this down to fickleness or discernment, but I am now very critical of such albums, which have to have the right balance of recognisable motifs and signs of development (in the right direction of course).
So it was with more than a little apprehension that I listened to the second album by Cult of Dom Keller. I loved their eponymous first album, released last year, enough that it made my top ten for 2013. I loved its heaviness and the fact that it sounded both familiar and otherworldly at the same time. Could the band repeat the trick in the right way?
Well the answer for me is a resounding yes. Cult of Dom Keller has retained many of the tropes that made the first album so successful in my eyes, but has developed its music. The band sound more confident and have channelled that into a tighter set without losing the essential chaos in their music. So the elements are still all there, the mysterious nature of the vocals – imagine Ian Curtis shouting through a megaphone; the heavy (really heavy) fuzzy guitar; the swirling organ weaving its way through the songs and coming up for air every so often; and the deep bass which really pounds from the speakers as the needle digs into the vinyl.
The Second Bardo is also an appropriate title for this album. ‘Bardo’ is a term used in Tibetan Buddhism to describe a succession of progressively less tangible spiritual states that arise between lives; the second bardo being the dream state. This is appropriate because, above all, Cult of Dom Keller are a psychedelic band and they have produced an album that has elements of pop yet twists and distorts. It is an album that entices you into its fuzzy folds but never makes you feel comfortable. It is compelling and meditative, yet there is also a bleak and unsettling nature to this music which gives it a real edge and if this music does represent a liminal dream state, it is one which requires some contemplation. In short it has that psychedelic dreaminess, yet under the surface there is a real menace – the stuff of nightmares.
As I understand it the purpose of the bardo is to allow spiritual progression and I hope it does not sound crass if I suggest that this album deserves to take this Nottingham four piece to the next level. They have drawn on the strong foundation of their debut, itself five years in the making, and have found a path which I hope will draw me into some old fashioned band obsession. Let’s see what happens when I finally get to see them live in Leeds next month, but in the meantime I can but dream.