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The Doomed Bird Of Providence
Burrowed Into The Soft Sky Bob Cluness , September 6th, 2017 11:18

An extraordinary visceral dissection of colonialist evils, from Mark Kluzek and his Doomed Bird Of Providence

In the introduction to Exclusion, Exploitation and Extermination - Race Relations in Colonial Queensland, an exhaustive study of the Queensland’s race history by Raymond Evans, Kay Saunders and Kathryn Cronin, there is a story of how in June 1888, the white people of Normanton, upon hearing that a Malay man had gotten drunk and killed a white man, went berserk and in a fury of excitement and panic instigated a race riot that lasted for more than two days. A mob of 200 white people sacked and drove out all their coloured slaves and set fire to the “alien and coloureds” quarter of the town. Lynch laws were advocated and the government was called upon to expel all non-white nationals from the town. Eventually all the non-white residents, from aboriginal people, Chinese and Malays to American people of colour and Europeans from places such as Spain and Italy, were expelled on a steamer and forced to locate to nearby Thursday Island, where the reception was also one of hostility.

This story, and many others like it, form a grisly backdrop to Burrowed into the Soft Sky, the third album from Anglo-Australian folk band The Doomed Bird of Providence. This delving into Australia’s literary and historical past is nothing new for the band’s frontman and core member Mark Kluzek. In their previous two albums, 2011’s Will Ever Pray and 2013’s Blind Mouths Eat, Kluzek weaved the history of early colonial Australia, with its litany of disease, death, murder, convict transportations, and kidnapping and rape of aboriginal women, into a series of hellish vignettes as scarred and bleak as this album’s cover art. All throughout, Kluzek grasps the role of blasphemous storyteller, lurching with vocal malice and cussing the whole place up.

In many ways, Doomed Bird act as a vessel of bastardised prose, drawing on numerous literary sources, both real and fictitious, to create their tawdry tales of woe. But on Burrowed Into The Soft Sky, Kluzek has changed tack, foregoing the lyrical storytelling and instead deciding to articulate the album’s stories as a series of abstract instrumentals. Calling forth a team of disparate musicians, he developed a series of pictorial maps that contained links to orthodox orchestral arrangements and references to other music pieces to provide a guide to take Doomed Bird’s music into a different, more furtive mode of darkness.

The first composition, 'Burrowed into the Soft Sky', takes its cues from Patrick White's novel Voss, based on the fateful final journey of German explorer Ludwig Leichardt. It’s a song that depicts a man’s doomed fate in his desire to explore and conquer the unforgiving lands of the Australian interior. Starting off as pastoral haze of pastoral woodwind sounds and strings that scrape and wheeze, the piece stretches out into the shimmering heat of the sun, alternating between stark minimalist folk violins and the noisy outburst of a primitivist take on post-rock designed to emphasise the swing in moods and the sweeping rawness of the environment, as the maw of the Australian landscape first captivates, then traps the characters in adversity and despair.

The second composition, 'The Blood Dimmed Tide Is Loosed', is a much more ominous affair, with a tense and foreboding opening of grinding cellos and piercing violin squeals that takes its lead more from horror soundtracks than post-rock instrumentals. Taking the title from one of the chapters of Exclusion, Exploitation and Extermination (and in turn from WB Yeats' 'The Second Coming'), there is a prelude of fear that only sets you up for a violent denouement. A crashing blast hurls the band into a maniacal frenzy. Huddled around a cascading riff that seems to go on forever while smearing and defiling their playing with squalls of feedback and the clattering of drum kits and various objects, the noise they throw out attempts to portray the sweeping tide of debased violence and virulent evil of various atrocities by white colonials committed to wiping out entire communities of aboriginals and various alien communities in the hope that “the n----r will disappear...”. The aftermath of such barbarism sees Doomed Bird play in an almost shell-shocked manner, as cold drones waft over the carnage. But towards the piece’s climax, the apocalyptic dirges, drones, and screams rear their head again to remind the listener that there is no happy ending, or reckoning of justice. All there is is the continuation of violence and brutality.

Burrowed Into The Soft Sky is an album that has Doomed Bird break out of the comfort zone that the forms of primeval folk music have afforded them. The result of their experimentation being the assemblage of various styles and genres; in various moments, the music is soothing and folksy, then stark and minimal, before becoming filthy and debased noise rock. But despite the change of approach towards the music, there is still no change in the worldview that has always been at the forefront of Kluzek and Doomed Bird’s minds; to pick open the scab and scratch and the scars of Australian history, to reveal in a way that mere word struggle to express, the ugly stain of colonialist actions and drives that no amount of whitewashing can clean away.

Available here on download and vinyl