Nodding God

Play Wooden Child

Nodding God, the new project of Andrew Liles, David Tibet and 'The Underage Shaitan Boy' release their debut album tomorrow. Read on for our review, an exclusive track premiere and a Q+A with Liles

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Play Wooden Child is a record that exists in its own dimension, a parallel universe where the ancient Earth and the cosmic future intersect, a hybrid of ancient Mesopotamian ritual and audacious voyages into the interstellar unknown. Its creators are Nodding God, a band who claim to be 666 years old, but were actually formed by Andrew Liles and David Tibet, along with a figure known only as the ‘Underage Shaitan Boy’ whose entire existence is shrouded in mystery.

Tibet’s vocals on the album are in Akkadian, an extinct Semitic language spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. It’s a hard, guttural tongue, its harshness electronically over-exaggerated by deep, low echoes and distortions. He does not sing so much as speak, slowly enunciating each word, relishing each glottal stop to convey a sense of supreme, otherworldly authority. The music underneath feels like something separate, a voyage all of its own where sci-fi beeps and whizzes whirl around simple but hugely effective beats that feel saturated with a sense of exploration.

That is not to say that there’s any disconnect between the vocals and the music. Tibet’s voice feels like an interruption, a transmission from elsewhere that takes control over the music. Take opener ‘Trapezoid Haunting’, for example, where electronic rumblings, squelches, squalls, glistens and beeps set a moody, isolated tone, like a spaceship floating alone through the void. Then, you begin to hear that voice, lurching in and out of audibility. It’s so distorted at first that it sounds buried and demonic, unintelligible as it fades away with a growl. Just as you’re wondering whether you heard it at all, a shimmering, but somehow sinister, new rhythm takes over. It plunges, as if somehow in temperature as well as in sound, and that voice returns. It’s clear now, still demonic but transfixing and hypnotic. You begin to make out words, some you’re sure of (Mercury, Raphael, quicksilver), and some you’re not (Is there a ‘nineteen’ buried there somewhere?). There’s links to be made – the Archangel Raphael is said to rule the planet Mercury, the element named after the planet is also known as quicksilver – but you’re not sure exactly what it all means.

Tibet’s vocal is transfixing on Play Wooden Child, but so too is the music. It feels amorphous, constantly shifting direction, rising and falling in complex patterns, textures swarming and receding. Sometimes it’s deeply sinister, at others glorious and beautiful. Sometimes it’s both at once, and sometimes it flickers between the two – from heaven to hell in the blink of an eye. There’s a pomp and preposterousness to the whole thing too, one that you feel Nodding God have embraced. They don’t tone down any drifts towards the hammier elements of the sci-fi aesthetics, the mystery of the ‘Underage Shaitan Boy’, or those melodramatic Akkadian growls, they incorporate them into an album that is deeply complex, but also deeply fun.

This is a masterful record, precisely because it is not po-faced. Singing in an ancient tongue, but with galactic, futuristic overtones, it’s almost as if the voice exists out of time itself, a primal spirit that was there in Akkadia and is there in every corner of the universe. With it Nodding God use forward-thinking and experimental music to explore cryptic influences – they list them themselves as spirits, intelligences, demons, metals, and numbers – but do so in a way that’s appealing beyond academia. Nodding God are a dense and deeply strange band, and immensely appealing.

Q+A With Andrew Liles of Nodding God

Who exactly is your third member, the Underage Shaitan Boy, and what can you tell us about him?

That’s a tricky one. His parents didn’t really approve of him working with us, so they said he could do the album under the condition he use a pseudonym. So he became Shaitan Boy. He’s a great kid and a wizard with plugins and computer stuff. He will almost certainly come into his own in a few years.

Can you tell us about the origins of this project? When did you and David Tibet begin working on it, and what were the initial conversations about it like?

David wanted to prepare an instrumental piece to play during an academic lecture he was giving in Norway. It related to his studies in forgotten languages. I was messing around with some new software that I had just bought whilst working on some Current 93 material and David said ‘that’s it’. A happy accident in some respects.

We made a few more tracks in that style and thought what do we do with this? Nodding God was born. Not Andrew Liles or Current 93 – something with its own unique identity.

What sparked David’s interest in Akkadian, and why was the decision made to record in that language?

I have known David over 20 years and facets of his world and motivations are still an enigma to me. So in short I have no idea what attracted him to Akkadian.

We chose Akkadian for the record as it is David’s absolute passion and as I said, previously it tied up with the initial reason we made the first song, for David to present an academic paper.

For me Akkadian just sounds great, otherworldly, something Christopher Lee would recite at some nefarious ritual in a Hammer movie. High camp or high art – it’s all interchangeable for me.

Does the culture, history and mythology of ancient Mesopotamia influence the record in any other ways? If so, how?

Only in as far as using Pazuzu on the cover. In ancient Mesopotamian religion, Pazuzu was the king of the demons of the wind, but he is probably most famous for his cameo in the Exorcist movie.

How does working in Nodding God compare to, say, Current 93 or Nurse With Wound?

Both Nurse With Wound and Current 93 are vehicles for David and Steve’s vision and creative ideas that I help to facilitate. I have a pretty significant role in both bands but at the end of the day they have the final say and dictate the final outcome.

Nodding God is an equal partnership, it also gives me more freedom musically. It is a lot more electronic and structured than where I think NWW would ever venture and probably a long way off the Current 93 road.

The influences of this record have been listed as “spirits, intelligences, demons, metals, and numbers” – can you expand on that?

The recording was made in a ‘numerological’ way. David has an antique grimoire of signs, symbols charts and so and so forth. So the number of notes in the arpeggios, track lengths, which note was played on the scale and keys etc all relate and correlate to various spirits, intelligences, demons, metals and numbers that were in the charts and tables found in the grimoire.

It’s an extensively well thought out record in regard to its mathematical design and the ‘songs’ don’t really make sense in regards to timing or traditional musical structure which, I think, gives it a unique style.

Play Wooden Child is out on House Of Mythology on Friday 10 May

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