Death In June – The Rule of Thirds (NER)

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Death In June have a career which stretches back to 1981. The band rose from the ashes of punk band Crisis, and were heavily influenced by Joy Division initially, even down to a similar interest in WWII military iconography. However, as time went on, the band slimmed down to singer Douglas Pearce, plus different collaborators on each album. Along with other musicians of the time Pearce followed a wider trajectory, whereby the first wave of Industrial artists (such as TG>PTV, Nurse With Wound, Current 93) gradually drew back from all-out aural assaults, and began to explore acoustic/electronic arrangements, merging acoustic pop with Cold Wave and Industrial. Indeed, Death In June are now seen as one of the three main progenitors (along with Current 93 and Sol Invictus) of what has come to be known as Neofolk.

Pearce sings in an almost 1960s MOR style (he cites Scott Walker as a major inspiration). His voice is deep, rich and resonant – intimate and controlled, free of rock bluster. The Rule of Thirds is Death In June’s fourteenth album (not counting compilations etc), and it is quite remarkable. The sound has been pared down to mainly voice and acoustic guitar – however do not mistake this for a singer/songwriter record. The sparseness of the sound allows the songs to be heard clearly. Lyrics are printed in the booklet, but the printed word is rendered superfluous by the clarity of Pearce’s vocal delivery. And the lyrics are elliptical, enigmatic and disquieting. Death stalks this album – mentions of decay, ageing, war and betrayal appear in most of the songs. And yet this is far from being a depressing album. In some ways, Pearce is a songsmith of the old school. He favours uptempo rhythms, hummable (if dolorous) melodies and catchy choruses (although you’re unlikely to hear ‘My Rhine Atrocity’ on Triple J anytime soon). Death In June’s post-industrial background is evident in the weird samples which appear in several songs. Also the care which is taken in rendering the actual sound of the guitars and vocals and judicious use of reverb places this outwith the singer/songwriter genre.

There are many memorable moments on The Rule of Thirds, but perhaps the most affecting song is the final track ‘Let Go’. This is the one track which features an additional musician – Dave Lokan on lead acoustic guitar and bass. The guitars glisten, and the odd vocal effects make the words sound as if they’re being sucked out of the singer’s mouth. The text is not printed in the booklet as the lyric is just ‘let go’ – it couldn’t be any simpler, and yet it’s profoundly moving.

Ewan Burke

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