Symbols and Clouds is a limited edition two-disc collection drawn from two out-of-print Death In June Albums – But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter (1992) and Rose Clouds Of Holocaust (1995). The intention is to make these albums available again, although this is not a straightforward reissue – some tracks from the original albums have been omitted, and some non-LP tracks have been added, plus everything has been fitted onto one disc, thus effectively creating a new album.
Despite the original albums being recorded three years apart, they have a similar sound, which has come to be regarded as the signature DIJ sound: heavily reverbed vocals; acoustic guitars; icy, imperious keyboards and sparse percussion. The track listing closely follows the original LPs, with the omission of the tracks where David Tibet sings lead vocals, and with the addition of rare tracks ‘Cathedral of Tears’ and ‘Leopard Flowers’.
‘Death Is the Martyr of Beauty’ opens with birdsong, guitars, thick, droning keyboards, and a calm, measured vocal. This sets the tone for the entire disc. The music seems to float in a deep resonant space, with only the merest percussion – forward propulsive motion being provided by strummed acoustic guitars. ‘The Golden Wedding of Sorrow’ is one of DIJ’s lushest moments – with an echoed piano motif worthy of Francis Lai, tremelo’d electric guitar chords on the chorus, dramatic tympani etc. ‘Lord Winter’ marks a natural breathing space in the middle of the disc, as Australian actor Max Wearing reads out the lyric of ‘Luther’s Army’ over a soft industrial backing. ‘Luther’s Army’ itself is an instantly memorable uptempo track, and would have made an excellent choice for a single. The valedictory ‘Leopard Flowers’ closes the set.
The theme of the album seems to be the search for some kind of meaningful religious experience in a world where God has been declared superfluous to market requirements – this question is explicitly stated in ‘But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter’. ‘He’s Disabled’ proposes the blackly humorous thought that God is not dead, he’s just ‘disabled’, and unable to intervene in human affairs.
Disc Two of this set is a selection of fifteen songs from Disc One, reinterpreted as solo acoustic numbers. In the mainstream music world, doing an ‘Unplugged’ tends to mean taking your Greatest Hits, slowing them down, and playing with acoustic guitars and brushed drums. In the DIJ universe, it means subtly speeding up your songs in some instances (perhaps indicating Douglas P’s punk roots) – ‘He’s Disabled’ is taken at a fair old clip on this disc, and is over in less than two minutes. Also, there’s the odd judiciously chosen film dialogue sample appearing here and there, just to keep you on your toes. This is the closest you’ll get to Douglas P performing live in your living room.
And finally, a word on the packaging. This is one of the most striking packages ever released. The two CDs are contained within a velvet pouch, housed in a smooth soapstone box, with a laser-etched image of Douglas P on the lid . Also contained within the box are four small silver rune pendants, a cloth patch, and four circular cards with track credits etc. With a total weight of nearly 3lbs this release is, quite literally, monumental.