AN NCS EP PREMIERE (AND A REVIEW): GOLDEN BATS — “UPSTAIRS POWER SKULL CAVE PROTECTION”
I’ve been flying along with Golden Bats now for about seven years now. Even though I’ve become somewhat acquainted by long distance with Geordie Stafford, the transplanted Australian (now living in Rome) who’s behind the project, I’ve never asked him where that name came from. I think it’s because I’d rather not know, and instead rely on imagination, picturing from the music an immense supernatural beast overhead, fearsome and frightening, a harbinger of doom, capable of blotting out the light, but radiating a chilling yet mesmerizing shine of its own.
In genre terms Golden Bats is a sludge-doom leviathan whose music tends to be titanically heavy, built upon mammoth riffs that are as corrosive as battery acid, but also steeped in a kind of gothic gloom, and so haunting in its laments that it threatens to split the heart even as it’s splintering bone. Capable of emotionally devastating manifestations of grief and pain as well as humongous heaviness, the music has repeatedly hit home with staggering force on multiple levels.
And now we have another new Golden Bats creation, one of the best yet. It’s a new EP with the mystifying name Upstairs Power Skull Cave Protection, and we’re premiering it now on the day of its release.
The EP consists of two long songs, more than 20 minutes in combined length, and I’ll give you my reactions to each track (you can’t stop me!). Both individually and collectively, they have a transportive effect.
Lyrically, “Spanish Moss” tells the tale of a ritual demonic summoning gone wrong, bringing forth instead something with sharper teeth and a mind of its own, something vampiric and not easily stopped.
At the outset, the music slowly wanders in deep ominous distorted tones, joined by the high-pitched wail of the guitar and a guest performer’s Leonard Cohen-like singing. When the drums arrive (pounding), the riffing begins to slash in sync with them, creating a dismal percussive harmony in a quickening pulse as a backdrop to Stafford’s scorching howls. The spasms of the music (amplified by riotous drum fills) will make your head move, but it’s a frightening experience, though the clarion-like ringing of the emerging guitar solo is as entrancing as it is chilling, creating a big contrast with the skull-excavating sound of everything else.
The music makes your body want to lurch along with the heavy rhythms and craggy chords, but it also sends supernatural visions into your mind with rippling and quivering keyboards and ethereal leads. And to cap the experience, we get a bluesy, psychedelic, dual-guitar solo that brough other visions (of Jimi Hendrix) to mind.
The lyrics of “Naumachina” seem to intertwine two narratives (though they collectively represent a metaphor for something less literal). In one the protagonist seems to be a man gifted with the ability to see the future, but who is betrayed by his gift, and fails to foresee the day when the stars completely collapse. The other seems to refer to the “naumachia”, the name for the staging of naval battles as mass entertainment in ancient Rome, where the combatants were prisoners of war sentenced to death, and not expected to survive their ordeals.
The song sets up its own compulsive lurching (but cranium-cracking) rhythm immediately. Thoroughly bleak in its atmosphere and clawing and corrosive in the tone of its über-thick riffs, the music is again pierced by Stafford’s shattering, larynx-lacerating howls and screams, and infiltrated by filaments of shrill, eerily glimmering melody. About halfway through, everything vanishes, replaced by the vibrations of a slow, sorrowful organ harmony and a complementary piano arpeggio. That interlude is ghostly and disturbing, but still functions as a kind of reprieve before the song again begins to put a sledgehammer to your neck and gouge giant furrows in your skull. In the finale, the sound of sloshing water connects to the music’s lyrical themes, bodies drifting down….