July 1995 – album reviews – Mark Tschanz’s ‘Blue Dog’ (“vast expressionistic tableaus”)

13 Jul

Mark Tschanz: 'Blue Dog'

Mark Tschanz: ‘Blue Dog’

It starts well: a dark slow maelstrom of synth choir nailed down by a harsh hammering drum, then synth double bass adding a steely spring over a tickle of menacing percussion. Pagan synth-brass blares force their way in: finally a brandy-soaked voice like the High Priest of the Temple of Dark Desires roars “this is the life!” and in come slamming techno beats and snarling, snorting metal guitars. Vangelis jams with Nine Inch Nails? Well, there’s a few perceptions busted.

I first heard about Mark Tschanz from a chance encounter on a train, when someone described him to me as a Swiss Peter Gabriel. This was a little misleading. Mark Tschanz is in fact a Swiss Elvis Presley as orchestrated by Carl Orff and directed by Cecil B. De Mille, with words by Jim Morrison and spiritual guidance by Mephistopheles on mescalin. And while Gabriel mostly writes intimate and vulnerable psychological dramas, Tschanz always opts for vast expressionistic tableaus: angels, typhoons, and circuses casting stark shadows against deserts and discoloured skies.


 
His music is correspondingly epic – symphonic synthesized Euro-pomp and harsh Prokofiev pitches melded with steamy drum loops and biting guitars, and topped off with the stony intensity of the itinerant, isolated lone bluesman. He also has an ear for uncanny lyrics – unless it’s just the tricks of translation – with imagery ranging from the sharply poetic (“the white clown who blows great big bubbles full of screams”) to the plain bizarre (“I’ll be the heat inside your dog”). And he’s blessed with the kind of dark, monolithic baritone voice that sounds like the pronouncements of a huge pagan idol. It gives his brooding forays into colossitude an edge that rescues them from the “big-music” cliches they skirt.

Like his obvious antecedents – Dead Can Dance – Mark Tschanz has enough sheer presence to justify the scale of his musical canvas. And it is on a huge scale: his dark meditations on the human spirit are swollen to Wagnerian proportions. The Immortals broods thunderously on stagnation – “I am the church upon the hill, and I am full of infidels / As they are all trying to kill what of me still wants to rebel.” Both Happy and Rattlesnake charge off into darkly-orchestrated funk-metal, sizzling dance loops wound around with metallic sheets of funk-wah guitar and scraping, rasping ba-a-a-d vocals – “the world takes us like a whirling wind, and it would be so good not to be wondering… / Something in you knows, baby, / whatever makes you happy is what will set you free.”

The stark loneliness in Time is illustrated with an epically mournful rush of thunderously weeping cellos and guitars, as Tschanz ties himself together with starving dogs, swollen rivers and weeping women in a net of timeless patience and pain. And the apocalyptic forebodings of Storm are medieval ones – the world, in half-conscious anticipation, slowing to a halt, angels and demons preparing for battle in the skies, and earthbound horses huddling close to fences in nameless dread and desire for human warmth. Tschanz hovers above all this with the sardonic air of someone who knows what sort of bill has to be paid: “one day you will turn around, / maybe only for a second, / and there will be no-one to call, / and there will be nothing at all.”

Yes. All right. At its worst it’s pumped-up goth pomp; and one might question why everything has to be so gigantic. Incubus, in particular, sounds like a cathedral hosting a black mass in full swing: screeching metal guitar, menacing choral stabs and deep belling synths as Tschanz roars and broods on the seductions of immortality (“Look at history unfold. / Are you sure time can’t grow old? / I’ve got something on my mind / that wants you to live forever.”), acknow,edging that such desires are rarely pure – “I hear it howling!”. Mr Crowley, they’re playing your tune.


 
Still, many of these songs somehow knit the existential dreads of Robert Johnson’s blues to the blood-soaked threads of Eastern European history that thrum through the music of Gorecki or Orff; as in Time, the blurred carnival blues of Love Song, or the tear-smudged Rain which takes the striving and drama of human achievements, of wars good or bad, of systems that swallow and actions significant, and reduces them all to washed-away impermanence. And Tschanz knows when to skewer the pomp with humour: as The Life peaks, he snarls “I drink to fiction and monsters and paradise, / I drink to the light, the out of sight – I drink a lot!”

The threatening, showy grandeur of ‘Blue Dog’ might not be for everyone, but if big-bastard stadium paganism is your bag then it’ll stalk you, grab you by the ankle and won’t let go. And if his musical world doesn’t implode under the weight of its own epicness, we can expect great things from Mark Tschanz’s savagely baroque imagination. The Wicker Man probably has this playing on his headphones.

Mark Tschanz: ‘Blue Dog’
Warner Music UK, 0630-10606- 2
CD-only album
Released:
10th July 1995
Get it from: (2020 update) Best obtained second-hand.
Mark Tschanz online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Last FM Spotify Amazon Music
 

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