November 27, 2019 Jaz Coleman & The St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra – Magna Invocatio (Album Review)
The name Jaz Coleman is synonymous with an essential brand of music nearly impossible to categorize. The man behind the moniker co-founded the massively influential Killing Joke way back in 1978, rapidly becoming one of England’s foremost creators of Experimental Rock, Post-Punk, and Proto-Industrial sound. Now over forty years into an accomplished and powerful career, the ingenious composer is set to release perhaps his most ambitious album ever. Recorded with the famed St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Magna Invocatio – A Gnostic Mass For Choir And Orchestra Inspired By The Sublime Music Of Killing Joke hits the planet on Friday, November 29th, 2019 via Spinefarm Records. Fans of Killing Joke might recognize the song titles, but they will be in for a jolt of surprise when they press the play button.
The simplest way to phrase it would be to say that Magna Invocatio consists of orchestral manifestations of Killing Joke songs, but that would be like experiencing a sunset by reading about one. The music on offer, thirteen movements of lucent classical majesty, takes the listener on a journey out of the mundane and into something higher, more grandiloquent and most especially, more relaxing.
Those familiar with songs such as “In Cythera,” “The Raven King,” and the sublime “Euphoria” know that the timeless melodies contained within each song would lend themselves quite nicely to an orchestral re-imagining. The familiar refrains of the songs are immediately apparent, each one enveloped in layers of violin and woodwind; velvety dimensions of sound guaranteed to transport the listener every time.
A New Wave, Pop Rock (for the time) dance number such as “Adorations,” from the 1980s era of Killing Joke, with its hypnotic basslines and slicing guitars, is rendered on this album into soundtrack-style magnificence. Clarinets, flute, perhaps an oboe… the instruments converge to give new life to the composition. A serene experience, the dopamine-inducing splendor of the song is most certainly an album highlight.
Choral arrangements abound on “Invocation,” a song for whom those familiar will smile knowingly. Already bursting with pomp and circumstance, the song from 2006’s stunning Hosannas from the Basements of Hell album seems ready made for the classical treatment. The only comparable that comes to mind here is Sweden’s adventurous Therion, as fans of such robust choruses and arrangements will certainly attest. The rejoicing build and crash of tension, the accompaniment of instrumentation – it is all there in spades.
“Honour The Fire” from 2010’s Absolute Dissent is an example of a melodic, yet chugging number done over with transcendent love and skill Coleman’s voice on the original is uplifted superbly here, even the parts where his crooning singing voice on the original become a harsh shout. Here it is re-purposed by swells of orchestral grandeur, not diminished in any way, but enhanced.
The song flows into the outro, “Magna Invocatio (Gloria),” a rollicking suite of Orff-like proportions (German composer Carl Orff of the oft covered “O Fortuna”), and all in all some of the loveliest mezzo-soprano choral singing to be heard this side of Claudio Monteverde.
One of the overarching accomplishments of Magna Invocatio is its ability to offer something to music fans who may not be pursuers of anything choral, classical, or orchestral whatsoever. Nothing on the album is laborious, it all flows mellifluously from one piece to the next, the familiar lays of these English Experimental Rock titans focused through a lens reminiscent of the soundtracks to our favorite fantasy cinema. A resounding success, Cryptic Rock gives Magna Invocatio – A Gnostic Mass For Choir And Orchestra Inspired By The Sublime Music Of Killing Joke a sterling 5 out of 5 stars.