With his penchant for Victorian clothing it is perhaps no surprise that Daedelus (Alfred Weisberg-Roberts) has looked to history to inspire his latest work. Righteous Fists Of Harmony is a concept album (at around 26 minutes, it’s more of a mini-album) based on the Boxer Rebellion, an uprising in China that occurred between 1898-1901.
The Righteous Fists Of Harmony were a society of martial artists that believed themselves bulletproof and in possession of magical powers. They were neither, and were slowly crushed by the British in a brutal war. You would expect that, in attempting to tell the story of this period in history, Daedelus would have created a rather bleak sounding album that thundered with the sound of an unrelenting battle. If anything, Righteous Fists Of Harmony is instead at times an almost upbeat work.
A brushed snare and some baroque flavoured keyboards that sound as though they’ve only just been discovered at the back of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop pulse the album into life. As An Armada Approaches develops, a gentle Oriental melody that might have been lifted from Final Fantasy VII takes over. Skittering metallic beats hammer out and cut across the harmonies that slowly develop – they practically tremor with an uncertainty caused by the onslaught.
Tidal Waves Uprising’s collage of colliding acoustic guitars battling for dominance is loosely held together with percussion. At just over a minute long, it still has a surprising power to confuse with ideas scampering over each other constantly forming something of an impressionistic rustic soundscape. The strangely Francophile Order Of The Golden Dawn, meanwhile, cuts to the chase and tells us the story, without really attempting to express it through signifiers embedded in the music. The languid vocals of Daedelus’ wife Laura B Darlington combine with the laid back swing groove to create something that wouldn’t be out of place in a Parisian caf�. Despite being the most accessible track on the collection, it’s also the most out of place and puzzling addition.
Stampede Me relocates Daedelus in a dreamworld, the pulse of the song provided by exhalations and occasional snapping percussion. His vocals drift across the soundscape like the spirit of a chain smoking somnambulist as a placid acoustic guitar provides the heart of the track. It’s a beautifully warming few minutes.
He wraps things up with Fin De Si�cle, which finally creates some of the magic that the members of the Righteous Fists Of Harmony believed they possessed. Pitching the mood somewhere between a 1930s Hollywood romance movie soundtrack and any number of fairy godmother moments from Disney, Daedelus still manages to keep an element of suspense to his composition. So whilst the flutes and strings are covered in glitter and magic dust, the harp and some crafty soundwave manipulation ensure that there is still a slightly sinister undertone.
Righteous Fists of Harmony is an accomplished and clever piece of work that astounds as much as it confuses. Daedelus’ deft touch graces everything here, and even when it doesn’t seem quite right (Order Of The Golden Dawn) somehow he still makes it work. This is one history lesson worth sitting in on.