Album Reviews

The Flowers Of Hell – O

(Sonic Cathedral) UK release date: 15 November 2010

The Flowers Of Hell are a strange proposition at the best of times. Formed in the UK back in 2002 by Greg Jarvis the band has become over the years an amorphous entity of musicians exploring the netherworlds of neo-classical music at his behest. When Jarvis moved back to his native Canada in 2007, he simply formed a Canadian version of the band, and kept the version he’d nurtured in the UK ticking over as well.

With this album Jarvis and his merry Space Rock Orchestra indulge in a little “absolute music” – a meaning that the music produced has no particular theme, it just exists. This ties in nicely with the band’s ability to exist in different forms, in different countries and operate simultaneously – it exists in the same way that the music of “O” exists.

O was originally titled Business Suicide, and it is quickly evident why. A 45 minute piece of largely improvised, instrumental neo-classical music recorded in a single take is never going to trouble the mainstream. The problem is that O may not even appeal to the most ardent supporters of Jarvis’ vision.

As ambitious as such a project is, the overriding feeling that accompanies listening to O is one of listless floating. That there are no real themes or narratives within the music itself means that there is very little to cling to. Strings rise and fall, cymbals wash and fade away, guitars and the horn section calls out like a solitary bird in an uninhabited forest but there seems to be very little sense of reason. If “absolute music” is designed to just exist, then O fits the bill perfectly because it never really lives or fulfils a purpose.

It is undeniable that there is some sublime musicianship on display however, and it must be said that there are some quite beautiful moments that appear ghostlike from the ether from time to time. The orchestral swells around the 20 minute mark, the sense of dread evoked some six minutes later, or the haunting shimmering noise that seems to shriek into the darkness after a particularly quiet woodwind section are all wonderfully executed and potent.

Ultimately, it must be said, it is something of a disappointment. What saves the album though is the DVD section that a features a film of the band (Live At The Music Gallery) recorded around the time of the launch of Come Hell or High Water. Rudimentary it may well be, but it is also fascinating viewing as the band make their way though interpretation of Lou Reed‘s Street Hassle, The Jesus And Mary Chain‘s Darklands and showcase the unique vision of Jarvis’ compositions.

The additional live performances of Opt Out In Aberdeen and Sympathy For Vengence are urgent and in the case of Opt Out, complimented with a mash of images which compliment the space rock oddity being played out.´┐ŻAlso included is an animation set to Opus 66 which finds the band in far more direct form. It is as elegant as the music it accompanies; had they’d done something similar for O perhaps it might have been a more successful piece as a whole. As it is, the DVD section is the real reason to check out this album.

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The Flowers Of Hell – O