Busking for Blood
Ramesses at The Borderline, 7th November 2009
by: Amun Breaker
[Just a brief note to say that Ramesses play the Old Blue Last in London tomorrow night (January 16th) -- apparently it's a free gig, so definitely not to be missed. Also an apology to my friend Amun Breaker -- he's usually way too tied up with his day job of arm-wrestling crocodiles in Nicaragua to do something as menial as sit down and write a review of a gig he went along to which yours truly missed. I thank him for the awesome words which so vividly evoke the event and apologise to all of you readers for not having got his work to the CoC press more promptly. Totally my bad. -- Paul Schwarz]

The buskers never stop in London. 9pm in Tottenham Court Road tube station is freshly passed, still rumbling away down the dank and echoing bowels of the city, and it carries with it the sound of competence on an acoustic from the corridors above. It seems that the exact title of the really rather well-known song being busked has long since departed down the vaulted burrows along with 9pm -- but hey, that's one reason buskers are better than MTV and MP3s: you can be humming a little tune for minutes afterwards, even whole days before you find out it's by that band you hate. If you're really lucky, it'll last days before your boss looks up with a baffled glint in his eyes and says "huh, never took you for a Steps fan..."

Atop the staircase, Mystery Famous Pop-rock Song gives ground to the grumblegrind and Babel-babble of tourists and traffic for a moment -- but hark! Scant paces lead to more concentrated pop-rock in the form of a slouching, ever-so-nearly-on-key (and in no way clich├ęd) rendition of "People Are Strange". His hat is nearly empty; we shall pass him by.

Of course, the issue at hand is not the pop-rock in the street. The issue is the underground doom -- and literally so, as the triple apparition of Ramesses that lurks in the Borderline, nestling deep in the grave of the Astoria, raises the question: is there a market niche for buskers in the corridors of Hell? And is it filled? If it isn't, these guys have the afterlife sewn -right- up.

Their languid, glutinous grooves, carved like marble out of feedback and valves, are fascinating in their own right -- but the judicious admixture of a physically intense and sweat-spattered percussion performance brings a jolting, plosive and hallucinatory expanse to the fore. The sensation of swooping through infernal hellscapes, divebombing the damned and sweeping out across alien plains, is only heightened by the video accompaniment, smeared across the entire band from a grubby lens in the ceiling.

The visuals, sliced and spliced from the days before horror films discovered the delights of strobe lighting and convincing prostheses, recall childhood memories of the times when horror was something watched by subterfuge late at night or in the company of older cousins, of a world where lurid Technicolor B-listers crept and cowered around velvet-curtained manor houses evading foam-rubber horrors from beyond the veil, of a world before you'd seen the ham in Hammer or learned that Boris Karloff was really Bill Pratt from Peckham. Though grown-up eyes normally see no real fear in a '60s Wheatley adaptation, the addition of Ramesses seems to transmute a stuntman in a goat suit to the very personification of satanic terror, a thumb jammed in a mannequin's head to an intimately perverse gouging of a bound and drugged acolyte's eye, and a bored-looking cut-price blonde bombshell feigning discomfort with the plastic chisel at her neck to a horror-stricken sacrificial virgin facing down her final moments in tear-speckled despair. In short: the very first use of a working time machine will be wasted if it is not used to send Ramesses back to the Hammer offices -- specifically, the sound department -- some time in the 1950s.

The full synthesis of Ramesses, their sonic and visual elements taken as a whole, is a perfectly sculpted vessel for fear; without the video component, in spite of an undeniable advantage in skill, there is little to distinguish them from doom's rank and file. Perhaps this is a failing in their recorded work (Stand up, _Misanthropic Alchemy_'s production. Stand up. Hold out your hand. This will hurt me more than it hurts you, boy...), but it seems that the ocular aspect constitutes a kind of key to the locked and hidden depths of their sound, opening a tear through the veil to let through some unseen and unsuspected slimy cosmic beast to petrify the punters. Well, someone's got to do it.

All that said, something is still missing from the Ramesses experience, and, bluntly -- it's blunts. One way or another, without more chemical assistance than good ol' alcohol, they simply cannot escape their drab surroundings and the peeling wallpaper behind them, and without doing that, the experience remains, in its most formal sense, mundane. In modern Britain, at an indoor gig, the obvious option is no longer there, and that's a sad loss to all psychedelic art -- a niche into which, incidentally, Ramesses squarely slot. Outdoor gigs are all well and good, but who on earth wants to risk seeing a band like Ramesses bathed in the afternoon sun? Moreover, it is genuinely regrettable that this one aspect of Ramesses' sound must, for the moment, remain out of reach. An altered state of consciousness would appear to be both a key to, and the goal of, their output, and without one, there is a sucking absence at the heart of the set.

Above ground again, with hell's buskers packing up and hopping it, the acoustic wizard (everyone's happy when they've walked by him, you know) is still on "People Are Strange" -- still on the same verse of it, in fact. Have Ramesses successfully torn a hole in time, even in spite of the yoke of smoke-free legislation? Possibly. Possibly indeed.

(article submitted 14/2/2010)

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