Mogwai – My Father My King

Two parts serenity and one part death metal

That’s what the sticker said, on the CD. Two parts serenity and one part death metal. I often wondered what might be going on in the heads of the promo people at record labels. Some of the things they put on stickers are just unfathomably moronic. Like the one I saw on a German CD edition of Rage Against The Machine’s “Evil Empire” album. It carried just two words in German: “Voll evil!” which doesn’t really need much translation, you can already guess it says something like “Totally evil!” and it makes you wonder whether they were considering to add “, dude!” to it. God, how embarrassing… Someone just totally didn’t understand the band and its mission.

This one, though – it basically says it all. It’s an eight word summary of what you get on this CD single. The format… I am quite certain that this is the only CD single I ever bought. And even though I really like Mogwai a lot, I was reluctant to buy it, first checking whether there was a vinyl edition, and if yes, if it wasn’t sold out yet as it usually happens with our favorite Scottish band.

Well, there was. Single sided vinyl, but yes, sold out. So I bought this. And of course it’s not the usual CD single with the original song and a half dozen remixes that no one really needs. It’s just this one song. But that’s plenty, with its twenty minutes and twelve seconds.

“My Father My King” was viewed by many as some sort of addition to “Rock Action” – both were released in October 2001 – but the band didn’t say anything to support this, and much later even denied the notion. Some of the critics were pointing at the sticker, saying that the two parts serenity and one part death metal was what they would have wanted to hear on the album. I just thought that these folks were still sort of pissed off that Mogwai were again not doing what they were wanting them to do which was more or less to copy the formula of their debut “Young Team”.

The title of the song is the English translation of “Avinu Malkeinu” – the name of a Jewish prayer that is recited during the ten days of repentance asking God for forgiveness in spite of sins committed. From day one, Mogwai were choosing rather unorthodox song titles, obviously having fun thinking about all of the people who would be trying to figure out what they meant, what kind of story might be behind them. Some of the titles are referring to religious topics even though only one of the band members is said to be in any way religious. “Mogwai Fear Satan” and “Like Herod” on the first album, “You Don’t Know Jesus” on their third one.

And here they come with a Jewish prayer. It might seem like there’s some kind of deeper meaning to it, but the background is mainly a musical one – Arthur Baker (yes, the one with the 400 remixes, plenty of them for New Order, and in charge of arrangement here) had introduced the band to the melodies of this prayer and the guys loved them. So much actually that “My Father My King” turned into one of their all time favorite concert closers.

It’s perfectly placed there, the way it is structured. For all the good and worthy Mogwai reasons: It features simple and haunting melodies, it enables the band to create that hypnotic power they are known for, and it allows them to do what they love – keep adding guitars and bass, letting it all build and build and build, going from super quiet to almost unbearably loud, adding effects galore, and finally letting it all merge into one huge storm of distortion and white noise (on this song, we get around four minutes of that).

Here they take the recipe a step further – deconstructing the song after about eight minutes to almost full silence, then switching to the second melody and starting a similar build-up. 1 prayer makes 2 songs, you might say. No idea how many layers of guitar and bass have been piled upon each other when things get really heavy and thick and deathmetal-ish – but who cares? Counting is the last thing you want to do. As usual, Steve Albini is able to create massive amounts of space only to fill everything densely with sound, and just when you think it all can’t get even more massive, here’s another layer, and yet another, and it’s all Woofer Fear Mogwai.

It’s fascinating to listen to this and wonder how it’s possible to put all of this together and not turn it into one big amorphous mess. Not everyone will appreciate the noise and distortion of the final minutes, but yes, live this must be an almost religious experience for any Mogwai fan. For some strange reason I haven’t yet had the luck to see them perform this one, and I’ve been to four of their concerts. No, obviously I won’t pray for it to be on their set list next time. But hope is okay.

Release for review:

Buy the digital version on Bandcamp: Click
Buy the vinyl version on Discogs: Click

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