Dead Skeletons: Dead Magick I & II

Words by Bowen Staines
This review was written in addendum to a previous review published by The Grapevine, to accompany the complete physical release of “Dead Magick I & II” last month.

These days, it is fairly commonplace for neoclassical/ethereal darkwave bands with albums comprised of many different styles to slap on that dreaded “concept” moniker, and leave the rest to the hard drugs. Although ‘Dead Magick I & II’ is an album that seems to disregard categorisation almost on purpose (pulling inspiration from everything from Lycia and Bauhaus, to Tibetan ideologies and spiritual mantras), I never felt like I was being “forced” to experience these things in the same way as the musicians. I felt free to encounter the philosophies for myself, with or without the aid of aforementioned psychotropic substances.

‘Dead Magick’ comes right out of the gate with the lengthy track, ‘Dead Mantra,’ an eight and a half minute summons reminiscent of early Sisters of Mercy, with the idiom, “He who fears death cannot enjoy life,” repeated throughout. Dead Skeletons musician and creator, Jón Sæmundur, explains: “I was dealing with my fear of dying after being diagnosed with HIV in 1994—medications at that time were not the same as today, and I had been drinking and using hard drugs like there was no tomorrow. I was doing an art show in Minneapolis, and one night I was visiting a friend’s house—in the living room was a large altar made by local Mexican people. It had a saying in Spanish, ‘Quien teme la muerte no goza la vida’—I asked my friend the meaning, and he explained: ‘he who fears death cannot enjoy life.’ I instantly connected to it, because at that time it was either die or live. I took the decision to live, and stopped drinking.”

The first portion of the album is extremely enjoyable, highlights being the ricocheting, reverb-drenched ‘Om Mani Padme Hung,’ and the heavily Cult-influenced ‘Kingdom of God’—however, the middle third of ‘Dead Magick’ falls a bit short, lacking the obvious enthusiasm and confidence of the first and last parts. Thankfully, the simpering guitars on ‘Ljósberinn’ pick things up nicely, and the uptempo track ‘Live! Lifðu’ is every bit as fresh and motivated as the Sister’s ‘Temple of Love’ was nearly thirty years prior. The final track, ‘Dead Magick II,’ features a nonlinear combination of nature sounds, and thundering Tibetan trumpets reminiscent of early ‘90s Elliot Goldenthal—and is downright creepy.

Nearly all the songs found here feature some pretty cool music videos to go along with them as well. “I see the songs visually, like a film,” Jón explains. “Art is never finished, only abandoned—therefore, it is very important for me that the songs are recorded here in my studio, The Dead Temple. There are strong spiritual energies here that seem to find their way easily into the music, and sometimes I get the feeling that we are merely channelling the messages.” These videos can all be found on YouTube by searching for Dead Skeletons.

Albums like this are extremely difficult to do well without piling on heaping layers of conflicting ideologies and spiritual cheese, yet ‘Dead Magick I & II’ is a convincing, original, and highly enjoyable experience. Check this album out if you are in the mood for something distinctly different, need a soundtrack for your next trip, or simply just want to creep yourself out in the dark.

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