Sounds - May 7, 1988

These Immortal Souls
Camden Palace

If the Birthday Party, with their abrasive, malicious music, were indeed the last great rock band, then Rowland S Howard's These Immortal Souls are perhaps their most fitting epitaph, a rogueish, flailing, downright ugly wail.

Rowland's sneer prepares the way. His mouth, perpetually turned down at the corners, lends him a distracted, disinterested air, while his atrocious gold lame shirt, drainpipe trousers and skeletal dimensions accentuate the impression that here is a man who has suffered too much and wants us to know it.

It's an impression best summed up as he chants 'hitch, hitch', a lonely mantra that momentarily transforms him into the demented would-be father figure, cruising around America's less famous highways picking up small children and driving them into oblivion.

For an instant Rowland epitomises gratuitous delinquency, a grotesque combination of Dennis Hopper's Frank from Blue Velvet and the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The rest of These Immortal Souls compliment Rowland's disjointed debauchery perfectly. In Epic Soundtracks and brother Harry Howard, there emerges a rhythm section whose adroitness and chain gang beat transcend even that of Harvey and Pew.

The addition of a piano is a similarly inspired move. Its presence allow their 'Marry Me Lie Lie,' originally a Birthday Party John Peel track, to divorce itself entirely from its roots and become a haunting, tumbling pyramid of sound.

Aggressive and remarkably forthright, These Immortal Souls are at their best when the morose, impoverished beat lifts and Rowland's guitar scrawls its way forward in a burst of musical graffiti, while the plinking piano grinds up a gear in reply.

It's here that These Immortal Souls' true leaning emerge and the work of early Iggy Pop and a generation of fellow addicts can be glimpsed in their bloodshot eyes, their hollow faces.

And its here that the true dimensions of the band's obsession with pain, suffering and humiliation can be seen. For they are ultimately the immaculate victims, the tacit opposition to today's neophyte rock star's innocence.

The resulting spectacle is an inspiration.

- Sam King

- transcribed by Cat