Rolling Stone #657 - May 27, 1993

These Immortal Souls



Six Years between albums is a long wait, and to hear These Immortal Souls main man Rowland S. Howard tell it, he hardly slept the whole time. "I was strictly insomnimaniacal / Rose above sleep like something flammable," he reports in "Crowned," the centerpiece of this splendid celebration of sensory deprivation and sonic overload. No wonder dream imagery keeps invading his waking-state consciousness: "I feel as if I've swallowed silk/Or fallen in black milk."

Well, Howard was never one for keeping to conventional schedules. From 1979 to 1983 he was the guitarist for that Australian postpunk icon the Birthday Party, playing a sort of sizzle-grind Keith Richards to Nick Cave's consumptive Mick Jagger. The band was known for it's grim lyrics, abrasive textures, trudging tempos and beyond-the-pale intensity, and Howard was its musical linchpin. He then joined his brother, bassist Harry Howard, and ex-Swell Maps drummer Epic Soundtracks in the original and definitive incarnation of Crime and the City Solution, finding time to record with Lydia Lunch and Nikki Sudden on the side. None of these artists were what you'd call prolific, but they didn't release any dude or routine "product" either. After a couple of EPs and one proper album by Crime, Rowland, Harry and Epic left to start These Immortal Souls with keyboardist Genevieve McGuckin. And then, following their one album on SST, the Souls seemed to vanish into the ether. That was in 1987; now they've come back to haunt us.

Howard's dry, wiry guitar sound has always been unmistakable; his singing is what Sid Vicious might've sounded like if he'd been musical down to the tips of his toes. And I'm Never Gonna Die Again is in many ways Howard's finest hour. His acidic sonorities and bad attitude remain intact, but since the last Souls album, he's blossomed as a melodist, and parts of this disc - "Black Milk," the sublimely dirgelike "All The Moneys Gone" - boast musical textures that are almost lush. The rhythm section, which long ago perfected a slouching-toward-Bethlehem stumble, outdoes itself, rocking and swinging at some of the most deliberate tempos known to man. The result is as colorful as blackness gets and, somehow, consoling.

- Robert Palmer