Manorexia @ Union Chapel, London 12.04.12

Written for Collapse Board

JG Thirlwell is prone to mitosis. Not the splitting-himself-into-identical-clones kind, but shedding musical cells that turn into wholes. It started with THAW back in 1988. The Foetus album was a messy affair, half of which sounded like this:

and the other half sounded like this

which was unsatisfying because you’re either in the mood for one or the other. His solution was to divide himself into Steroid Maximus and then into Manorexia to scratch his various sonic itches. It would be as much of a mistake to describe Manorexia as “classical” as it would be to call Foetus “rock”. Even though they are separate beings, Thirlwell’s classical training runs through Foetus like a spine. Equally, when Dan Gresson is attacking his drum kit, it’s impossible to think of Manorexia as other than rock.

Hell, it rocks harder than any of those lily-livered upper-middle-class floppy-haired fops in the charts.

Jessica Cox doesn’t play the cello, she wields it. The sheer thunking, stabbing weight of it makes your average 12-layered Korn guitar riff sound like f***ing Gotye. When I was a teenager, I had the memory of something traumatic – not something real, more like a nightmare – that was only just on the edge of my consciousness. The sensation of mortal dread, of being crushed by a suffocating blackness; a silence so terrible I was terrified of silence for years afterwards. I found I’d suffered from sleep paralysis, which can only be understood by those who’ve experienced it. This is what Ten Ton Shadow sounds like tonight, its usual melancholy replaced with absolute menace.

Putting that in a set with Tubercular Bells is just cruel. On the album, I can avoid those moments, but there’s no escape here. It goes on forever – every nasty, discordant squeak. It’s unbearable, not because it’s crap but because it’s horrible. It’s the aural version of that bit in 127 Hours, a film you’ll note I have not seen because who wants to see someone saw their own arm off with a blunt knife? This is bone-crunching, visceral horror, which makes the ensuing violin melodies so much sweeter. Refreshing, like acid rain. Armadillo Stance is so beautiful I want to hug everyone on that stage. I’m close to tears. Sjogren’s Syndrome – from Foetus’s LIMB – fits seamlessly into the set, a welcome and triumphant surprise.

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The following morning I have to face my stroppy four-month-old who’d screamed the house down while I was gone. I have to face my exhausted husband who’d cared for her. I have to face my ruined new shoes from where I’d stumbled on a cobblestone outside the venue. I have to face my own tiredness from the two-and-a-half hour journey home and finding out that none of the pictures I’d taken were useable. I have to ask whether it was worth it: all the hassle, guilt and trouble of coming so far for just a few minutes of pretty tunes.

Yes, so worth it. Forget classification, Manorexia is music in its purest, most soul-rending form. If that isn’t worth it, I don’t know what is.

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