In mid-2014, Julian Cope released his debut novel, 131, self-described as a “time-shifting, gnostic hooligan road novel.” Set in Sardinia, Italy, it is a wonderfully bizarre account of a musician named Rock Section and several equally intriguing characters. Rock Section returns to the island fifteen years after himself and a group of soccer hooligans/musicians/friends got caught up in a sinister confrontation, in search of the truth as to what exactly happened. Cope endeavored to make a soundtrack for this book, which ranges from Hammond organ rock, relaxation music, soccer chants and drone metal. This is where Vesuvio comes in. Like all of the others on the soundtrack, Vesuvio began as a fictional band in the book but was subsequently made into a real band. The group consists of three musicians – the aforementioned Julian Cope, Stephen O’Malley and Holy McGrail.
Most people know Julian Cope from his brief flirtation with the mainstream in the 80’s with hits such as “World Shut Your Mouth” and “Reward,” yet the 57 year old from a small town in England has infinitely more to his repertoire than that. From erudite studies into Neolithic Europe, dedicated and essential in-depth reviews from the rock and roll underground, twenty-plus albums covering a myriad of genres, and most recently a foray into the world of fiction, Cope is one of the most essential cultural products from the United Kingdom of the last thirty years.
Readers of CVLT Nation are likely to be more familiar with Stephen O’Malley; his works with Sunn O)), Burning Witch and Khanate are highly revered in the metal underground. These two luminaries are accompanied by a fellow known as Holy McGrail, who has released a decent amount of experimental music under the same moniker. Judging by the formatting on the Vesuvio page of Cope’s website, it seems that each of the three tracks was written by one member, in the order O’Malley-McGrail-Cope.
As is expected of drone metal, the time scale in the three pieces have a glacial feel to them. That’s to say there’s not always a lot going on, but if you just let the music wash over you, it has the desired hypnotizing effect. Unlike some of O’Malley’s previous works, such as the agonizing, nails-down-a-blackboard, Khanate, Vesuvio comes across as bright and airy at times. As the hacked guitar chord that O’Malley plays on the first track oscillates around your speakers, it’s oddly relaxing. McGrail’s contribution is also vital: huge, synth-like guitars jump out at you before hazing away into a flow of ambient bliss. The final piece, where Cope’s eclecticism shines through, is arguably the highlight of Vesuvio. His layered vocals simultaneously resemble monastic chants and bleating sheep, under cavernous, eerie chords.
All in all, these three fellows proved to be an auspicious combination. Vesuvio is a fascinating beast of an album, one that challenges and compels in great amounts. If drone metal isn’t your thing, then it probably won’t sway you, but fans of demanding and left-field music will undoubtedly lap this up.