Review: The Viking Moses, Star and Shadow, Newcastle
Since seeing them live in June I've been listening to Jahiliyah, the new album from Viking Moses. Pointing us gently toward the Islamic concept of jahiliyyah, the title means 'ignorance of a divine guidance' or 'days of ignorance'.
I wanted to find out more about the term jahili and was surprised to find poetic parallels. It is used to define some of the earliest written Arabic poems, which share similar modes: ritha akin to the Western elegy, madir a variation of eulogy, hija similar to satire and ghazal a kind of lyric love poem.
Other Arabic modes don't share equivalents but have corresponding poems that nod to their ideas. For instance, the three famous scenes in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight are a sort of tardiyyah, hunting poems. And if not in the mode of khamriyyah, poems about wine, there are certainly many written under the influence of it.
Jahiliyah shares strong links with William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience. The lyrics of the song Boy Moses read I'd sit in the sand at the foot of the day, letting a fly play on my leg. 'Til they told me "No" and they shoo'd him away. In Blake's poem 'Little Fly' there is a comparable brushing away of a fly, which leads to providential questioning Am I not a fly like thee, Or art not thou a man like me?' This stakes much in the idea that without thought, we cease to be.
This is certainly a thinking person's album and welcomes open minds. Moses gives us snug images of youth: the tiny furniture of dolls houses, dancing with your best moves and stolen blushes. As with Blake, we are plunged from youth into images of receded youth, social hungers, the contemplation of loss. Time and place shift. There are magnificent, if absent, Gods on the outskirts of this work who we are told left us like migrating birds, a sure sign of hope that they may one day come back.
That doubt and overbearing feelings of abandonment are a process as much a part of our natural lives as the seasons. The mantra hold on and we'll do fine holds true in that respect. Rooted to the loss in the modern world, the voice in each song forge new mythologies. They fight for real meaning in life, for the zest of love and play. Where the speakers have given up on this, there are dark and serious moments. We are taken to the underworld, where a barefooted speaker sees family but must pretend not to see them.
The most striking image of all on the album is that of transcendence. Penned by Spencer Kingman, the voice in the title track tells us of his choice to douse himself in molten gold as a defiant, suicidal act in order to transcend time. He surely must, as the voice confides in us, perhaps from another plane, to tell us just how it felt for the gold to pour over his head and roll down my chest and off my clothes. This song merits many listens.
Every Viking Moses album has been a different journey. Jahiliyah questions this age of ignorance in all its forms, both provoking us to question it and comfort us where we lack answers.
All lyrics are taken from http://vikingmoses.bandcamp.com/ where you can download the album and listen. Photos my own from the Star and Shadow June 2014 gig in Newcastle.