Deep utterances and smoky melodies fill the old courtyards of Jozef Van Wissem’s music. On Nobody Living Can Ever Make Me Turn Back (Consouling Sounds), the lute’s spidery melodies appear as finely woven webs, echoing into the present from the distant past. Something is brewing. An explosive beat rocks the medieval sound to its core, less a queasy shake and more like a 7.o earthquake.
The misty and quietly revolutionary tones carry the ill weight of death. The melodies themselves are almost like the Black Death, spreading throughout the eastern European townships of the album and going door-to-door, knocking lightly like a strange, dark-coated preacher – ‘you will come with me now’, it says – as the sickening fog leaves behind nothing but stark, quiet streets and stained doors, a field of hastily-painted crosses traced along both sides. Clammy-faced inhabitants are locked inside otherwise empty rooms, and a row of filled tombs line the music, track by track. There is something incredibly earthy to the sound, like century-old soil.
Nobody Living Can Ever Make Me Turn Back takes its inspiration from a painting by Belgian artist Cindy Wright (her painting is the one on the cover). Things are delicate here, as delicate and as temporary as a note on a quivering string before it fades into permanent silence, into its flame-streaked sunset, ultimately moving into the death of itself and its subsequent absorption into the earth and air. Nothing lasts forever, and the skull on the cover testifies to that.
Van Wissem’s music plucks a very distinct chord. The notes are splayed out like an ancient victim on a medieval rack, but there’s more of an emphasis on pleasure rather than on pain, with echoing vocals calling out from a cold, lantern-lit chamber, soaking into the cold slabs of stone, and the masterful playing of the lute ringing through the draughty corridors. At other times, the lute appears stately and dignified, resplendent in a magnificent, proud set of robes. But the sparse arrangement, as well as the concentrated focus on one instrument, ensures that beneath the robed appearance there lies a body that’s thin bordering on the anorexic or even the skeletal, despite a flurry of faster passages that seem to run at quite a pace and with a good deal of urgency.
The notes are still as narrow as a spindle, and that’s just a characteristic of the lute. Pockets of light are able to shine weakly out from the brighter tracks, offering a pale, stained-glass-window light. There are other reinterpretations of death here, too: a death of a nation as the British PM makes a suicidal statement. But the rose is still beautiful even as it dies. The future has and always will be an uncertain unknown, but willingly jumping off the edge without first looking down or checking to see where you’re going seems to be neither a sane nor reasonable course of action. Nobody Living Can Ever Make Me Turn Back revels in its uncertainty and in its transient nature. It began as dust, and to dust it returns.