REVIEW: Mors Syphilitica - "Feather and Fate"

By Mike Ventarola

Chain Border

Feather and Fate Mors Syphilitica have been around since the mid-80's. They were initially a part of Requiem in White, and also had a side project, The Musical Works of the N.C.S. They delivered their brand of dark music to the New York underground, which has developed into a word of mouth fan base that is worldwide as much as it is legendary. Their rare concert gigs around the New York City area are packed to the rafters as fans, old and new, scramble to be a part of a musical experience that is tantamount to a "happening" from the sixties.

The incarnation of Mors Syphilitica as a band is basically a husband and wife duo, Lisa and Eric Hammer. This enigmatic couple choose to do as much of the music on each CD as they can, keeping the work as intimate and as personal as possible. Lisa is the inspired siren diva with a range that can make grown men weep with her ability to coddle notes and inflections to delirious heights. Eric is the musical genius who develops the body of instrumentation, often while secluded from the rest of the world during his hours of inspiration. His talent as a musician is unparalleled as he is able to make sounds from instruments that few dared to attempt. The results are never less than extraordinary.

Feather and Fate, their third release as Mors Syphilitica, brought with them many transitions. Because of the popularity of their music around the globe, their initial parent company, Sacrum Torch, was no longer able to supply their music at the rate that the ever-growing demand for merchandise was reaching. With a bittersweet parting to find another distributor to maintain the levels of demand for their music, Mors Syphilitica were brought aboard the Projekt label with Sacrum Torch continuing to maintain the band web site. With Feather and Fate, this duo managed to surpass their previous achievements yet again, providing fans with a body of work that is lush, soaring and beautiful. Each passing release seems to bring them closer to Godlike status and eradicates any notion that they could possibly be mere mortals.

Hues Of Longing opens the disc with a wisp of eerie background noise, which segues into warm guitar chords, accompanied by Lisa's vocals. Each stanza builds until Lisa's voice seems to have been magically replicated right before our eyes during the chorus. Her self-harmonization is flawless. Naturally Cruel is an introspective tune; awash with swirling guitar and percussion that one could easily become mesmerized to. This is Eric's trademark sound that no one could possibly ever duplicate. Lisa's vocals start out in the lower range and in a fragment of a moment, soars as though to touch the sky, once again harmonizing in various octaves to leave the listener stunned. Between Feather and Fate veers more towards a Middle Eastern style with a trip hop percussion. Lisa's voice undertakes an almost Eastern Indian high pitch, reflective of an ingénues quality of innocence, without the shrill that some vocalists of that genre happen to possess.

Only A Whirlwind has an intro that could easily be the soundtrack to the setting of the sun. It starts off ballad like, and in Mors Syphilitica fashion, soars into a dark rock romp chorus only to settle back again like an ocean wave. This is a delicious cloud of guitar work married to the siren's call. Galatea starts as a shoe gazer reverie that carries the multi harmonies of Lisa's vocals through split channels. On the head set, this song just becomes more beautiful as each layer of vocalization pulls us into additional dimensions. Just when you think Lisa couldn't possibly have any more vocal ranges that she hasn't harmonized with, you are thrust even further. It is this song that now clinches Lisa Hammer as the Underground Musical Goddess; mark my words. Glorious Breath expands on a morose yet whimsical musing, as though a clock is subtly ticking away to keep time with our own mortality. Lisa becomes the maiden, mother and crone in an enchanted garden of sound with subtle medieval nuances, merging with full deep dark tones in the background.

Nostalgia's Sea caught me totally off guard simply because Lisa utilized yet another vocal style and range that I cannot recall her using before. She gracefully takes this up towards the operatic ranges with ease, while harmonizing with her lower registers. Dare I say that this song borders on radio friendly? Her harmonies can literally put a lump in your throat because they are just THAT phenomenal on this track. The Chains of Reason begins with edgy guitar strumming, while Lisa embodies a whimsical vocalization that seems to be a merging of Kate Bush meeting Leontyne Price. A Fever Dream takes the guitars to a Middle Eastern sound, creating a song that is mentally cinematic and bold. It is a ride across the desert, a procession in the sultan's court and a belly dance of harem maidens all encapsulated in the body of one song.

Fountain Of Tears is another semi-rock ballad where Lisa stretches her range, pulls our hearts from our chest and has us in the palm of her hands. It is a rare thing for a vocalist to deliver a fraction of a sung note that has the power and intensity to break a heart the way this track can. My Virgin Widow was classified as "bluegrass" by the duo, which is debatable really. Eric takes a banjo and recreates its sound to make it almost Middle Eastern. With the dramatic swoop of gongs, dark background drones, and sensuous percussion, this duo recreates what bluegrass happens to be into a genre that just hasn't been classified. Far From Loneliness has a medieval styling that is pensive and sultry. The tones cascade like silk while the vocals seem to reach to tuck pieces of sound into the clouds. It is the siren's song to the seafarers, capable of mesmerizing them with grace and beauty from just one note. Sins Of The Dove brings us to the trademark guitar styling known as The Mors Syphilitica sound. This track is like a romp in a forest. It gently percolates in the background while in the foreground we are mesmerized into swaying with the controlled energy and delivery. How Long once again has Lisa harmonizing with herself like a Celtic maiden. The song builds to a more rock pace while her voice soars ever higher as if in a plea to the gods for an answer to her query.

It should be no mystery that this reviewer has become one of the many hardcore fans for this band. Lisa Hammer simply creates vocal ranges and harmonies that are rarely reached outside the opera houses. It would hardly be presumptuous to state that many an opera diva would envy her abilities as well. Eric Hammer is simply this century's musical Pygmalion, capable of squeezing any sound from any instrument. His talent to bring to life the sounds that only he can hear is nothing short of Godlike. Lisa and Eric are the embodiment of a song brought to life, as one works and relates off the other. This release brings them further along their musical path, determined to continuously grow and surpass their last body of musical work. This they have done yet again.

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