Con-Dom – How Welcome Is Death To I Who Have Nothing More To Do But Die 2LP Tesco Organisation 2016
It has to be acknowledged that the approaching this review was a completely daunting task, and consequently it has been a long time in planning due to the magnitude of doing it adequate justice. This is Con-Dom after all, being 15 long years since 2001’s magnum opus Colour Of A Man’s Skin vinyl set. While Mike Dando has always used the Con-Dom moniker to explore all manner of manifestations of power and control (…and domination), on this album the thematic focus has turned inwards to something far more personal, which immediately sets it apart for the usual power electronics ‘arm’s length’ presentation and exploration of thematic concepts. To cut to the core of the album, How Welcome Is Death… is Mike’s reflection on his own mother’s death; his feelings and experience during the process; an exploration of euthanasia; and an observation of the institutional suffering resulting from how society addresses terminal illness. It also burrows deep into the question of what is the value of life where the quality of living is non-existent and particularly where the awareness of the individuals own circumstance has all but been lost to diseases such dementia. To hammer home how personal the explorations of these questions would be to Mike, the cover and booklet features a series of unflinching photos of his mother Nora, which effectively illustrates her wasting away (…and as confronting as this is visually, it does not in any way feel voyeuristic). Musically speaking the material covers 3 sides of vinyl, with the 4th side featuring an etching of the Con-Dom ‘logo’ (…a crouching man, head bowed, but with bound wrists defiantly up-stretched). Sonically the majority of the material on offer is subdued and more low-key by usual Con-Dom standards, thereby allowing its lyrics to be spoken and fully comprehended. The tracks are further augmented with dialogue samples and short snippets of what appear to be recordings of his own mother in nursing home or hospice, which then functions to illustrate the often banal context of the suffering of many at the end of their lives.
After a short introductory and sample of a rather twee ditty of a song celebrating the elderly (Grandad You’re Lovely (Silently Falling About), the upbeat mood is quickly obliterated by Living Death; a 13 minute track of invasive droning noise and double tracked, spoken vocals. Lyrically this is delivered from the first person perspective of Nora which charts both external observations and internal dialogue. Illustrating the descent into loss of bodily control and memory, it also includes some secondary lines of text which point accusations of financial embezzlement at Mike himself (…noting that paranoia is a symptom of dementia). After another short interlude piece, the title track then emerges are more typical of Con-Dom’s sound based around a thick wall of bulldozing analogue rumble, while the vocals are spoken in an authoritarian style, as if delivering proclamations from a pulpit (…although the style of delivery is the effective opposite of the message being articulated). The following track Chocolates features an invasive throbbing bass rumble coupled with needling noise as the basis for Mike’s world weary reading out what is effectively amounts to a statement of intent of an unidentified person to commit suicide. Lyrically it reveals an individual suffering from an incurable terminal illness, but who has the clear resolve to take their own life on their own terms before they were physically unable to do so. T4 is another lengthy track based on animated layered noise and vocal wails bleeding in and out of the mix, is coupled with a German language vocal sample which from details of the cover relates to a 1939 letter petition seeking a mercy killing for a mother suffering from Parkinson’s Disease (…although the track’s title of T4 also references a controversial Nazi era program involving forced involuntary euthanasia). Despite the subdued sonic tone of the bulk of the album, Just Fuckin’ Die stands out based on it hard and anthemic power electronics style of fractured loops and shuddering distortion, and the only vocals on the album which elevate to the trademark flanged aggressive barrage. The fact that this track is even included on the album, with its brutal yet strangely maudlin lyrics, is testament to the blunt and unflinching honesty Mike has shown in exploration of its theme, no matter how unpalatable the expression of a personal internalised thought may seem when spoken out loud. Following this piece is Ending (Nora), a relatively calm track, being not much more than a cavernous rumbling mass, but with the inclusion of the incoherent mutterings, this may in fact be a recording of Nora’s dying moments (…the album finally concludes in the manner in which it starts with another short sample of a twee song again celebrating the elderly).
Without doubt How Welcome Is Death… is a searing and absolutely personal exploration of questions of the value of life in the face death and the manner in which people die in the modern age. As a result it is a thematically difficult album to experience and particularly more so for anyone who has experienced a similar process with the passing of a family member. Through this album Mike show how far ahead he is conceptually and highlights the human core of what he explores through the prism of Con-Dom. Equally How Welcome Is Death… functions to hold a mirror up to the fallacy of the oft faux celebration of strength and the overt obsession with death that preoccupies so much of the post-industrial underground. As articulated on this album it is not ‘at a distance’ detachment; this is raw human emotion; as lived and as experienced by Mike. How Welcome Is Death… is a brave album in its brutal honesty and although matches the level achieved on a Colour Of A Man’s Skin, for the all the reasons set out above, stands separate and apart.