Giles Corey – Giles Corey (Enemies List, 2011)

I often have thoughts about going back and reviewing older content that I’ve enjoyed from years gone by, making sure that in my time writing here I capture all of those special and impactful records that I’ve fallen for. The most pivotal albums I think are more-or-less all here now, but there are still plenty of greats that I have yet to get round to, and in the case of Giles Corey, am hesitant to do so (though I should add I wrote a small piece on the track “Spectral Bride” in 2016).

I shouldn’t need to preface this but a wide range of people read my content and so perhaps it’s only fair: I am not, nor have I ever been, suicidal. Actually quite the opposite, since from a young age I’ve shied away from contemplating my own mortality as it induces a deep sense of existential dread within me. But I have to say this because Giles Corey is about suicidal depression, and so I must calibrate your sense of where I stand on the Killing Myself Front.

So you can see why there is, perhaps, some reticence in me in talking about this  sensitive topic that I am, broadly, unaligned with. Yet my feelings for this record run deep, and some years ago I realised this for the masterpiece of misery it is. Indeed, one does not need to have brought themselves to the edge of oblivion to understand and empathise with its sentiments.

The basic premise that underlines the music is this: “If I do not wish to be alive, do I wish to be dead?”. This is obviously an enormously difficult question, and involved months of soul-searching on Dan’s behalf, not least of which was the product of the record itself (and, sadly, an attempted suicide). Indeed, this sense of nihilism appears directly in the starkness of opener “The Haunting Presence”:

And I don’t care if I live or die
Because I ain’t ever going to no other side
There ain’t no heaven and there ain’t no hell

His battle with this question in this tortured life manifests in the heady distortion of the track’s crescendo, before falling away as Dan sits at the piano slamming keys at its maddening conclusion. “FUCK!” he screams twice, hammering away in anger. If it’s a case of escaping waking torment with no Great Beyond afterwards, then why not? What’s stopping him? It’s curious how engrained it is within us to survive, how strong our will to live even in the face of such despair.

However painful, there are things that tie us to this corporeal world: love, for example. It streaks through the record like a vein of gold, though that itself is dangerous. See there’s two kinds of love here: the first kind is the unrequited, perhaps the most pained of all. That becomes clear in the generously tender “Grave Filled With Books”, wafting on slow guitar chords and humming harmonies vibrating woe into uncaring space in unison. “I’m not the only one you’ve never loved” he sings in the treacherously bitter second half before the visage breaks and a the Rock-tinged guitar riffs out with with antithetical, dismissive stylistic flair.

Later on, the gloriously painful Slowcore of “Spectral Bride” (in my opinion the oft-overlooked standout piece) brings that loneliness and one-sidedness to the fore again. He sings in painfully direct verses over raw acoustic guitar, praying that he’ll survive “this fucking week alone”. In a stroke of Avant Folk brilliance though, it suddenly fleshes out with piano, percussion, this liveliness that seems set aside from him.

And if I don’t survive
I’ll still be by your side
Just clad in ghostly white
I’ll be your spectral bride

It reels, trumpets blaring from somewhere, the whole sound trapped between extravagance and melancholia, big but broken. He may not get the reciprocation he craves, but is that enough to become nothing more than an echo in a memory? A haunting lover whose eerie presence refuses to let go?

The other side of love is the unconditional, and there’s pain here too of course, emanating from others unable to help, forced to look on as Dan’s grip on reality and desire to live dissolves away. It really only appears once, overtly, in “Blackest Bile”, a rare cognition from the suicidal, who are all too often lost in their often introspections to see these connections. Light Folk and humming tones swing desperately away from the brutal opener and lay a deceptive, almost bouncy, patina over the damaged lyrics: “I open up my heart and let it all in, and it kills my hope for everyone”; “I know it hasn’t been easy on you, I know that more than most-“. Painful admissions.

It is that same selfishness that drives the record’s ultimate low point, “I’m Going To Do It”. Here it is explicit: “I am going to kill myself, I’m going to remove myself”. It is bleak in every way, the vocals hardly rising out of barely there instrumentation. A sense of escape emerges, of the separation of “self” from the perceived-to-be toxic world that permeates it completely, the notion of the indivisibility of the “self” from everyone and everything it is you hate in this world.

The flip side of “I’m Going To Do It”‘s crushing lows is the more empowered variant of “No One Is Ever Going To Want Me”. It has an air of his Deathconsciousness connection, unravelling in subdued metronomic percussion as it lays its declaration of despondency in careful but distal vocals. Piece by piece it builds itself up, scaling into catharsis in a way its predecessor couldn’t achieve (mired as it was in its depressive lows) towards its objective: removal. His resolve strengthens as the music takes him there, and it tears open in visceral, obliterating crescendo:

I wanna feel like how I feel when I’m asleep

Just like the opener jilts from his aggressive final sequences into “Blackest Bile”‘s reductions, so “Sleeping Heart” closes out “No One Is Ever Going To Want Me” in the most intimate passages of the record. Dan, all but alone with his guitar, finds himself singing an aria for his own demise, tenderly outlining his burial plot and request for the inscription of his headstone whilst also admitting the loss of his sensitive humanity. “How do I wake your sleeping heart?” he croons questioningly, a gentle plea for help in shaking the life loose from inside him, bringing it out of its slumber to be part of the world again.

I don’t truly believe that anyone wants to die, but some of us feel like they just don’t want to be alive. Granted, it’s a subtle distinction to make, but an important one. Lain down in every corner of this record, and expanded in much further detail in the accompanying book of the boxset, are the notions that: i) life can be filled with a pain that makes death seem justifiable, and; ii) the world is littered with the echoes of the dead that couldn’t find it within themselves to keep living. Because the suicidal linger in the hearts and minds of those who couldn’t save them from their destruction, an ethereal tether that damns them long after they’ve given up. And that is perhaps a fate worse than life.

I certainly don’t think this record is for everyone: many who listen to this during their lows often can’t bring themselves to return when that time has passed, and many who have never been low enough in the first place fail to appreciate its sentiments. But I will always see this as one of those rare perfect albums. Yes it’s dark, yes it’s morbid and at times punishing, but it has a beautiful self-awareness and sense of clarity in its damage. Its cathartic highs and intimate lows link a tortured, fascinating narrative that the right (or perhaps I should say wrong) person will find troublingly resonant. A masterpiece.