Album review: Rokurokubi – Iris, Flower of Violence

Album artwork

Words by Grey Malkin

Brighton based psychedelic folk duo Rokurokubi (Rose and Edmund) first emerged in 2019, as if out of the pages of a copy of Perrault’s ‘Fairy Tales’, or from somewhere deep within Lewis Carrol’s imagination, with their debut recording ‘Saturn in Pisces’. An elaborately adorned, paisley patterned masterclass in wyrd and left of centre chamber folk, it established the pair as a hugely imaginative, idiosyncratic and creative force of nature, and, crucially, one that had access to all the best melodies.

With its long awaited follow up, ‘Iris, Flower of Violence’, Rokurokubi not only consolidate their standing and reputation, but more than deliver on their initial promise and stretch their boundaries skywards, with greater flourishes of inspired oddness and beauty. Album opener, the carnivalesque ‘Come to The Fayre’, is a fairy-tale of a song, all wheezing pipe organ and nursery rhyme vocals, ably evoking the ghosts of Syd Barrett and Mike Heron. Both breezy and with a slightly haunted air – giving the sense that the carnival will vanish should you look away – it is the ideal beginning to an album that fully embraces its eccentricities. ‘Iris, Flower of Violence’ by contrast, is a full-on psych rock monster with baroque embellishments; chiming bell-like guitars, blasts of distortion and a wild-eyed string section that cascade together into a genuinely thrilling and frenzied conclusion. ‘Cult Leader Murder’ follows, adopting a hushed and quietly dramatic acoustic tension, albeit one with a chorus of stabbing violins that gradually add to the increasing sense of darkness as the song unfolds. There is a hint of Faun Fables in its powerful simplicity and storytelling, the track demonstrates the sheer versatility of Rokurokubi and the ease with which they can conjure up a swathe of various atmospheres and cinematic images, in this case of a 60’s flower child’s dream gone darkly wrong.  


‘Match Girl’ follows, essentially a ghost story told with sorrowful violin and funerary drumbeats. ‘Death & The Maiden’ is more recognisably folk rock, reminiscent of Fairport Convention‘s ‘Reynardine’ with twisted nursery rhyme interludes, pleasingly suggestive of Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra on some darkly lysergic folk kick. ‘Nick’ by turn is a gorgeously framed ballad, stately and graceful with a medieval air, replete with odd corners and angles that add a sense of eeriness and otherworldliness. We may be in an enchanted forest but, as we know from fairy tales, that is also where the witch’s house always is. ‘Nature Poem’ is a perfectly formed piece of psych chamber folk, reverberated guitars and cello providing a supporting foundation and landscape for Rose’s crystalline vocals, each phrase and turn coated in wonder and expression. Next, a sudden explosion of cymbals and a whirlwind of sound introduces ‘Katie Levitating’, a half-spoken desert mirage of Doors/Ray Manzarek exploratory sound, leading us into strange days indeed. As tense as taught wire, this is a witch song of deep magic and cackling madness, one that tumbles willingly into a finale of massed fuzz guitars, tripped out flutes and exclamatory vocals a la Arthur Brown

Rokurokubi


The truly gorgeous ‘The Dance of Wasp & Moth’ heralds in the summer with its delicately echoed guitar, wistful vocals and gossamer arrangements, a gathering point for the cunning folk. As cello builds layer upon layer, accompanied by the occasional cry of a glockenspiel, it is one of many ‘hairs on the back of the neck’ moments to be found throughout the album. Indeed, the album is akin to a storybook, with passages of melancholy beauty sitting alongside hypnagogic tales and characters, and with dark forest excursions worthy of the Brothers Grimm themselves. Listening to ‘Iris, Flower of Violence’ is a multi-sensory experience that evokes your imagination as much as your ears. The journey ends with ‘Eternity Magic’, again with the spirit of Syd Barrett lurking wide eyed and fried in the background, a fractured and acid tinged wyrd wonder that heads into cosmiche territory, filled with crazed organ flourishes and a smudge of gothic, kohl eyed wonder.


‘Iris, Flower of Violence’ as an album finds itself partnered by a series of specially made videos for individual songs, again emphasising the visual and highly evocative nature of Rokurokubi’s creations, and there will also be an accompanying illustrated book of Rose’s lyrics and poems. With a recording this immersive, emotive and transportive, this makes perfect sense and it is an opportunity for the listener to fully submerge in the band’s strange but addictive world. You will not want to return.

 Available 18th June from Time Spun Records on vinyl and as a download.

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