Hologram of Baal
by The Church


Probably the best Church album, and I have them all. But then again, they keep putting out brilliant albums so who knows, the best may not be here yet. But on Hologram every note in every song and every syllable is exactly where you want it. I can't say that about any other album by any band.

my thought for the day on this- when i mixed this (relatively) unknown record and invited mastering legend bowden to add layers of short wave radio- which i christened "radiotronics" at th time... it wasnt exactly met with understanding or rapture by many inc some fellow band members.. then- as happens with music made by brains and souls with toes and feet in the future.... everyone started to do it- (eg radiohead... ) and then.... - retrospectively "hologram.." sounded quite comfortable- .. hmmm .... fortunately the world is full of intrepid and extreme sound exploration now- exciting times... bandit

The Church return after a 3-year hiatus with, you guessed it, an album filled to the brim with rich, textural ambiance. The first single, "Louisiana" is filled with crisp, swirling guitars which wrap themselves tightly around mournfully captivating vocals. "The Great Machine" is all glistening shimmer, while the up tempo "No Certainty Attached" is filled with thundering rhythms and slightly aggressive washes of guitar. And "Buffalo" is a hauntingly beautiful mesh of quiet acousticality and slicing rasps of six-string din. A tantalizing album filled with lots of moody, enrapturing soniferance. Don't sleep on it.

Although the Church's commercial profile is now a shadow of its late '80s glory, the longstanding Australian ensemble still releases records on a somewhat regular basis. In fact, ex-Church mainstay Peter Koppes recently rejoined co-founders Steve Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper in the group. Perhaps that was the spark that helped make the band's brand new LP "Hologram of Baal" its most consistent and rewarding effort since "Starfish." The new LP is awash in the band's trademark guitar shimmer from start to finish, giving it the pleasantly surreal dreaminess that's been missing from some recent outings. But it's the effortlessly catchy songwriting on tunes like "Anaesthesia" and "Ricochet" that makes the record a real standout. And when the band decides to get weird, as on the semi-spoken word head trip "The Great Machine" or the brooding "This Is It," the results are both potently spacey and alluringly melodic. A great return to form.

Eleven albums on, and the Church's songwriting quality remains as solid as ever.

The Church have had a very strange 16-year career. Over the four albums following the Australian band's sixth album, Starfish, original drummer Richard Ploog quit, followed by guitarist Peter Koppes an album later. Guitarist Marty Willson-Piper remained onboard with bassist/vocalist Steve Kilbey in the band's "unheralded" mid-'90s period. Great songwriting (like that in the pre-Starfish days) continued, however.

On Hologram Of Baal, Koppes is back. There is a new drummer. And, as always, Kilbey is threading lyrics—half-sci-fi psycho-thriller, half mythological revisionist—through the noise of guitars in his trademark soft-landing-on-the-moon whisper. Hologram Of Baal is traditional Church—as glistening as intelligent, challenging popular music can be. At first, it sounds watery and light, but later, as on the band's previous 10 releases, the guitars emerge as biting. In other words, the band are playing harder than you think. "The Great Machine," wherein David Bowie's "Five Years" are up, is a standout. And "Anaesthesia" is archetypal Kilbey. The song acquires cognizance in the subjective form—a pronoun. ("She says, 'Why don't you slow down a little more.")

Pious Churchgoers from the old school will place this somewhere between The Blurred Crusade and Priest=Aura. These songs could be misplaced recordings from the mid- to late '80s. But they're not. They're simply an indication of more good songwriting. Take this, thy Holy Hand Grenade, and blow thine enemy—the monosyllabic, flannel-wearing brutes of the so-called "alternative" school—to bits.

"Hologram Of Baal"
(Cooking Vinyl/Indigo)

Finally they are back again, the (after the death of The Chameleons) incumbent Grand masters of guitar wave rock. Finally not only available on import and as a firm quartet, too, with Kilbey, Willson-Piper and Koppes as well as drummer Tim Powles. The phase of experimentation of the last two albums "Sometime Anywhere" and "Magician among the Spirits" is over and logically consistent, they start where they stopped: their 1992 album "Priest=Aura."

Not as gloomy as at that time, partially quieter, but always typical The Church. Yes, and finally the guitars of Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes interlink, circle around and create those effect-laden textures usually done with keyboards - The Church do it with guitars. And above all Steve Kilbey's calm but insistent voice, some time double tracked, which gets lost in his own lyric universe.

Ten new songs, from the mystic "Anaesthesia" via the dreamy "Louisiana" to the groovy up-tempo track "No Certainty Attached", from the epic bliss of "Tranquility" via the unbelievable complexity of "Buffalo" to hymnic "Another Earth". It's hard for me to compare this group to other bands, this group, working for 16 [sic] years on their own definition of timeless rock music and, 10 years ago, once even reached mass-appeal with "Under The Milky Way." But what's all this...one of the greatest bands of my musical system of values has made a new album, and those who still don't know it missed something.

For me this album starts a new phase in the sound of The Church. The self-production is a mayor factor in their approach and the fact that Peter Koppes is a permanent member again, is evident in the interplay of the guitars (the trade mark of the band anyway).

"Louisiana" is the first example of this mellow, dense and ambient sound that goes on in the other similar sounding tunes; "Tranquility", "Buffalo", "Another Earth" and "Glow-Worm". The use of guitar feedback, reverbed distortion and radiotronics gives the music an almost symphonic sound that disperses very well and produces a huge wall of sound.

My favorite song from the bunch is "Buffalo", which has all the characteristics previously described, plus it really recreates musically a snowy atmosphere. The acoustic guitar with the tambourine feels like slow falling snowflakes, and the flanger effect makes you see the northern lights in a white forest in the middle of the night.

But from the other corner of the album is where the most interesting sounds come. My favorite song from the album is "Anesthesia", maybe because it makes me close my eyes every time I listen to it and feel it. "Ricochet" is an awesome piece of music with very mysterious lyrics and very cool guitar interplay between PK and MWP. To be honest I am more attracted to the darker side of The Church than the softer side, that's why I find more beauty in pieces like "The Great Machine" and "This is It" with the spacious yet claustrophobic feel.

The rocker of the album is "No Certainty Attached", a very cool song with a nice work in the vocals and of course the rocking guitars. This could have been a nice radio hit in an ideal world.

Hologram of Baal is very nice album that starts a new phase in The Church sound, and shows that the band can reinvent them self in every album without loosing their trade mark quality in well crafted pieces of music. For my taste it has a little too much mellow songs, but not that they aren't good.

The Church
Hologram Of Baal
Cooking Vinyl ★★★★★ (5 Stars)

Great lost Sydney rockers return after a three-year absence

When The Church were tagged "the best guitar band on earth", the rivalry was pretty fearsome, as the likes of Nirvana, The House Of Love and a peak-period R.E.M. plied their magical trades. Now the praise is no more and the "competition" consists of the Manics, Mansun and, er, that's it.

Hologram Of Baal sees The Church reunite for what must be their finest album. While their contemporaries spawned numerous imitators, nobody has ever really sounded like The Church. Nobody could.

This is still the most hazy guitar beauty imaginable. Peter Koppes' and Marty Willson-Piper's trusty axes shimmer like gaseous heat clouds over a barren desert, Steve Kilbey's gloriously disaffected voice sounds even more like sand permeating honey than ever, and the album has the hushed, magical atmosphere of Brian Eno's Another Green World, only with guitars.

"Anaesthesia's coming...Anaesthesia's numbing..."

Thus spoke Kilbey on a beautiful return to form after the mess of "Magician Among the Spirits."

What marred Magician was the consistently somber mood (except for the painfully brilliant pop rock of "Comedown") but "Hologram of Baal" more than makes up for the misstep.

"Anaesthesia" is the perfect sit back with a friend or two, roll a joint and turn the lights down song that sets the mood for the rest of the album. While I can honestly say that every single song doesn't grab me here, The Church have recorded some of their all-time best work on this album.

"Louisiana" is worth the price of a full disc alone. Distorted landscapes and a musical journey in just over 6 minutes, it ranks among the most listenable songs EVER transcending even The Church's own catalog.

The standout track here is "Tranquility." In 7:38, The Church achieve here what most bands can't even come close to in a twenty year recording career. Marty and Peter have never sounded so cohesive and Steve's lyrical delivery is both spiritual and mind-blowing at the same time.

"Protected by her mantra
Following the nebula
In the sun thy will be done

Chasing her rainbows
Talking with the animals
Who say "You see, it's Tranquility"

Sublime and brilliant.

Things that are standard in the the realm of The Church.

After 16 years of listening to this band, I am prepared to state with conviction that this album ranks with the best stuff the boys have ever done. It is a vibrant, well-produced masterpiece that demonstrates their many facets: jangly prototypical Church-pop (Buffalo, Louisiana), psychedelic modern rock (Ricochet, Another Earth), and dreamy sweeping epics (Tranquility, Glow Worm). A "must".