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1910-1914 Black Magic Recordings

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Album Review

Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) was the unlikely byproduct of a zealously Christian upbringing who spent much of his adult life rebelling against established social conventions and entrenched religious institutions. It was Crowley's mother who first nicknamed him "The Beast," and her naughty boy went on to use that epitaph as a sort of fright mask throughout the rest of his theatrically charged maturity. Crowley was actually a brilliant mystic whose wide-ranging interests enabled him to investigate and pontificate upon systems of thought originating in cultures both geographically and temporally distant from late 19th century Victorian England. Unfortunately, and largely because of his over the top antics, Crowley's reputation continues to be almost entirely obfuscated by daemonic imagery, and many Christians believe that he was nothing more (or less) than a Satan worshipping cannibal. Crowley's exaggerated lifestyle, characterized by mind control games, multiple substance addictions, a thoroughly unbridled philosophy of human sexuality and all manner of showy posturing, has overshadowed the best parts of his legacy. These include his by now standardized Tarot deck and his many fascinating writings. Indeed Crowley's stories "The Testament of Magdalen Blair" and "The Stratagem" stand up to comparison with the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Gerard de Nerval, le Comte de Lautreamont, and H.P. Lovecraft. A strange footnote to all of this exists in the form of a small cluster of Crowley's wax cylinder recordings that date from the years 1910-1914. Released on compact disc in 1999 by Almafame as The Great Beast Speaks, then in 2001 by Transparency as Wax Cylinder Recordings, these rare audio tracks reappeared in 2007 and 2008 on the Cleopatra label under the heading of Black Magic Recordings. Scratchy and of course quite variable from an acoustic standpoint, these arcane artifacts only take a little over 20 minutes to experience. Crowley speaks, intones, chants, sings and adumbrates, delivering the Call of the First and Second Aethyr in both English and Enochian; he recites or improvises poetic verses that are at once intriguing and mysterious beyond immediate comprehension. There is a "Hymn to the American People on the Anniversary of Their Independence," together with "Excerpts from the Gnostic Mass" a ritualistic essay on a Pentagram, and "Vive la French Republic" which is loudly sung (apparently by someone other than Crowley) with plodding piano accompaniment. In recent years, some of the Crowley cylinder recordings have been incorporated into contemporary electronic dirge mixes. Hearing them in their original state is actually a pleasant experience. He sounds like a very intelligent man who was enormously creative and must have been quite interesting in person. As for his many bad moves, it has been noted that the worst aspects of Crowley's psyche were the racism, sexism, and narcissism he inherited through his 19th century English caste system upbringing. Let's give credit where credit is due.

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1910-1914 Black Magic Recordings, Aleister Crowley
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