Secret Chiefs 3 has long been one of my favorite bands — in fact, it held the crown for years. Their latest, much anticipated release, Book of Souls: Folio A (2013), doesn’t quite measure up to their absolute best (still, for me, Book M and Book of Horizons), but it’s nonetheless a worthy addition to their impressive body of work.
If I found it disappointing at all, it’s only because it lacks the infectiousness of some their earlier work. From the awkward, lurching march of “Balance of the 19” to the rhythmic complexities of “Tristrya,” this album deploys the usual SC3 bag of tricks: traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation, odd meters, chugging heavy guitars, smidges of surfer and techno vibe, and an intricate, carefully orchestrated sound. It even reaches back to the style of early albums by separating its longer numbers with Zappaesque interstitial pieces, which serve as quirkily comedic connective tissue.
The better tracks on this album, for me, have the feel of cinema soundtrack — “Potestes Clavium,” “Scorched Earth Saturnalia,” “Tristrya,” and “La Chanson de Jacky” (a zany spaghetti western featuring vivavious Mike Patton vocals). My favorite cut, though, is “Drive,” an eerily beautiful piece of groovy, dark atmosphere. Nobody makes music quite like these guys, and even if this isn’t my favorite compilation, it certainly does nothing to sully their reputation. More great stuff from a remarkably consistent group.
Here’s a sample, taking a classic horror movie theme and giving it a sinister New Wave treatment: