Opening to the crash of a gong whose cosmic vibrations metaphorically linger throughout the entire recording, Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Guide to the Universe has the allure of a religious ceremony, a shamanic ritual calling on the spirits of the other world, a Rastafarian sermon dispensed by legendary Jamaican producer, visual artist, “mad man” and dub visionary Lee “Scratch” Perry (1939 – 2021) who probably signs one of his last collaborations.
New Age Doom is an experimental Canadian drone metal band formed around the core duo of Eric J. Breitenbach (drums) and Greg Valou (guitars & bass) whose 2020 début Himalayan Dream Techno introduced a singular and hypnotic post-rock odyssey. Released on Toronto-based label We Are Busy Bodies on 5 November 2021 last, New Age Doom & Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Guide to the Universe is an astonishing psychedelic mashup of experimental jazz, drone, electronics and heavy metal.
While the name of Lee Perry will always be associated with rural roots reggae and dub music, Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Guide to the Universe is a completely different beast altogether – Holy Dub is the only track following a recognisable dub template. The album is not a true collaboration either as the musicians never shared the recording studio. It is based on a (probably) single vocal track recorded by Perry in Switzerland – a trademark idiosyncratic spoken-word narration blending traditional wisdom with pagan and religious imagery, fire and brimstone prophecies and surrealist wanderings.
But it is precisely in New Age Doom’s attempt to transpose Perry’s vivid fantasies into a consistent score that the magic happens and that the genuine homage transpires.
During his Black Ark Studio years in the 1970s, Lee Perry pioneered a revolutionary DIY recording engineering methodology as well as the idea of playing the studio like an instrument. Outgrowing the technical constraints of the basic 4 track recorder, Perry introduced drum machines, overdubs, loops, effects such as echo, delay and reverb, ambient sounds and sampling and gave birth in the process to the dub genre by suggesting the manipulation of existing tracks ad infinitum.
Spurred by creative partnerships with a multitude of musicians, bands and producers over the last 50 years, Lee Perry’s recording engineering quirks have gradually percolated through the entire music ecosystem, from electronic, techno and ambient music to hip-hop and jazz. Abiding by a similar creative drive, Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Guide to the Universe is a multi-layered mixing desk masterclass which stands totally apart from more recent dub-oriented collaborations with Mr Green or Subatomic Sound System for instance.
Alongside Eric J. Breitenbach and Greg Valou, the impressive production weaves together contributions by a large cast of musicians including Ryan Dahle (bass, guitar, synthesisers, mixing and mastering), Tim Lefebvre (upright bass and synthesisers), Dahm Majuri Cipolla (Drums), Gregory Macdonald aka Cola Wars (synthesisers and keyboards), The Passenger (synthesisers), long-time friend and photographer Lady Nigel Butterfly, Dan Rosenboom (trumpet) and Donnie McCaslin whose saxophone graced David Bowie’s Black Star album.
The entire recording is drenched in layer upon layer of drone – from amplifier feedback to sustained bowed guitar, saxophone riffs, organ chords enhanced through Leslie speakers, ghostly choir-like vocals and even tanpura overtones at the end of “Fly in the World”. The low-pitched sonic spectrum is always offset by piercing electronic effects as well as free jazz trumpet and saxophone outbursts.
In a perversion of the traditional album structure, the first three tracks “Life is an Experiment”, “Holy Wings and “Fly in the World” more or less play like a single uninterrupted piece.
And step in space
The magnificent B side launches into a bombastic, mind-bending and saturated afro futurist space trip characterised by rumbling sub-bass on “Step in Space” and a 12mn percussion-led “Conquer the Sin”. If “Life is an Experiment”, so is this fantastic recording session on the strength of Eric J. Breitenbach and Greg Valou’s daring ingenuity and the enlightened spiritual guidance of Lee “Scratch” Perry.