Refuse To Die is the solo project of Israeli musician Avner Altman,
who’s been active since the 1980s. Refuse To Die itself was founded in 1996,
though I must confess the projects has flown under my radar until
the release of Collection Of Agnostic Flies, which is a compilation
which gathers eleven tracks coming from their four past releases.
Compilations by their very nature tend to be eclectic and various,
but I’m not sure how much more integrated a ‘proper’ album by Refuse To Die would be,
since the project’s sound is characterised by bizarre experimentalism.
The sleeve art of Collection Of Agnostic Flies is a good indication of the miscellaneous
content of the album, being a riotously colourful collage of nostalgic black and white
photographs, magazine illustrations, fragments of text in Hebrew and German Fraktur script
and elements taken from paintings by leading modern artists of the early 20th century,
including the Russian Suprematist El Lissitzky, the Austrian Dadaist Raoul Hausmann,
the German Expressionist Max Beckmann and the Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky.
There’s also a quotation from the Russian Futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky.
This graphic collision looks chaotic, but is far from arbitrary – it reflects
the tumultuous clashes of ideologies which characterised the history of the 20th century,
most notably the struggle between communism and fascism, and the engagement of avant-garde
art movements with the turbulent history of their epoch.
Collection Of Agnostic Flies opens with a short intro track of looped minor-key piano notes,
orchestral strings, distant timpani, vocal samples, and a stirring cinematic ambient synth theme.
On a more predictable album, all this would set the scene for some bombastic martial industrial.
Instead, this leads into ‘Aufwiderzein’ (the Yiddish spelling of ‘auf wiedersehen’, I think),
a campy, decadent cabaret song with a woozy, stumbling beat, which is strongly reminiscent
of the Italian industrial pop band Division S, or other experimental sound collage projects
such as Novy Svet and Mushroom’s Patience. ‘We Are The Dots’ veers off into more brain-melting
psychedelic territory, blending Balinese gamelan chimes with jaunty pop melodies and
freaked-out vocals, something like The Residents or Frank Zappa. The tenth track on this album
is in fact an (uncredited) cover of Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention’s
‘Who Are The Brain Police?’ from their 1966 debut album Freak Out! Whether you enjoy this
cover version may very well depend on your feelings about Frank Zappa’s music in itself.
Personally, I find both Zappa and this song intolerably annoying. It’s a hellish mind-melting
miasma of pomp-rock heroics, cheesy brass, off-key vocals and incessant video-game burble.
‘Fears’ features samples of Marlon Brando’s monologues from Apocalypse Now,
interlaced with ominous industrial ambient, clunking electro beats, and what sounds like
the Red Army choir, adding up to one of the album’s most effective and atmospheric tracks.
OK, Apocalypse Now samples aren’t such an original idea, but ‘Fears’ comes together quite nicely,
creating martial industrial in the vein of Horologium or Dead Mans Hill. After the brief,
druggy drone ambient interlude of ‘Far Flying Vogel’, the provocatively titled ‘White Power’
is another highlight, with blasts of electronic noise, quirky glitchcore,
dramatic orchestral and choral samples and samples of ranting white supremacists organised
around a powerful, pounding beat. There’s even a bit of hardcore punk guitar in here,
but somehow it all works well together in a frenetic, Venetian Snares kind of way.
‘Uncle Psalm’ offers a chilled-out, or maybe completely stoned, respite of swirling tabla and sitar
exoticism, melting into chasms of massively reverbed dub vocals, which float in and out of
the fried synapses at the back of your skull. ‘Birthday’ reverts back to the oompah cabaret style
of ‘Aufwiderzein’, with tuneless drawling vocals in Hebrew (I think), developing into a faster
rock beat punctuated with a really annoying high-pitched laugh, and topped off with a bit of
monastic chanting. After passing through the slough of despond that is ‘Who Are The Brain Police?’,
the album closes with ‘The Darkest Age Of The End (Ha'idan'aphel Shel Ha'soph)’, a short,
upbeat track with a bhangra and belly-dance influence.
What I’ve written should be more than enough to convey how much of a berserk hybrid mash-up of
outr? and disparate elements this album is. There are parts of Collection Of Agnostic Flies
that I really enjoyed, and parts that I’d go out of my way to avoid listening to ever again.
Overall, the closest touchstones for comparison are Division S and Novy Svet,
and Refuse To Die should appeal to those with a taste for bizarre industrial sound collages.
Collection Of Agnostic Flies is a limited edition of 500 copies, and it comes packaged in
an oversized folded card sleeve.