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Death in June’s Peaceful Snow

1,433 words

Death in June
Peaceful Snow / Lounge Corps
NER 2010

Death in June emerged from the English post-punk scene of the early 1980s. Death in June was originally a trio, but two of the founding members left in 1984 and 1985, so now the group consists of Douglas Pearce along with a shifting set of collaborators. Pearce, now 54, currently lives in Australia.

Death in June’s combination of acoustic folk and industrial sound collages, as well as its use of images and themes related to Nazi Germany and European fascism in general, have had an immense influence on the development of what is called “neo-folk” and “martial-industrial” music, which is the core of a world-wide youth subculture, characterized by racial consciousness, far Right politics, and inclinations toward neo-paganism and esoteric spirituality, including Esoteric Hitlerism, Traditionalism, and Aleister Crowley. Neo-folk and martial-industrial fans overlap significantly with the Goth scene and West Coast White Nationalism.

My introduction to Death in June was in 2000. I bought the two CD compilation DISCriminate (2000) along with Take Care and Control (1998) and Operation Hummingbird (2000). The last two albums, which are heavily influenced by the collaboration of Albin Julius of Der Blutharsch, have a keyboard, percussion, and sample centered sound. They remain among my favorites. In my opinion, Death in June’s greatest album is Nada! (1985), and But, What Ends When Symbols Shatter? (1992) is a close second.

Another favorite is Scorpion Wind’s Heaven Sent (1996), a collaboration between Douglas Pearce and Boyd Rice that was re-released as Death in June and Boyd Rice, Scorpion Wind (2008). (See my article on Boyd Rice here.)

After Operation Hummingbird, Death in June went into a long slump. All Pigs Must Die (2001) sounded like outtakes from the group’s ’80s releases. Then came two collaborations with Boyd Rice, Wolf Pact (2001), which has a few good tracks, and Alarm Agents (2004), which is totally unmemorable. Then there was a compilation, Abandon Tracks! (2005). The next Death in June release, The Rule Of Thirds (2008) just sounded like outtakes from the early ’90s. It was so unmemorable that three months after I bought it, I had completely forgotten its existence and ended up buying it again by mistake!

The best thing that Death in June has been doing over the last ten years is re-releasing its old material in increasingly beautiful and elaborate packaging for fanatical fans and collectors like me. Of course I bought it all, even though I began to suspect that the whole enterprise was just a scheme to ever-intensively milk money out of a shrinking fan base. I kept hoping for something new and good.

My faith has been rewarded. When Peaceful Snow, the latest Death in June CD was released, I of course bought it. Old habits die hard. But I was surprised at how much I love it. Peaceful Snow is easily the best Death in June album since Operation Hummingbird, and it is rapidly growing to be one of my all-time favorites.

Douglas Pearce in the 1980s

Peaceful Snow comprises 13 songs. The disc has a new sound, which is one reason it jumps the rut of the last ten years. Douglas P.’s thin, bland, repetitive guitar strumming is gone. Albin Julius’ keyboards and samples are gone. The main instrument is Miro Snejdr’s resonant piano. Peaceful Snow sounds like music for a piano bar where old fascist veterans gather to drink and reminisce.

(The Scorpion Wind CD also has a mellow, lounge music quality, but the instrumentation is primarily guitar and percussion and the vocals are from Boyd Rice, whose deadpan recitation of lyrics from C. G. Jung, Savitri Devi, Ragnar Redbeard, Charles Manson, Alfred Rosenberg, the Marquis de Sade, and others brings to mind the subliminal brainwashing “hypnopedia” voices of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.)

The first two songs, “Murder Made History” and “Fire Feast” are rather repetitive and musically simplistic, even for pop music. Death in June’s lyrics are always cryptic but evocative. “Murder Made History” strikes me as a rejection of Francis Fukuyama/Alexandre Kojève thesis that liberal democracy is the end of history. As much as the globalists wish to create a pacified and homogenized world, the trend is toward greater conflict, either between universalistic ideologies (Islam vs. liberal democracy), or between universalism and particularism, or between eternal truth and temporal progress. If Fukuyama could claim that history ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, then Douglas P. seems to be saying that it started again on 9/11: “Murder Made history, murder made merry, our obituary to security” and “Don’t darken my doorstep again with your towers of lies in flame.” There is also a beautiful line that expresses a rejection of “change” for eternal truth: “Real and absolute and everlasting we gave up on the ever-passing.”

The title song, “Peaceful Snow,” is one of DIJs most beautiful creations, with a hauntingly beautiful melody. Douglas P. has never been much of a singer. He has a thin, reedy voice and he declaims his lyrics more than he sings them. But he delivers these words with real passion and conviction:

Free from the prisons of our past
The sentences and the fears that last
We have lost another blossom to the snow
Where our bridges burn, where our bridges burn and glow.

We were the great ghosts
in our pariah state
Old gods on new streets
Outlook beak
At twilight gold and gray

In the peaceful snow
In the peaceful snow
As my father knows,
I will go into the, into the snow
In the in peaceful snow
In the Pearceful snow
As my father knows,
I will go into the, into the snow

In the wilderness we’re seeking
We finally came to stay
No longer the quarry, the hunted, the ones that got away

I tuned [or chewed?] the world out to such a degree
I can no longer hear properly.
The crashing wolves and the baying for blood
Vukovar with love, cry a tear [unintelligible]

The words are typically enigmatic, but the feeling they communicate is clear: a life of anguish and struggle, recalled in tranquility, a peace that will only be exceeded by death itself.

Track 4, “Life Under Siege,” continues the same theme of nostalgia: “Eleven years later on, the future’s been and gone . . .” The past was “life under siege” which has been traded for “life out of tune.” “Eternal conflict” has been traded for “fear of compromise.” If war is the father of all things, then it seems that the worst thing one can do is actually win.

Track 5, “A Nausea,” and track 6, “Wolf Rose,” are also outstanding songs with haunting melodies and lyrics. Pearce gets into “A Nausea” so much that he actually starts singing at the end.

Track 7, “The Scents of Genocide,” track 8, “Red Odin Day,” track 9, “My Company of Corpses,” and track 10, “Cemetery Cove” return to the more repetitive, spell-like style of the first two songs.

The last three songs, however, are outstanding, with beautiful melodies and words that Pearce again delivers with power and conviction.

Track 11, “Our Ghosts Gather,” is a hymn-like tune that recalls the Peoples Temple songs reworked on But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter? The message and feel seems overall to be hopeful:

Even though we seem lost, our ghosts are gathering, our ghosts are gathering, to take us hand in hand.

But it seems clear that we are also in need of chastisement:

Birds of a white feather,
lie and cheat, and steal together.
But even though we seem lost . . .

To each of us, our vices
put smugness in their bones,
shall be ground to dust . . .

Track 12, “Neutralize Decay” seems to have a fairly straightforward message:

If we don’t neutralize decay
we may run out of tomorrows
Time tryeth truth,
but the truth was found and fined.

Douglas Pearce today

Track 13, “The Maverick Chamber,” with its ringing, Rachmaninoff-like chords, closes the album on a note of exquisite, melancholy decadence:

Here in the Maverick chamber, disapproval came to play
Stateless, middle-aged, still feral, unhappily decayed
Here in the Maverick chamber, disapproval came to play

Peaceful Snow is a remarkable album, a return to inspired music-making from the standpoint of self-assured maturity.

Some versions of Peaceful Snow are paired with a disc called Lounge Corps in which Miro Snejdr plays solo piano transcriptions of 17 Death in June songs, including “Leopard Flowers,” “Hail! The White Grain,” “Kameradschaft,” “Luther’s Army,” “Heaven Street,” “But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter?,” “Fall Apart,” “Rose Clouds of Holocaust,” and “Golden Wedding of Sorrow.” It is wonderful to hear these old songs in new ways. So make a point of getting this disc as well.



  1. Vlad Katonic
    Posted December 15, 2010 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Good article…Nada is certainly not the best of their albums though. Check out Dead Sunwheels for better renditions of some of the Nada material. it was produced by David Tibet and he really reworked the tracks and put them far above and beyond the original lo-fi disco, and into the realm of the surreal. compare both versions of “Behind the Rose.”
    I have a compilation of their early stuff called Lesson One: Misanthropy, and all of those early singles and records are probably my favourites (orig version of “Heaven Street,” “We Drive East,” “All Alone In Her Nirvana,” “State Laughter,” etc), and Brownbook is pretty cool too. I saw DIJ open for Non about 8 years ago (?)…it was mostly the acoustic material. Not my fav stuff.

  2. Ronald Christ
    Posted December 15, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Industrial music was huge in the 1990s. But you never really heard much about these guys. The only two groups I remember hearing about were Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. And they were (big surprise!) boring left-wing transgressives, who painted their nails, wore a lot of make up, and talked sh*t about the 700 Club. I first learned about DIJ and NON in the 2000s when I read an article about them in Vice.

    • Vlad Katonic
      Posted December 16, 2010 at 6:10 am | Permalink

      that’s because you are young…:)

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