Nosferatu Man (1991)
If you’re looking for traditional, formulaic Rock, don’t visit Spiderland. That’s the album from which “Nosferatu Man” is pulled. Their narrow success – a shame because they are a band that has pushed boundaries, transcending and twisting all the conventions they inherited in this offering from 1991 – has an eclectic recipe, a fusion in the widest meaning of the word.
The influences you can hear come from Metallica, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Grunge Rock, a touch of Procul Harum, King Crimson, and a brushing of Pink Floyd. There are indisputably hints of the more progressive side of Cream, although the casual listener can surely hear the bellowing riffs and mood-bending from “Sunshine Of Your Love.”
Somehow, somewhere, Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention infiltrate the fun and games, such as they are, serving as den mothers to this pack of unusual cub scouts. And avant-garde “Classical” composer Philip Glass has chipped in his minimalist aura.
No one element dominates, but are baked together in a repetitive, ascending and descending hypnotic monotony, none of those words meant to disparage in the least.
Although some will recoil, listeners are treated to dissonance, unsettling rhythm patterns, gray backgrounds, sharp-edged guitars, unexpected counterpoints and mathematical musical schemes. (This leads many to label Slint and similar bands as “Math Rock,” although that doesn’t get the emotional picture down.)
“Nosferatu Man” also displays a good deal more than the typical Post-Rock band does. There is an undeniable sexiness in the song, ominous as that vibe may be. As unexpectedly as some Talking Heads work, it is eminently danceable. Kudos on that. The song may be dark and vaguely threatening, but it’s also warm and sweaty.
The lyrics are a reaction to F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent film classic, Nosferatu, which almost disappeared because of copyright infringement suits brought by Dracula author Bram Stoker’s heirs. One copy survived and the story of a vampire-count became an acknowledged masterpiece of world cinema and one of the flag bearers of German Expressionistic movie-making.
The combining of the resonance of “Nosferatu” with “Man” evokes notions of Piltdown and Heidelberg Man, links in the human evolutionary chain. We are left pondering what it means that contemporary human life is essentially being termed “Vampire Man.”
But the songwriters – the whole group is credited as individuals – have a few surrealist ideas in mind in the lyrics. Some phrases trail off into wisps of longing the way the music does. Take the opening verses, which are spoken more than sung, not quite Rap, not quite Moody Blues self-indulgence.
I live in a castle
I am a prince
On days I try
To please my queen
Soon as I start to smile
My smiling queen
Who sits across the table
By the food she made
The lead guitar often peeps in with a high-pitched, nearly painful piercing tone. Oddly enough it lends an air of Klezmer music, or some other form of Middle-Eastern flair. There is also a hint of code being broadcast over airwaves of another planet, or at least some alternate reality.
Other than that, as in much Post-Rock, the heavy, hellish drumming guides the song against a repeated rhythm guitar riff occasionally punctuated by a Krautrock scratching. The sound is, superficially anyway, reminiscent of The Velvet Underground’s droning, subsonic sound from the late 1960s. In another way, though, possibly because so much time had passed since that time and place in musical history, Slint doesn’t seem nearly as involved with grasping for an arty sound. The sound is a natural part of the DNA by 1991.
There is no verse-to-chorus structure to the lyrics. In fact, they are especially hard to hear on the production, which is a shame until the listener gets to know them. Potent images feature the undead, white skin, sharp teeth and a generally amusing outlook on vampires. A little less mumbling would have been appreciated.
She peeked around the corner
She offered me her hand
My teeth touched her skin
Then she was gone again
Now my queen is fine
In her early grave
After that girl I’ll keep her warm
There’s nothing more to save
“Nosferatu Man” ends on a half minute of feedback, the only way, really, the song could have ended well. We’re invited on a number of archaeological expeditions that prove to be enjoyably sensual and mercifully un-self-involved as much late ’80s and early ’90s Indie Rock could be.
We dig up ancient Rock-N-Roll with a strata of the avant garde layered upon it. Clapton and Jack Bruce, for god’s sake.
We find once more the delightfully perverse theme of Dracula/Nosferatu, made personal and universal at the same time. We find the shards of a grind-it-out-baby dance song. We find evidence of Metal Thrash, mainstream Heavy Metal, New York’s East Village leatherine world, and soporific suburban head-bowing rhythms.
We find all the cracked remains unearthed in the complex city of Rock as it stood in the early ’90s.
Hand it to Slint. As odd and relatively unknown as they are, they are a seminal band that pushed the boundaries without breaking down.
- Blue Oyster Cult has its own theatrically haunting song called “Nosferatu” from, fittingly, their album Spectres.
- Nosferatu is also the name of an on-again-off-again English Goth band whose songs are not intricately wrapped up in the DNA of Rock-N-Roll.
- Slint receives short shrift from critics, although the group’s influence is virtually legend. We wonder about prophets being accepted in their own land. Offbeat, strange, Slint is inevitably provocative and the critics may just have something stuck up somewhere that needs removing.