Released on the 1st May 2012, Templars: In Sacred Blood is the sixth album in John Zorn’s Moonchild saga. It was released on Zorn’s own label, Tzadik. It was recorded and mixed between October 2011 and January 2012 at East Side Sound in New York City.
Each installment in this series features the trio of Mike Patton on vocals, Trevor Dunn on bass and Joey Baron on drums. Here they are a quartet, having been joined by John Medeski on organ, whose work creates a rich background texture for the dramatic interplay of the trio. Unlike on earlier offerings—like Six Litanies for Heliogabalus (2007), The Crucible (2008) and Ipsissimus (2010)—Zorn does not feature as an instrumentalist on this album.
Though Patton does not dispense with the diabolical screeching, grunting and wailing familiar from the previous Moonchild albums, Templars hears him at his most verbal, narrating the story of the 200-year rise and ignominious fall of the Knights Templars in a mixture of French, Latin and English. Zorn continues to pursue occult and mystical themes on this album; although its title refers to the Knights Templar, an association of warrior-monks formed in 1129 which played a major part in the violence of the Crusades on behalf of Catholic power, this group was later persecuted by the same authority, accused of devil-worship.
Zorn wrote the impressionistic lyrics, no doubt inspired by his beloved Antonin Artaud, the poet and dramatist to whom the Moonchild series is dedicated along with his other heroes, the early twentieth-century magician Aleister Crowley and the composer of ‘organised sound’ Edgard Varèse. The heavy use of lyrics makes the album the most conceptual and dramatic of all Moonchild works so far.
The album sits at the intersection of many genres. In addition to the usual rock, metal, and free jazz flavours, Zorn gives his medieval influences full rein here, with clear inspiration from Roman Catholic liturgical music. The album also veers close to progressive rock.
Dunn’s ruminative bass, Baron’s rumbling drum’s and the deep organ work of John Medeski get the album off to a foreboding start. Its gloomy atmosphere gives way to an eerie groove before Patton emerges full throttle shouting the word ‘templar’ over and over in a wild metal section. Patton’s gruesome vocalisations imply the screams of executed templars. The words ‘Templi Secretum’ refer to the legend of a secret inner core within the Knights Templar, a heretical group which was supposedly influenced by Cabbalistic, Cathar and Gnostic ideas. Duration: 05:33
Evocation of Baphomet
‘Baphomet’ is an archaic term meaning ‘devil’. In the end, the Templars were judged heretical by the Catholic church and executed for allegedly worshipping him. This track starts in a soft groove with a dextrous, obscure bassline courtesy of Trevor Dunn. Patton relates the Templars’ tale, all breathy and hushed like a twisted William Shatner. Duration: 05:26
Murder of the Magicians
This track features gloomy layered Gregorian chanting from Patton, appropriate for an album inspired by Catholic history and yet another addition to Patton’s skillset. The track title refers to the suppressed tradition of magick Zorn is so fascinated by. The specific ‘murder’ here is indubitably that of the heretical Templars but also resonates with the references made to the European witch hunts and other such oppressions discussed on previous albums—violence that left ‘centuries of silence’, to quote a lyric of Zorn’s from the first track. Thematically, the Moonchild project is an attempt to resurrect those silenced witches’ and warlocks’ voices. Duration: 04:14
Medeski somber organ harmonies provide a ruminative, religious hue to this mysterious track. A strange trickling water sound, evocative of dank dungeons or secretive monastic crypts, accompanies a satisfying bassline from Dunn overlaid with Patton’s Latin recitation. The track takes the listener from a softer, more tonal section to a roiling hardcore metal assault. Duration: 06:20
“Libera Me” starts heavily with a pounding rock riff. The intensity hardly lets up throughout and the track closes with Patton vocally scrawling the Latin words ‘libera me’. The title refers to a Roman Catholic liturgical work customarily said beside the coffin of a deceased person, petitioning God to have mercy on their soul at the day of last judgment. Duration: 03:20
A Second Sanctuary
Patton whispers his slightly campy Hammer Horror lyrics before emerging into scream mode over a rocky groove in the second half. The theme of a sanctuary indicated in the title emphasises Zorn’s interest with hidden traditions, occult lineages. Duration: 05:06
While the words set the theme, Patton is still capable of inhuman screaming—as evidenced here. In a sudden genre switch familiar to Moonchild listeners, a bebop bassline intervenes, accompanied by jazz improv on Medeski’s organ. This is followed by a metal slab of sound, which then alternates with a softer section in which Patton whispers. Recordatio is a Latin word meaning ‘recollection’; Zorn exhorts listeners to recall past mystical traditions suppressed by orthodoxy. Duration: 03:53
Sounds like keys turning locks in hidden crypts and eerie vocals in a dark cathedral populate this ominous track. These metallic sound effects play with Baron’s cymbal work as Patton intones ‘sanctus’ over and over again. The final track title emphasises the theme of a secret religious or ritual tradition, a key concept for Templars. Duration: 09:15
Echoing others, avant-garde music critic Thom Jurek reckons Templars to be the most ‘accessible’ of all Moonchild albums, and ‘a hell of a lot of fun’. Despite the darkness of In Sacred Blood, Zorn’s compositions are tight and his lyrics poetic thinks Jurek; the album is, for newcomers, mercifully free of some of the excessive far-out-ness of other albums in this project.
Awarding the album a strong 4.42 stars out of 5, Prog Archives agrees with Jurek that Zorn’s sense of humour is on full display here, and also praises the ‘rhythmic excursions by Dunn’s distorted bass and Baron’s inexhaustibly creative drumming’.
John Zorn was the arranger, composer, conductor, and producer and devised the album’s concept. Marc Urseli worked as an engineer and provided mixing. Scott Hull mastered the album. Kazunori Sugiyama was associate producer.
As with all previous Moonchild albums, the cover design was provided by Heung-Heung Chin.