Full Virgo Moon byRelease date: March 13, 2020
Label: Ván Records
Full Virgo Moon, or rather, the full moon in Virgo, refers to the moon in September that is often depicted as the Goddess of the Harvest or the Earth Mother. This use of astrological, pre-Christian imagery is unusual for Thomas J. Cowgill a.k.a. King Dude, an artist whose every song is steeped in Biblical references, as they map out the struggle between good and evil.
On his eighth album of dark folk, Cowgill’s lyrics are, as ever, decidedly Old Testament in outlook. Full of sin and damnation, it’s probably fair to say the early works of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds and Johnny Cash’s entire catalogue has played an important role in forming the King Dude character. Unlike the ‘Man in Black’ however, it’s hard to know how much of this scripture stuff Cowgill actually believes. He certainly believes in belief if ‘The Satanic Temple’ is anything to go by, where he takes a pot-shot at the furore over the U.S. political activist group who are fighting for a separation of church and state – “It don’t mean shit to the kids who invented it”. Cowgill has always revelled in the role of irritant and provocateur, seemingly never happier when transgressing – equally happy riling atheists or Christians, metal fans or folk fans.
King Dude’s previous two albums, the excellent Sex and Music to Make War To have wrong footed expectations again by exploring bass-heavy post punk and even dance music, but on Full Virgo Moon he returns to the stripped back, mainly acoustic one-man operation of his earlier works. Cowgill’s deep, shape-shifting croon is accompanied by either just guitar or piano with occasional bleak synth drones. The songs remain the same though, where the view remains almost permanently fixed from the gutter to the stars.
On the jaunty ‘Make Me Blind’ he dares a higher power to strike him blind to prove there is an afterlife in a Mexican standoff with death – ‘There is no afterlife…there is no sacrifice to change my mind…and if you want to change my mind all you’ve got to do is make me blind’. Here in a nutshell is the crux of so many of King Dude’s songs. He plays the filthy, unrepentant sinner, but yet he still hopes for revelation and salvation at the last. The song moves, with identical lyrics into the slow, mournful piano ballad ‘A Funeral Song For Atheists’.
Now, as cleverly realised as this all is, I begin to tire of all this agonising over his immortal soul and the more he does it the more it feels like shtick. I prefer his more traditional story-telling songs, which while still stacked with religious imagery and diabolical characters do spare you what is beginning to feel like manufactured angst. For that reason I find ‘Forty Fives Say Six Six Six’ to be the most satisfying tune here, being a sort of American gothic stew with elements of the Robert Johnson mythology and cowboy song.
Full Virgo Moon, despite its brief running time and fairly light musical style, is a tough, grim listening experience which will appeal to his hardcore goth-metal fan base, but is not the ideal starting point for your journey into the dark. The devil still has all the best tunes, but he’s not always great company.