Back From the Dead: The Harismus Sessions, 2015
Review by Kent Manthie
The historic landmark known as the Jersey City and Harismus Cemetery was originally founded in 1829. It is a six acre sized area of land that houses the dead of New Jersey, going back, almost 200 years!
Anyway, not too long ago, Darren Deicide, whose albums I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing in the past (especially my favorite one, Rockin’ Until The Apocalypse), recently received permission from the state of New Jersey for the purpose of setting up and recording Darren playing a few songs.
The actual performance was recorded in the daytime, which was, I suppose, the time frame allotted to them by the New Jersey Cemetery Authority…? Or, possibly, the crew was only available then, or it was decided that this was the perfect time frame to do it. Myself, though, I kind of thought that it would’ve been a nighttime performance: playing his raw, stripped down brand of blues in a darkened, mysterious graveyard, giving it some spooky ambiance and so on. But, the fact that it was done during daylight also has its merits, probably the biggest being that one gets the chance to see the window-on-the-past which Harismus presents itself as. So, when you weigh the two: doing it at night or in daylight hours, I suppose if it were any other, typical run-of-the-mill graveyard, doing it at nighttime, just for the spooky effect would’ve been cool, but in order to show off the marvelous and historic nature of Harismus Cemetery and its landmark status as a long-standing cemetery, going back the the early 19th century, you can see why the place needed to be included in the show as well. It’s also a very beautiful place: not row, upon row of graves and headstones, but almost like a park, with a variety of features to it which is why they go to different spots for each tune. The Harismus which I saw in the video looks as if it’s been quite kept up over the centuries. The grounds look well-maintained, kept up, although some of the statuary and headstones there do look a bit worn, it, nonetheless, gives it a quaint look of historic value.
The title of this performance video has a double-meaning, since, before Darren got back his strength to do it, he’d been, as is written in the opening credits, through some “shattered personal relationships, a few tragic losses and a serious accident that sent me to the hospital, we bring you…” [Back From the Dead] – a title which is both a good reference to his performance in the cemetery, but one that also reflects his having overcome some adversity – especially his hospitalization for the accident which incapacitated Deicide for a time.
The three-song set, starts out at one site, where Deicide sings “Devil Woman Blues”, which is Darren’s take on an old blues song by Skip James, entitled, “Devil Got My Woman”. Singing it, he’s perched up on a retaining wall or whatnot. While he plays the hauntingly, tingly song, the camera alternates between filming him and wandering through some of the paths, which traverse the gravesites.
Next, he takes a seat at a chair in the shade of a tree, where he sings “Dance of the Demon Rag”, an instrumental tune, that is crafty and, even though there’s no one else except for Darren, playing his acoustic guitar, still, somehow, has a nice rhythmic quality to it. In the background of this part, you can see a nice patch of bright green grass behind the tree in which there are some graves: a few headstones to his left and over on the right, some grave markers; no headstones, just those granite rectangles that are embedded in the ground.
Lastly, he does what is my favorite of all three: “Hudson River Hangover”. Utilizing a slide as he does in “Devil Woman Blues”, the guitar seems to be almost a complement to his vocals, more than just an accompaniment. It’s a gem of a song – a steady, rumination about the chaos that enveloped him during the night and how he’s now dealing with the aftermath – the “hangover” – whether a real, alcohol-drug-induced hangover or an existential hangover – or even both, Deicide really stokes the fires with this one.
Then, before you know it, the whole thing’s over. But, if you have the video on your computer, saved to your hard drive or to a DVD, you can always revisit it anytime. Look out for more new material sometime in the not-too-distant future. Currently, Deicide’s latest album is the 7 inch vinyl record: Bomb This Joint, from which one can download the tracks -just go to his website: https://www.darrendeicide.com and those whose interest was piqued from seeing parts of this historic cemetery can go to https://www.jerseycemetery.org Happy listening and viewing! -KM.