The Last Judgment is the seventh and supposedly final release by one of John Zorn’s most consistent and well-received projects: the Moonchild collective. The core trio of Joey Baron on drums, Mike Patton on vocals, and Trevor Dunn on bass is joined by John Medeski on organ to narrate, one last time, their unique blend of energetic avant-jazz adorned with hardcore/punk and noise aesthetics, all of it crafted around Zorn’s compositions and leadership. Although it may be their seventh release, the band remains relentless and admirable in creating fine, involving music.
One aspect that makes The Last Judgment so engaging is the underlying inspiration of Zorn’s suite, inspiration stemming from the legend and surrounding myth of the Knights Templar. The story and the music support each other, intertwine, and forge a persuasive, deep-reaching work. Sacral, mystical, and metaphysical concepts tame the sonic, metallic aggressiveness bringing it closer to a sort of lyricism. In a sense, the inclusion of spirituality as a driving factor can be considered a throwback to the early free jazz masters for whom their art was often a vessel for some form of otherworldliness. To what extent Zorn himself identifies with the views conveyed and how personal of an expression this is for him, is beside the point.
Musically, The Last Judgment epitomizes everything that’s recognizable and loved about Moonchild: the natural, inherent energy and flow interrupted by the occasional sudden and violent sparks, Medeski’s captivating and organic playing, Baron’s fine, dynamic drums, Dunn’s distorted, dissonant, Laswell-evoking bass, and Patton’s trademark shrieking, singing, whispering… All the signature marks of these phenomenal musicians are represented and incorporated in the sound. Yet, it’s the material and moods that dictate everything and force the players to adapt and bow, disregarding genre limitations. Free jazz, Gregorian chants, metal, math rock - nothing is off-limits and the band transitions subtly and skillfully from one to another. As if they were performing incantations, not mere tunes. Even Mike Patton, who usually dominates every record he takes part of, is subdued and in service of the greater picture. Because of this, he’s often found relying on the restrained and quiet end of his vocal range.
Looking at standout songs, the quartet moves from the eerily sacral “Le Tombeau de Jacques de Molay” to the rock explosion of “Friday the 13th” simultaneously with ease and force, always focused on maintaining atmospheres. “Misericordia”, then, perhaps shows a nod to Diamanda Galás, while “Resurrection” and “Slipway” push the group towards a more disciplined and reticent outfit that nonetheless attains the same level of intangible energy. Regardless of the specific cuts, a sense of power, pietism, and transcendency resides in them. Furthermore, by relying on shorter pieces, the album feels concise and to the point without a minute wasted. The result is a well-rounded work enclosed in a perfectly tailored, very soft and warm production.
The Last Judgment is more than a fitting finale to the Moonchild project. It is both one of its high points and an evolutionary closure. Unless Zorn decides to reunite the guys for something new out of his songbook, they will be sorely missed.