One of the most iconic and important British figures of the 1600s was Samuel Pepys. A member of the royal society, member of Parliament, Chief Secretary to the Admiralty, business man, connoisseur of fine things, writer, and a bit of a Casanova, Pepys was a man about town; his influence was grand in scope and still studied to this day. He is revered by today’s scholars for the diaries he kept in which he documented his life, London proper, and the period he lived through, writing about the Great Fire of London, the Great Plague of London, and other various events and conflicts, providing insight into a time long since passed.
It may not seem fitting at first, but Samuel Pepys creates an engaging simile in which to compare the life and influence of post-industrial percussionist John Murphy. While Pepys was certainly a social creature, being privy to many elite circles and ventures throughout his lifetime, one does not have to look hard to see this equivalent attribute in Murphy, another fellow Londoner by way of Australia. In his near forty-year career, Murphy had been either a member or contributor to many influential and foundational acts such as the Associates, SPK, and Death in June; personal projects such as Knifeladder, Last Dominion Lost, and Shining Vril; or working with close friends and collaborators such as Andrew King and Naevus. From punk to power electronics, ambient to neofolk, and all other related genres in between, Murphy was a multi-genre pioneer in the underground scene, yet his contributions remain critically unrecognized and in dire need of being underscored. While Murphy did not leave quite a diary behind that charted himself and the musical history he was intertwined with as Pepys would have, the three-disc compilation All My Sins Remembered: The Sonic Worlds of John Murphy, released by the Epicurean, is a fairly close approximation. It is both a document and an abridged catalog of his career, which not only offers the opportunity to highlight Murphy to give him the reconsideration he rightly deserves, but the compilation also provides additional insight into the post-industrial landscape which is still in need of correlation and academic scrutiny.
All My Sins Remembered should not be considered a “best of” or “greatest hits” compilation of Murphy’s work but instead a condensed retrospective. The process that the Epicurean utilizes to showcase Murphy’s career as succinct as possible is actually quite brilliant. Firstly, there is the selection of instrumental versions of songs over their vocal counterparts. For example, the catchy song “Skipping,” which originally appeared on the Associate’s album Sulk, normally concentrates on Billy MacKenzie’s gothic-infused baritone vocals. The version of “Skipping” that appears on All My Sins Remembered is sans these vocals, which causes a narrower focus on the music proper and, in particular, the session drumming of Murphy, which really carries the song. A similar choice was made with the martial song “Dystopian Dream” by Gerechtigkeits Liga. This song, presented without the vocals, really highlights the rhythmic bombastic percussion work of Murphy. Having these instrumentals instead of the vocal versions puts the focus squarely on Murphy’s performance and contributions.
Secondly, many songs are presented in their live versions rather than their studio incarnations. This provides the opportunity to feature Murphy’s live raw energy, improvisation techniques, and power, and to present him as more than a session musician. For example, compare and contrast the studio versions of Blood Axis’s iconic song “Lord of Ages” to the version present on All My Sins Remembered and one can hear Murphy’s eruption of powerful drumming as the song segues into its second half as the audience cheers. It’s a goosebump-inducing and heavy-chested moment that can only be experienced with a live recording. Naevus’s contribution to the compilation, “Like Arms,” is another instance demonstrating Murphy’s live drumming acumen. The absence of a live Death in June track, whom Murphy has drummed with for the past few years, does raise an eyebrow as to its lack of inclusion.
Finally, there is the focus on rare, deleted, and exclusive tracks rather than re-releases of popular songs for this compilation that helps give new life to the more obscure and formative moments in Murphy’s career while at the same time rewarding his longtime fans with unique songs. Of the thirty-seven tracks that make up All My Sins Remembered, twenty of them were previously unreleased, being published for the first time here. Some tracks, such as :Of the Wand and the Moon:’s “Death Rune,” David E. Williams’s “Sandra Lindsey (Happy Birthday Murphy Remix),” and Dr. King’s “Schmerz (For John)” were recorded exclusively for this compilation, while others such as Zeena Schreck’s “Sethian Dream Oracle” captures an excerpt of one of Murphy’s final live performances, giving it a proper home on the compilation. The rest of the material, such as “Big Gun Action” from an untitled Whirlywirld album, comes from out-of-print or inaccessible sources. These tracks have been remastered for this compilation, giving them the best presentation possible. Attention is given to the many side projects that Murphy spearheaded, such as Vhril, Krank, and Shining Vril.
All My Sins Remembered orders its contents in a chronological fashion, oldest material on the first CD to as recent as 2015 appearing on the third and final CD. Listening to the compilation from start to finish is akin to watching a mirror-world version of the Tower of Babel being built. Instead of all the different languages coming about and stymying its construction, one witnesses the coalescing of different sub-genres, sounds, and, indeed, “sonic worlds” into a coherent and logical journey. The early, more foundational material, consists of the punk, experimental, and post-industrial material. These tracks set the groundwork for the latter half of the compilation, which consists of the more refined and accessible genres, such as neofolk and dark-pop tracks. Taken as a whole, the compilation presents the rise and solidification of several scenes and genres since their infancy, with Murphy as an important pillar, present for it all.
Complementing the musical journal of Murphy with textual documentation, All My Sins Remembered comes with a rather substantial booklet containing four essays, various candid, live or personal photos, and song credits. The first essay by the Epicurean’s own Stefan Hanser explains how the compilation came to fruition from its earliest incarnation as a benefit album to assist Murphy with medical expenses. The second essay by childhood friend Alan Bamford provides biographical details, going into depth regarding the various bands Murphy was a part of from his high school punk years in Australia to moving to London where he was involved in many collaborations while starting his own solo projects. Murphy would move back to Australia for a decade before returning to London again, always growing a network of collaborators. The third essay by Dr. Andrew King focuses on Murphy’s London activities and is perhaps the most humbling and personal account in the booklet. It is a candid and sincere look at their shared living conditions, musical camaraderie, and health and travel woes. The final essay by Jon Evans of Last Dominion Lost acts as a eulogy of sorts to Murphy. The black-and-white cover photograph of the booklet by Zeena Shreck is a somber yet stoic picture of Murphy; it is perhaps the best visual representative of him.
All My Sins Remembered is a massive release; a tribute of this magnitude and scope is rarely afforded to even the most famous of musicians and performers. A document of not only John Murphy, but of the various genres he helped shape, this is an unspeakably important release. However, it should not be considered a final release or the definitive statement. As this compilation shows, the net cast by Murphy was as wide as it was long, and fellow friends and colleagues continue to unearth, remaster, and prepare to present more material. His legacy thus continues to be written. For fans, this should not be taken as a goodbye, but merely a short rest, a well-deserved respite for John Murphy, the Samuel Pepys of the post-industrial underground.
01) Mandrix – Evolution (Live)
02) NEWS – Dirty Lies
03) Whirlywirld – Big Gun Action
04) Associates – Skipping (Instrumental)
05) Hugo Klang – Beat Up the Old Shack
06) Krang – Dissonance 2
07) Orchestra of Skin and Bone – Flame
08) SLUB – Lie
09) Dumb and the Ugly – Lunacy 145
10) SPK – The Sandstorm Method (Live)
11) Whitehouse – Live Action 4
01) Lustmord – Pure
02) Sooterkin Flesh – Untitled (Live)
03) Genocide Organ – Untitled
04) Vhril – Transcosmic Mutations (Excerpt)
05) Blood & Iron – Hymn to the Satanic Empire
06) Wertham – Born to Raise Hell (Original Mix)
07) Bordel Militaire – And She Hit Me
08) Browning Mummery – Internal-Medicine
09) MAA – Tuhkankantajat – Toive
10) Gerechtigkeits Liga – Dystopian Dream (Instrumental)
11) Krank – Drain Sounds in the Well (Insanity Remix)
12) The Walking Korpses – Saintess
13) The Grimsel Path – Scorched Earth (Live)
14) My Father of Serpents & Disciples of None – Live at the Organ Factory
01) :Of the Wand and the Moon: – Death Rune
02) David E. Williams – Sandra Lindsey (Happy Birthday Murphy Remix)
03) Shining Vril – Bouncer See Bouncer
04) Nikolas Schreck – O, a Weird Flower (Live)
05) KnifeLadder – Long March
06) Blood Axis – Lord of Ages (Live)
07) Naevus – Like Arms (Live)
08) Foresta di Ferro – Kalagni – False Lying Dawn
09) Die Weisse Rose – Act of Worship
10) Andrew King – Schmerz [For John]
11) Zeena Schreck – Sethian Dream Oracle (Live)
12) Last Dominion Lost – Hexatom Recrudesce