Electric Ordo Virtutum is an album version of a stage piece, and it shows. The musicians introduce thundering noises and shrieks that would sound imposing in a theatre, being projected at you from all directions while strobe lights flashed or actors fluttered around a twilit stage, or similar—but coming out of a domestic set of speakers in normal daylight, they seem rootless and overwrought. There is a crash, then another, and one of the singers hisses, “Incccesssst!” while other voices bubble evilly all around and you think: I wish they’d stop trying to shock me. This is sort of embarrassing. And you think of rock operas and then of Jesus Christ Superstar and you start wondering where you would put the exclamation mark in this one, maybe just calling it Ordo! The original Ordo Virtutum is a morality play set to music by its author, the Medieval German nun Hildegard von Bingen. Satan seduces a Soul and is subsequently subdued by the Virtues. The Hildegurls fragment Bingen’s plainsong with special effects, and the result is a Bela Tarr take scissored up and turned into a music video. A Medúlla-era Björk might have been better able to hit the combination of popular experimentation and emotional vocal force they were aiming for.
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