And who was I to disagree? I could certainly believe that they did. In fact, I did believe it and I knew it to be true, much like everything Grandfather told me.
As the doors opened, I could feel the shock of the cold breeze as the angels flew in. I could see them swoop patterns through the rising clouds of frankincense, caught in the golden beams from the stained-glass windows.
For much of the rest of the service, I would look for glimpses of them, high in the dome, in the architecture. It’s not as though I could watch the service; I was too short, hemmed in by Sunday Best and hats. Grandfather saw everything. At six feet six inches, he towered over the rest of the congregation, yet he too spent most of the service gazing up. Every now and then he would squeeze my hand and gesture with his head. I tried to follow his gaze, but he could see them better than me.
I may not have seen much of the service, but I would certainly listen to it all. I loved it. The priest chanting, the murmured response of the congregation, the sung response from the choir. Oh, the choir! How they filled even that cavernous cathedral. That sound, that glorious sound; it would wash around the structure and reverberate back, repetition upon repetition. Repetition upon repetition. I understood not a word, the language was not mine, but that mattered not. I understood the message. “Just let yourself feel it,” was Grandfather’s advice.
It was a heady mix; the angels, the frankincense, the singing. Too much for a ten-year old me. I would regularly faint. Maybe the starched collar of my Sunday Best would cut off the circulation to my head as I gazed forever upwards. Maybe, I was just overcome with it all, as the old ladies who fussed me to my feet in broken English would suggest. Maybe, as Grandfather said, it was the gaze of an angel that did it.
Turns out he was right.
Turns out I have always been susceptible to angels. And occasionally to demons, for what are they but fallen angels? Angels who have lost their grace, angels removed from the Word. And if angels can fall that far, then surely too can man. And telling angel and demon apart has always been the problem.
Experience of the numinous is unsettling. Forget the demons for a minute, what about the angels? Not the embarrassingly twee, cloying sentimentality of New Age spirituality angels, but angels of the older religions. Manifestations of the Word, on one hand baby-killers, city-levelers, enactors of God’s wrath, and on the other, bringers of a calm joy inimitable in our ridiculously over-wrought, over-stimulated and alienated society. What could be more disturbing, confusing, traumatic? What could be more overwhelming? It’s enough to make you faint.
Now I am only rarely bothered by the angels. The demons appear to have completely given up: lightweights. Years of medication and first-class counselling have seen to that. For better or worse, I seem, by and large, to be left to myself, to get on with it.
But I miss them. They provided glimmer and shimmer in this dark and heavy world.
Perhaps this album is an attempt to recreate that feeling, the one the 10-year-old me felt. Woozy in the stifling repetition, spotting shapes in the smoke, alert to the whispers of both demons and angels.
Music & artwork by Andrew Sherwell
Mastered by Stephan Mathieu