I can find it tough to come up with “favorite band” lists…but these guys are definitely in my top five. In fact, if I had to be stuck on a desert island there is no doubt theirs is a discography I would want. I am speaking of Michael Pritzl and the Violet Burning.
The Violets represent a band that constantly managed to evolve and grow, in a positive fashion. Their 199o debut Chosen was a fresh and invigorating gift to my high school ears. It was both riddled with angst and hope at the same time. The songs longed expressively about Christ in the ways one would speak of a lover-passion and humility blending together.
A common theme, one that has never left their music, was that of the Christian walk as an adulterous relationship. Pritzl’s lyrics would speak of the devil’s kiss and the world having pierced his soul.
While I loved almost every track, the one standout above the others was the Killing. In guttural wails, Michael sang of the crucifixion in brutal, poetic detail. Maybe the reason the Passion of the Christ did not really move me like it did others was that the Killing was so more powerful in my eyes.
In 1992, with Strength, the Violets touched upon a recurring theme for their music. A modern sense of worship. Many of the songs, such as the beautiful Undone were desperate pleas, intertwined with awe, for mercy and protection. The language was mysterious at times (Wait, don’t hide, please shelter me in your side-from there my strength is derived-I am undone) but it alluded to a Savior seen through a hopeful-yet dim mirror. one hard to grasp, but one to be sought.
There is a lovely and haunted version of the Beatles song Eleanor Rigby that captures the spirit of the lyrics near perfectly. While the entire album is strong, the two tracks the resonated with me the most are Song of the Harlot and As I Am. The stories of Jesus and his moments with women in general are ones I find fascinating and this tale always stood out to me in the Gospels. The song begins gently, Pritzl singing in hushed tones, he tells the story:
Behind her love, she falls down to her knees
Without a word, she begins to weep
And her tears, they fall down upon his feet
She smothers them with kisses
And she dries them with her hair
Pritzl then turns the mirror on himself…
In my life, sorrow has kissed my lonely heart
Fear of man tears me apart
And I try, but many times I’ve loved the world
So many times I’ve been the whore
And I cried a million tears, or maybe more
So many times I have been the whore
I will fall down on my knees
And I will sing “I love you”
In As I Am, the band sings for hope and grace in dark times, reminding themselves that “I am my beloveds, and He loves me as I am.”
The album makes heavy use of strings and feels like an alternative rock symphony at times. Then the band essentially fell silent for about four years (there was a contribution of the song Low on a compilation CD). Part of this was do to some controversy about the upcoming album-both the title (Lipstick and Dynamite Wonder) and potentially offending lyrics (specifically the use of the word “fucking” in a song). The album finally saw release in 1996 without the title and the offending word removed via feedback.
The self titled CD featured a more aggressive and heavier, distortion based rock than the previous two discs. The lyrics were more desperate and broken than either of the previous two releases-with hope sometime only peaking through pinholes. In Blind, Pritzl sings out:
I came here
Looking for your love
Reaching for your love, in the dark
But you were fading
And I’m blind
While Low opens with:
Your beautiful words in my soul
I could die here tonight
And you wouldn’t even notice
You wouldn’t even protest
The entire disc blurs between broken lovers and messy relationships. At times, it is unclear if the lover is supernatural or human, but it is that mystical nature of the lyric standout on their third release. While the music is almost primitive and raucous, the lyrics cling to divinity.
Their next release, Demonstrates Elastic and Plastic, continued the love of audio fuzz, but still felt more melodic. It also made use of things like samples and static. Songs also touch more directly on love between people (Gorgeous, Ilaria, I’m No Superman, Robot Fluide Robot). It is a rock and roll album that loves art, and many of the songs start to wander down eclectic corridors, weaving rather lengthy tributes to love and faith.
Two years later, the band released a “live” album. There was no audience, but they perform new compositions of songs from their previous works. This beats a best of by a long shot. With I Am a Stranger In This Place, we were given beautiful new versions of Song of the Harlot, Undone, Gorgeous and As I Am (as well as others).
The album is both a return to the sounds of Strength, yet still fresh and new. There is little of the distortion that drove the previous two discs. And it is a work of beauty. I wish more bands revisited their work in this fashion.