DEATH IN JUNE

Published on August 15th, 2013

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Behind the Mask
In the few candid video interviews that Death in June’s Douglas Pearce has done, he appears surprisingly docile and soft-spoken. Bespectacled and introspective, with straight hair perfectly parted, he could be a Midwestern politician or the CEO of a financial firm, not at all like you’d expect one of the enfant terribles of the underground rock world to resemble. Despite his benign off-camera appearance, Douglas P., as he is known, is a lightning rod of controversy that has almost dwarfed Death in June’s enormous catalog of ominous funeral marches and brooding lyrical exorcisms. Numerous protests over the English musician’s 30-plus-year career have led to concert cancellations, banned albums and censored lyrics, all tied to Pearce’s unusual obsession for esoteric Nazi and medieval symbology––including the notorious Totenkopf-6, a menacing cracked skull with roots to the Third Reich and Prussian genocide. At concerts, Pearce dons camouflage associated with German SS officers during World War II, his face often obscured in a moplike wig, while his fellow-musicians drum with military precision behind frightening white masks.

Because of his signature preoccupations with historical holocausts, Pearce, who is an openly gay supporter of Israel, has had to spend an inordinate amount of time explaining the difference between theatrically referencing a controversial topic and endorsing neo-Nazism. Perhaps it’s all a bit of attention-grabbing stagecraft, and if so, it’s worked wonders. A Death in June gig is an event, and an exceedingly rare one at that. This month’s performance at Respectable Street, part of a limited U.S. tour, marks the group’s first South Florida appearance since the late 1990s.

Having eschewed its early industrial sound for a neofolk approach, Death in June’s recent album Peaceful Snow is its most austere release yet: an entirely piano-driven exploration into the recesses of Pearce’s mind that balances, as the best Death in June albums do, on the tightrope between the beautiful and horrifying. The neo-classical musicianship makes for a lovely contrast to the mini narratives of bleak, suicidal hopelessness. Expect Douglas to play much of this intense album along with crowd requests and an exhaustively comprehensive selection from his archive. Recent Death in June set lists have lasted upwards of 35 songs, including such cult hits as “She Said Destroy,” “Heaven Street,” “But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter?” and that family favorite, “Fields of Rape.”

It all goes down September 17 at Respectable Street, 518 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $28 in advance and $33 at the door. Visit respectablestreet.musictoday.com.
~John Thomason

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