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(Credit: Discogs)

Hear the mesmeric isolated guitars on Echo & The Bunnymen’s ‘The Killing Moon’

The legacy of ‘The Killing Moon’ is as evocative as the song itself; with the band’s frontman, Ian McCulloch, declaring in an interview with the Guardian: “I’ve always said that The Killing Moon is the greatest song ever written… for me The Killing Moon is more than just a song. It’s a psalm, almost hymnal. It’s about everything, from birth to death to eternity and God – whatever that is – and the eternal battle between fate and the human will. It contains the answer to the meaning of life.”

Outside of boxing trash-talk, that is perhaps the highest praise that anyone has ever heaped upon themselves, but all glibness aside, it is no doubt a mesmerically beautiful song. And in some ways, both McCulloch’s comments and the song itself seem to exhibit the same notion that classic songwriter Hoagy Carmichael was getting at when he said: “And then it happened, that queer sensation that this melody was bigger than me. Maybe I hadn’t written it all. The recollection of how, when and where it all happened became vague as the lingering strains hung in the rafters in the studio. I wanted to shout back at it, ‘maybe I didn’t write you, but I found you’.”

The Liverpudlian quartet managed this sonic piece of ether snatching in December 1983, before it was released the following year, reaching number nine in the UK charts. However, McCulloch’s love of the song that helped to sustain success during a musical transition for the band does not come from a place of personal pride. “I’ve always half-credited the lyric to God,” he once said, “One morning, I just sat bolt upright in bed with this line in my head: ‘Fate up against your will/ Through the thick and thin/ He will wait until you give yourself to him/‘ You don’t dream things like that and remember them.”

While the track’s melody may have famously derived from bending ‘Life on Mars’ out of all recognition, the iconic sound came from a rather more unlikely source. Guitarist Will Sergeant once put the mandolin sound down to a fateful trip to Russia. “We went to Leningrad,” Sergeant declared, “Then this place called Kazam, where nobody from outside Russia had been since 1943 or something.”

This excursion resulted in both a bizarre night out and a unique off the beaten track of everywhere sound. As Sergeant explains: “We went to a museum full of tractor parts and this very strange party organised by the young communists where everyone wore pressed Bri-nylon flares. But there was a lot of music and we came back full of ideas of Russian balalaika bands, which Les [Pattinson] used for the middle of the song – this rumbling, mandolin-style bass thing.”

All of this happenstance and fate imbued the creative process of crafting the song with a spiritual air that, in turn, burst out like blossom in the song. From the exotic-sounding intro to the rhythmically repetitive structure and the filigreed plucking in the middle eight, this all comes together in the isolated guitar parts below that have a deeply haunting and yet comforting quality like the woods at dusk. Enjoy…

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