1/  Hellfire                                   (Zorn)                        4.07
  2/  Ghosts of Thelema                          (Zorn)                        4.32
  3/  Abraxas                                    (Zorn)                        3.13
  4/  Possession                                 (Zorn)                        5.21
  5/  Caligula                                   (Zorn)                        1.47
  6/  616                                        (Zorn)                        5.20
  7/  Equinox                                    (Zorn)                        4.07
  8/  Moonchild                                  (Zorn)                        6.51
  9/  le Part Maudit                             (Zorn)                        2.49
  10/ The Summoning                              (Zorn)                        2.30
  11/ Sorceress                                  (Zorn)                        4.37

          Recorded at Ornage Music Sound, Orange, New Jersey
          Engineered by Jamie Saft
          Mix translation: Bill Laswell
          Assistant: Robert Musso
          Produced by John Zorn
          Associate Producer: Kazunori Sugiyama
          Mastered by Scott Hull
Mike Patton: voice; Trevor Dunn: bass; Joey Baron: drums.

          2006 - Tzadik (USA), TZ-7357 (CD)
Note: Bill Laswell does not play on this recording.


Anyone who’s read my other John Zorn reviews knows that he ranks among my favorite modern composers, and I can safely add Moonchild to the list of albums that earn him that honor. This is the first album of his most recent trilogy (the other two are Astronome and Six Litanies for Heliogabalus. This set of three astounding albums showcases what is probably John Zorn’s greatest strength in music: being able to bridge the gap between composition and improvisation. On earlier releases, he would compose rules that defined how the musicians played in relation to each other, leaving the actual notes played up to the discretion of the musicians. The most famous of these “game pieces” is Cobra. On this most recent set of albums, he mixes composition with improvisation in a different way. Parts of the album are entirely composed, while, in other parts, Zorn orally related his vision to the musicians, who then improvised based around Zorn’s instructions. Please note that Zorn does not actually play on this album. As the first album in this trilogy, Moonchild is less focused, less cohesive than its two follow-ups. It’s still a brilliant album, but the other two are more brilliant and probably either one would be a better intro to the trilogy than this album. Once you do know those two albums, however, this is definitely an album to get for plenty of reasons.

The most obvious and convincing of these reasons is that this album rocks. It’s fast, dynamic, and it draws your attention like moths to a flame. At times, it manages out-brutal brutal metal without being in the least bit metallic. Instead, Joey Baron’s pounding drums create some of the most interesting drum patterns since the heyday of Chris Cutler and Charles Hayward in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Trevor Dunn (of Mr. Bungle and Fantomas fame) pushes his bass to the absolute limit, redefining the possibilities of the instrument (there is no guitar on this album, only Dunn’s superb bass), and Mike Patton does… what Mike Patton does. He screams his head off, he breathes, he whispers, and, on top of that, he does just about everything else, too. While not as diverse as his vocals on Astronome and Six Litanies, his work on Moonchild provides yet another example of his unrivaled brilliance on vocals. While he is not my favorite vocalist, I cannot deny that he is one of the most original vocalists in the history of music, and he is at his very best here, entirely forgoing any sort of human language. When all of these aspects come together, such awesome tracks as “Hellfire,” “Abraxas,” “Possession,” and “Sorcerer” (among others) are born.

Amidst all this chaos, however, is control (in two senses), and that is the second reason to get this album. In the first sense of control, it is obvious that Dunn, Baron, Patton, and especially Zorn know exactly what they are doing, even when the music appears to be completely freaking out. In an instant, it will all pull together and it will be clear the significance of a particular portion of the music. In the second sense of control, I mean that certain tracks are not all-out assaults on your ears. Songs such as “Ghosts of Thelema,” “616,” and “Moonchild” (as well as a few others) are fairly calm, allowing the listener to breathe. These softer songs (which correlate to softer sections on the later albums, where chaos and calm can both be found within a single song) are not as well integrated into the album as they are on Astronome and Six Litanies, but they still flow reasonably well. The biggest flaw is that some of them, notably “616” and “Moonchild” drag on a bit too long for their own good. Overall, however, they add an extra dimension to this album that makes it all the better.

The third reason to get this album (and the final reason I will mention, though there certainly are more) is that it is one of the prime examples of extreme avant-garde music. To those who aren’t fans of extreme avant-garde, I can see why this would be a turn-off, but I propose that if Zorn can’t get you into extreme avant-garde, you probably won’t ever get into the genre for the simple reason that Zorn is by far the best of the bunch, and the Moonchild/Astronome/Six Litanies Trilogy is his best work (at least of what I know so far). Of course, if you already are a fan of extreme avant-garde and don’t know these three albums, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU WAITING FOR? One of the albums from this trilogy should be your next purchase and, after you learn to love it to death, the next two should quickly follow.

For those who don’t mind loud, brutal music with nonsensical and often disturbing vocals, there is no better album for you to get than John Zorn’s Moonchild (except, of course, for Astronome and Six Litanies). This is one of my favorite modern albums, a prime example of John Zorn’s brilliance and a slap to the face of all those who think that nothing exciting is happening anymore in the progressive rock world. We can debate in circles about the progressive rock credentials of John Zorn, but I consider Moonchild, Astronome, and Six Litanies to be 100% prog rock. Whether or it’s prog or not, Moonchild is still a brilliant album that easily deserves an A- (near masterpiece) rating. Get it today.

Pnoom (courtesy of the Progressive Ears website)


Now here is a real treat for those of us who like for our music to be a little forward-thinking and belong to the oft-abused avant-garde category. Moonchild is a guided improvisation project led by none other than John Zorn (the father of 'extreme' avant-garde) and includes the incredibly talented Mike Patton, Trevor Dunn and Joey Byron as instrumentalists. The effect belongs to roughly the same category as similar experiments by Fushitsusha, Keiji Haino, Massacre, Ruins or Zeni Geva, although to me it actually seems like this is the most consistent and focused release of this kind yet.

John Zorn is not actually a performer on Moonchild. Instead, he is responsible for the whole concept of the project and for guiding the trio of great musicians that he invited to record it. Moonchild is influenced by such things as Alistair Crowley and Artonin Artaud and is supposed to be a hybrid of magickal spontaneity and ritualistic trance, at least according to Zorn's detailed notes. Even if we think of all of this as hogwash, the music on this record truly speaks for itself. This is absolutely brilliant stuff with all the performers going to much further extremes than they ever dared before. Especially Patton is incredible. Adding to his already impressive portfolio of techniques, he now also provides us with a bona-fide black metal screech, as well as some real death metal growls. Trevor Dunn outdoes himself on the bass, providing both a solid rhythm section and quite melodic riffs. The drummer, Joey Byron is a real animal and it really amazes me that he doesn't get lost amongst all the convoluted rhythms.

This is a masterpiece of a record and highly recommended to anyone interested in the more experimental sides of rock music. This might not come as a surprise considering the caliber of the musicians involved in this endeavor but a lot of things could have also gone wrong. They didn't. Get this album!

jupitreas (courtesy of the Metal Storm website)


Moonchild is the first album written by Zorn for the trio of Mike Patton, Trevor Dunn, and Joey Baron. All three are experienced in the realm of avant-garde musics and having them play music composed by John Zorn is almost mouth-watering. Unfortunately, things would start kind of slow, as this album is not as impressive as the other works by the Patton/Dunn/Baron trio. But, never fear, this album can still pull its own weight, even if its a few pounds lighter than either Astronome or Six Litenies.

First it must be said that this music is not really progressive rock. In fact, there are times where this couldn't even be called rock, in any facet. At times this is avant-garde rock (not even avant-rock [yes, I distinguish between the two ;-)], but, for me, a majority of this disc would be classified as straight up avant-garde. Which is not a problem for me at all. However it needs to be stated that this isn't for the faint of heart (you could probably say that for most of Zorn's work though...). Thus, if you are put off my ample helpings of noise in your music stay away from this one.

For me Moonchild flows pretty well all the way through, at least musically. It would seem there is some sort of conceptual connection as well, though if there is it is honestly lost on me. The main focus here is atmosphere. Bleak, frightening, eerie, nervous, and ominous are the predominant feelings here. This is the music for a soundtrack for walking around a dark labyrinth, not knowing what is coming around each corner...sometimes there appears nothing but another dark room, other times a myriad of minotaurs jump and attach you from all angles. Most of this atmosphere is created by the excellent bass playing of Dunn and the (at times of suspense at least) tasteful, and careful drum beats of Baron. Likewise, most of the minotaurs are provided by the voice of Patton. (Though there are plenty of times where all three of them go at it with fifteen cylinders firing to create the havoc.) Admittedly, my favorite voice moments, for the most part, occur when Patton is adding to the atmosphere rather than injecting chaos.

The music seems to put a certain emphasis on the vocals, which has its ups and its downsides. It is doubtful that Patton ever says (or sings/screams/etc) a single English word on this album. This is really an excellent example of using a voice as a instrument rather than just a way to convey a message. (This should not come to a surprise to anyone familiar with Patton's body of work.) Again, it just has to be said...Patton can do amazing things with his voice. There are some moments on this disc where I just have to shake my head and am nearly convinced that something else must be making the noises this man can conjure up from his throat. Mainly this focus on the vocals is an upside because with the voice as the third instrument they work cohesively as a trio, instead of a duo with a singer. The main downside is both Dunn and Baron are not the emphasis, which is unfortunate because both of these man perform quite well throughout the disc. (Perhaps this fact is just to emphasize the atmosphere Dunn and Baron are creating.)

As I've stated earlier most of the music flows pretty well for me thus its hard to isolate particular songs that I enjoy more than others. Nevertheless, special mentions must be made for 616, Equinox, and Sorceress (which features some divine drumming from Baron...easily the best drum work on the album IMO). Lowlights? A few. The greatest criticism of Moonchild is a lack of diversity. Many of the songs are in the same vein thus there is some aire of monotonousness. Especially as songs like Moonchild and The Summoning are not as captivating as other parts of the album.

All in all this is a good release by the "power trio" of Patton/Dunn/Baron. However, this is not one of Zorn's best works and should probably be kept for the last album (out of this trio's three albums). I struggle a bit in deciding on a rating however. For my personal scale of rating albums (which is based solely on the music itself) this would be a solid 3 stars. However, this is prog-rock archives, and as I said this is pretty far from prog-rock. I'll rate this a three stars with a warning of for the purposes of this site its much closer to 2.5 stars than three. This is recommended only for fans of any of the main protagonists or avant- garde music in general, and of course avant-garde rock (but not really avant-rock). 2.5 stars, rounded up.

3 stars out of 5

Man With Hat (courtesy of the Prog Archives website)