Exposé Online banner

The enigmatic name is, or course, from Lovecraft. The phonetically bizarre world of Lovecraft's mythos has attracted many, many bands to use names of entities and places from its stories and legends. Shub-Niggurath, The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, is a dark and terrible alien fertility goddess in the mythos, sometimes depicted as a demonic goat, sometimes as an enormous amorphous mass spawning her "Dark Young" — huge tentacled tree-like hulks with shaggy goats legs and hooves — in an endless orgy of reproduction. The extremity and sinister nature of such imagery suits the music of this band perfectly. If ever there were music for the mythos, this is surely the archetype.

by Phil Kime, Published 1997-02-01

Shub-Niggurath first cassette coverShub-Niggurath formed in 1983 — six people with the goal of "the most extreme expression of [our] sensibility" and diverse influences from electroacoustic and modern jazz to 17th century Italian and contemporary classical.

  • Alain Ballaud: Bass
  • Franck Coulaud: Percussion
  • Frank Fromy: Guitar, Percussion
  • Jean-Luc Hervé: Harmonium, Piano, Organ
  • Ann Stewart: Vocals
  • Véronique Verdier: Trombone, Bass

Their first untitled tape was released in 1985 and received quite a remarkable reception from the relevant specialist parts of the music press. The intensity of the music, controlled wonderfully as it was, became noted by many and much was expected of their planned debut album. During the wait for this, in 1986 someone with a sense of humour saw fit to include a live version of a track from this tape ("Yog-sothoth") on a compilation called Chant d'Amour. Somewhat ironic given Shub-Niggurath's place as dark fertility goddess in the Lovecraft mythos.

Shub-Niggurath - Les Morts Vont Vite coverThe same line-up recorded the classic Les Morts Vont Vite for the then inchoate Musea label in 1987 and the tone of the reviews escalated considerably; Alan Freeman of Audion magazine prompted to remark at the time that Shub-Niggurath were "one of the most important bands to come out of France in the past eight years." Indeed, as a debut album — indeed as an album of any stage of a career — Les Morts Vonts Vite is quite astounding. Their debut self-confessedly caught them at the peak of their powers at the time. This is quite obvious when listening to it.

Ennedade coverThe album apparently sold quite well, particularly overseas, and the band were reportedly happy with Musea's distribution. Later in 1987, Musea issued the well-known Enneade compilation of zeuhl influenced music and tribute to the Magma legacy. Included was the track "J'ai vu naguère en rinture les harpyes ravissant le repas de phinée" by Shub-Niggurath. Apart from fuelling the Magma comparisons by simple association, this demonstrated to many that they were a real force in new music. Since Magma, by this time, had turned to their rather watered-down soul influenced style, Shub-Niggurath stood out and compared very favourably to their supposed mentor. Audion magazine proclaimed Shub-Niggurath's track "brilliant."

After this compilation was released, Franck Couland left the band to move into jazz and Frank Fromy also left. This left a rather gaping hole. Jean-Luc Hervé was forced to take on the guitar left by Fromy not, as he said reflecting on this a few years later, because he was really a guitarist but mainly because the guitar was not an optional instrument for Shub-Niggurath. The heavy concentration on timbre and sonority required textural instruments, or instruments that could be used in a textural manner and Hervé found the guitar to be perfect for this. He once remarked that it was used more as an electric sound source; more like a primitive synthesiser with an intuitive interface. In a telling phrase, an interview in 1990 had him saying he preferred "timbre to notes" and this largely explained his move from keyboards to guitar. It also provides a valuable insight in to Shub-Niggurath's approach to music.

1988 brought another compilation called Dithrambe which was more of a collaboration between Shub-Niggurath and Sleaze Art, a band composed of five bass players. The two tracks here were quite different; part two of the track on the Enneade compilation and another called "L'homme à l'habit gris"; a solo voice performance by Ann Stewart. Lacking a drummer and a guitarist — Hervé had to take over this lacuna — the sound is quite minimal and pared down. The work on this album was later to be thought by the band as having its faults. The departure of two central members was a problem and they came to regard the solo vocal track and the interpretation of the longer ensemble track as untypical of their output.

Shub-Niggurath - Live coverAnother track "Delear Prius" on the Douze pour un 2 compilation in 1989 was followed by the live tape release on Auricle the same year with a considerably changed line-up:

  • Alain Ballaud: Electric Bass
  • Jean-Luc Hervé: Electric Guitar
  • Véronique Verdier: Bass trombone, percussion
  • Sylvette Claudet: Voice
  • Michel Kervinio: Drums
  • Jean-Pierre Lourdeau: Voice

Notice also that there had been some significant shuffling of instrumentation implying considerable musical versatility in the musicians. Recorded on Friday 13th, 1989 in Paris, this release demonstrated rather incredible ensemble playing and group intuition. Around this time, Jean-Luc Hervé commented in interview that the "core" of the band consisted of himself, Verdier, Kervinio, and Ballaud with others being drafted in for concerts and session work as necessary. Interviews from this time suggest that Kervinio was never permanently committed.

Shub-Niggurath - C'étaient de Très Grand Vents cover1991 came and, at last, their first CD release, C'étaient de Très Grands Vents, on Musea. The line-up was almost the same with the addition of another percussion player and Jean-Pierre leaving to take up a career as a painter; he contributed the painting for the CD cover.

  • Alain Ballaud: Electric Bass
  • Jean-Luc Hervé: Guitar, Piano, Harmonium
  • Véronique Verdier: Bass trombone
  • Sylvette Claudet: Voice
  • Michel Kervinio: Drums
  • Edward Perraud: Drums

The CD marked a change to a more electroacoustic style with a more spacious and subtle feel. The undercurrent of intensity remained. Since 1991, the band has recorded "many tapes" -- none released -- and performed as a four-piece consisting of Ballaud, Perraud, Hervé and Verdier. Small tours around the Paris area playing to specialist audiences have fuelled their continuing enthusiasm. In 1995, a rather unpleasant event occurred; Alain Ballaud died of cancer. He was central to the band in many ways and very active in its musical direction; Véronique Verdier stated recently that many things have to change in order for Shub-Niggurath to continue. As a first step, they plan to release a CD of material composed between 1991 and 1995, hoping for a 1997 release. The style of this work is apparently based around improvisation and electroacoustic experiments, following on their last recorded work.

As far as ex-members of the band are concerned, Sylvette Claudet is now a jazz clarinettist, Jean-Pierre Lourdeau paints, Michel Kervinio remains a friend of the band and plays in small jazz bands. Frank Fromy produces some things with Musea and has played with T. Toeplitz of Sleaze Art. He has also gathered together a little society of French musicians and works with them. Of the remaining members, Edward Perraud (the youngest member of the band) remains interested in jazz and classical percussion, electroacoustic music and music theory. Jean-Luc Hervé composes contemporary music for orchestra, soloists and chamber ensemble which is finding significant favour with recognised musicians. Apparently, he writes in the "spectral" style and has studied with Gérard Grisley. Véronique Verdier, after playing with some contemporary bands, has taken up an instrument called the "saqueboute," a quieter ancestor of the trombone. With this instrument she plays 17th century music (mainly Italian) in small bands, dabbling in Monteverdi and Mozart. This is not an instrument to feature in future Shub-Niggurath work as "... in Shub-Niggurath, the power of sound is very important: electric guitars are playing very loud."


Filed under: Profiles, Issue 11

Related artist(s): Shub-Niggurath

Latest news

2020-01-21
Gong Announces UK Tour for 2020 – Having spent the last few years touring the world, including dates in Japan with psych legend Steve Hillage, multiple headline European tours and festivals, America’s Cruise to the Edge festival, a South America headline tour, and a headline performance at Tomorrow Festival in China, the band have won the hearts of both traditional and modern Gong fanbases. During this live journey, Gong has delved further into the truly psychedelic, exploratory, and mind-expanding side of the music. » Read more

2020-01-15
Carlos Alvarado RIP – Carlos Alvarado, pioneering composer, multi-instrumentalist and pioneer of progressive rock and electronic experimental music in Mexico, passed away January 14th, 2020 at age 68 after a two year battle with cancer.  » Read more

2020-01-12
Wolfgang Dauner RIP – Pianist Wolfgang Dauner, one of the pioneers of both European free jazz and jazz rock, has died at the age of 84. With his own groups and with the United Jazz+Rock Ensemble, his playing and compositions were a prominent presence in European jazz from the mid-60s until just recently. » Read more

2020-01-12
Michael Allison RIP – Michael Allison, who since 1997 has been recording as Darshan Ambient, passed away on January 9th after a long and brave battle with cancer. He has been at at the forefront of the new ambient/electronic music scene, with over eighteen releases to his credit. » Read more

2020-01-10
Neil Peart RIP – One of rock music's defining drummers has died at the age of 67. Neil Peart's work with Rush provided one of the templates for percussion in rock, and he certainly ranks in the top ten most influential drummers of the 20th Century. Peart retired from playing in 2015 due to health issues, and succumbed to brain cancer on January 7, 2020. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Jesca Hoop - Kismet & Hunting My Dress – I missed this extraordinary songwriter's debut back in 2007, but when I heard her second effort I immediately sought it out. Kismet is a stunning entry into what might be called the Eccentric...  (2011) » Read more

Geordie Haley’s Every Time Band - The Green Suite and Other Stories – Formerly of Fredericton’s tiny music scene, jazz guitarist Geordie Haley now takes up residence in Toronto with the Every Time Band. The line-up is rounded out with vocals, drums, bass, sax, and...  (2006) » Read more

Plus - The Seven Deadly Sins – One look at the cover and it should be clear that producers Simon Napier Bell and Ray Singer (who also penned about six of the tracks here) were trying to capitalize on the look and feel of Jesus...  (2001) » Read more

Steve Roach - Storm Surge: Steve Roach Live at NEARfest & Immersion: One – Steve Roach’s appearance at NEARfest 2005 was a landmark event. Any live performance by Roach is a rarity, but to be exposed to such a large audience — and one largely unfamiliar with his...  (2007) » Read more

Popol Vuh - Shepherd's Symphony – Those of us who grew up listening to Popol Vuh in the 70s recall a sound that was at times haunting and other times shimmering and uplifting. Regardless of the album, Popol Vuh created atmospheres...  (1998) » Read more