11 - 21 May
Written piece by Paul Doran inspired by our 2023 Artist Residency.
There is a rumour that haunts the wrong kind of people that the English heavy metal band Megalith’s third album Mourn the Living is cursed. This kind of people are the ones who have maybe shouldered you out of the way while browsing the racks in a record shop. You might have run into them arriving at a wake-house and asking straight off to see the vinyl, offering cash instead of a sympathy card. They are also amongst the few folks still alive who might credibly claim to have encountered a copy of this LP in the wild.
Megalith were never known as a great band. Their first two albums rolled off the back of a few nights opening for Black Sabbath, striking it lucky with the right A&R person in the audience. The third record came about under more esoteric circumstances and, almost literally, vanished as soon as it was pressed. Although few people have heard it, even fewer seem to miss it. It is a collector’s record in the narrowest sense. And, in those misshapen social circles of record hounds, owning it has earned a reputation as the ‘worst deal anyone could make with the devil’.
The real story of Mourn the Living – an album talked about more than heard - is the story of the curse. It’s easy to imagine the rumour started as a way to shift an unwanted copy at an inflated price. The cover art, with its occultish imagery and photos of the Irish neolithic site at Beaghmore, County Tyrone, will have made the suggestion an easier sell. The nature of the curse tells a different story depending on which collector you ask. You may as well be trying to keep a record of their greatest fears.
However it started, the best way to tell that story is to start with the most recent happenings – where the supposed facts have the clearest detail – and move back towards the hazier beginning, if there ever was such a thing.
Names have been obscured to protect the wrong kind of people from the wrong kinds of people.
A Parisian collector buys the record from a banquette at an unremarkable price. She leaves it in the bag with a stack of other records. Weeks pass and her life is stretched in multiple directions. She forgets about the bag and its records. She later says she might have moved on and never listened to it if someone who looked just like her hadn’t spoken to her in a dream. When she wakes, the bag of records is lying on her bed. The moment the needle lifts from Side B she claims to catch a glimpse of someone in the hall mirror. This glimpse comes back again and again across a number of weeks in different places at different times. When the strange figure visits the end of her bed one night, now no longer in a mirror, she sees herself standing in the room. She smashes the record, boards a train that morning and returns to her childhood home and begs help from the local priest.
A collector from Dublin comes home to find an unparcelled copy of Mourn the Living on his doormat, presumably somehow shoved under the door. He listens to it once. That evening as he is taking an overflowing bin bag downstairs he is tripped by his cat, ‘Big Bastard’, and breaks both of his arms.
July 2020: An anonymous DJ working under the name Hammer the Cross announces a playthrough of ‘thought-mythical lost metal classic Mourn the Living’ on their monthly slot on online radio station RAB (Radio Assault & Battery). The playthrough can no longer be verified due to corruption of the RAB archive but a listener claims to hear all the way to track 7, Doppleganger, before the station crashes and the stream is replaced with an automated playlist of Dio tunes for at least three days. RAB is currently completely offline.
A collector from London finds a copy of Mourn the Living on Discogs. He parts with a substantial sum of money and receives a package that only contains a CD compilation of 80s pornographic soundtracks. He unsuccessfully campaigns for a refund.
A collector from Newport in Wales buys a copy of the album on Facebook Marketplace for what he considers a true bargain. He collects it in person and his car goes on fire on the drive home. He loses both the record and the unwrapped ‘Hers’ towel he bought from the same seller as a gift for his wife.
December 2017:A collector from Bristol finds a copy of Mourn the Living for sale in a small shop in Derry. He attempts to barter but the shop owner knows the record’s worth and he leaves empty handed.
The next two weeks strip him of sleep and reason. He sees the cover art when he closes his eyes. The patterns of the stone circles on the front form a message he can’t grasp even though it likely once embodied a people’s understanding of the whole world. He hadn’t noticed, as he held the record in his hands, that the figure on the back was doubled by an identical shape in the trees behind. The uncertainty over whether this detail actually exists or if it is has just grown from his own imagination unnerves him deeply.
He calls the shop in Derry, he tells them to hold the record for him, then he takes the little box he has been keeping for his girlfriend’s Christmas present and returns the engagement ring for cash. He arrives in Derry that night and keeps messaging the shop owner on Facebook until they abandon their family dinner and come down to open the shop.
Four months later tells a Facebook page that he has sold the record on at a loss and is now certain that he will die alone.
A Donegal man living in East Belfast finds a copy of Mourn the Living priced at three pounds in the record racks of a local church’s charity shop. The discovery instantly takes him back to the summer he and his twin brother read about the album in Metal Hammer - about how the lorry carrying the only copies ever pressed disappeared on an Irish road - and when they fruitlessly scoured the collections of relatives and friends’ parents they could only find endless stacks of Jim Reeves compilations.
He buys it and is sending his brother in Dublin a text to say they could listen to it together at the weekend when he is hit by a bus and killed.
The inquest that follows shows that the bus driver had been awake, drinking until 4am and sending increasingly violent threats to a woman in Toronto because she had earlier tweeted that Ginger Rogers danced every same step as Fred Astaire but did so in high heels.
A Donegal man living in North Dublin finds a copy of Mourn the Living priced at three Euro in the record racks of a local church’s charity shop. The discovery instantly takes him back to the summer he and his twin brother read about the album in Metal Hammer - about how the lorry carrying the only copies ever pressed disappeared on an Irish road - and when they fruitlessly scoured the collections of relatives and friends’ parents they could only find endless stacks of Jim Reeves compilations.
He buys it and is sending his brother in Belfast a text to say they could listen to it together at the weekend when he is hit by a bus and killed.
The inquest that follows shows that the bus driver had been awake, drinking until 4am and sending increasingly violent threats to a woman in Vancouver because she had earlier tweeted with the hashtag #Girlboss.
A blogger known as Aural Borealis pulls on the thread of a rumour that the members of Megalith never returned from the three week Mourn the Living recording session. Wildly differing reports suggest the stay in the County Tyrone cottage in February 1973 had ended in tragedies ranging from an IRA atrocity to a magickal ritual gone wrong.
Borealis successfully tracks down the daughter of drummer Wolf Butler and sister of bassist Reg Stetson, both of whom dismiss the story outright.
The musicians had indeed come home. Both, however, were ‘different people entirely, as if other spirits had taken over [their] bod[ies]’. They had no interest in music. They had no affection whatsoever for anyone from their old lives, be they parents, spouses, siblings or children. Butler’s daughter claimed ‘a father we loved went away and something that hated us came back’.
After both men spent a chaotic few weeks making life as miserable as possible for their families, they disappeared entirely on the same day.
A collector from Edinburgh picks up a copy of Mourn the Living from a record shop in Glasgow. He listens to it a week later. While researching Megalith on the internet he finds a Geocities page which details a wild, if inconsistent history of the album’s recording process as well as the ‘indisputable list of connected misfortunes’ that had haunted the artefact since its botched release.
That evening he hears a stranger in the pub refer to him as ‘Meat Loaf’ and angrily confronts him. The stranger trips, falling backwards, and fractures his skull on a marble stair. His brain is damaged and he dies three days later.
The collector is imprisoned for manslaughter.
Rolling Stone staff writer Shawn Quillins pitches a feature on ‘Rock’s Top Ten Spookiest Recordings’ to coincide with Halloween. Another piece of copy he had filed at the start of the previous month – titled New York Cops are All F**king Jerks - finally makes it onto his editor’s desk and Quillins is immediately fired.
May 1996: A Geocities user creates a page about Mourn the Living linking to the ‘dozens of tragic occurrences that follow all those who have ever owned, played or even overheard the record’. An archived version of this page still exists but all links are now dead. Given the rarity of the record, even now in the age of Discogs and eBay, it seems unlikely that dozens of people had even ever heard the album before this date never mind specifically connected it to misfortunes.
Terrence ‘Tex’ Bannister who briefly acted as Tour Manager for Megalith in 1971 is blown from the top of the crane he is operating in Belfast. A colleague who witnessed the accident tells the Newsletter: ‘It was a still, warm day. The wind only blew once all morning. It knew who it wanted.’ The reporter does not appear to find the remark unusual enough to ask for clarification.
German photographer Horst Ensslin captures a picture of a seemingly pristine copy of Mourn the Living in an otherwise burned building in Lisburn town centre. The striking contrast between the in-tact record and its torched surroundings stirs some speculation that the shot was staged but also fuels growing rumours that disused spaces in the province are playing host to occult, or even Satanic rituals.
Detroit-based writer Lester Bangs claims, in a rambling review of Kris Kristofferson’s Spooky Lady’s Sideshow, to have sent Rolling Stone editor Jan Wenner three separate copies of Mourn the Living over the last six months in the hope that ‘if I’m persistent enough he’ll finally get the message that he can go to Hell.’
While it is surprising, even unlikely, that three copies of the missing album had somehow made it to Bangs’ desk at Creem magazine, the wording implies that the story of the curse was already strong enough to have crossed the Atlantic with the record.
A lorry transporting what was claimed to be the entire run of Mourn the Living from the pressing factory in Waterford goes missing after it crosses the border into the North. A news clipping from the Belfast Telegraph suggests the vehicle may have been hijacked by paramilitaries and burned as a barricade but the story is quickly overshadowed by other events in the province. It is unknown if the unnamed driver was also thought to be missing.
Jon Trebuchet, Megalith’s former manager, is seen running down the stairs of the London Underground station at Elephant and Castle and shouting about an impersonator. He falls on the last two steps and collapses. The passing doctor who immediately attends to him discovers he has been stabbed.
Police appeal for witnesses but none claim to have seen anyone come near Trebuchet or any persons holding a knife.
He dies four hours later.
Britt Kessler, Jon Trebuchet’s personal assistant, arrives at the Tyrone cottage for what was scheduled to be the final day of the Mourn the Living recording sessions.
As she steps out of her rented car she finds Jon Trebuchet standing at the wall of the barn attached to the cottage, waiting for her. He tells her to get back in her car and leave immediately.
This both surprises and alarms Kessler given that she had spoken to Trebuchet only a few hours before, in person, in his office in London and she had gone straight to the airport with his instructions to ensure the recording had gone smoothly and the album’s release was on schedule.
Something has happened here that she does not understand.
Trebuchet approaches her and insists that she leave. This, he says, is his business now.
She is utterly convinced that this man is not Jon Trebuchet. She does not see how it could be. Her employer has always embodied the kind of cool focus that allows him to navigate the often chaotic world of the British music scene without ever becoming visibly stressed. The man standing in front of her ‘has been electrified by something vicious.’ His stance alone is a threat of violence.
She agrees to go but first wants to use the bathroom. It has been a long trip already.
The door opens before Trebuchet can respond and Bill ‘Truncheon’ Rint steps out.
Rint, Megalith’s hulking rhythm guitarist, is an imposing figure but one that Kessler has always found gentle and endearing.
Kessler goes to him and ducks through the door before she has time to register just how unsettled she is by his uncharacteristically cold expression.
Britt Kessler, by this stage in her career, has been in the music business long enough to have seen decadence in the extreme. She is used to the presence of alcohol, drugs and ambient carnality. The atmosphere in this cottage is charged in a completely different way.
The place is almost entirely empty of furniture, equipment, even food. It is silent. Mournful. It is freezing cold.
She finds the bathroom. The fixtures are basic and ancient, from another period altogether, but she feels as though they have not been used in a very long time.
She looks for a mirror. There isn’t one.
Kessler is aware that the door has no lock and, on hearing a noise coming from upstairs – one she compares to a roaring wind or waterfall – feels a jolting compulsion to get out of the cottage as quickly as she can.
Trebuchet’s shape is visible through the front window. She decides to search for a back exit. The promise of open air lifting the weight of this place from her pushes her through to the rear of the kitchen where a small hallway leads her past another door on to the barn.
The door is open ahead. And here are the instruments. Laid out in a circle facing inwards, a low hum rising from an amplifier. But they are strange, somehow. The guitar necks seem twisted, the keyboard bent as if its wooden body had been briefly turned to rubber. The drums, she sees, are on the roof.
A creak comes from the door in the hall behind her.
Britt Kessler’s first language is not English. It could also be said that the parlance of the psychedelic rock and heavy metal scenes reshape language into strange forms. This is something to keep in mind.
Kessler claims that, peering into that room, very briefly, she sees Megalith singer Jeff Notch. He is tipped, she explains, back in a chair, facing into a corner, while above him, roaring with strange energy, ‘there is an open portal’.