A Handful of Dust's basic philosophy can be described as "maximum experimentation all the time," and Philosophick Mercury captures that particular belief in full effect. Consisting of two lengthy pieces by the core Russell/Galbraith duo, helped on one song by other key member Peter Stapleton on drums, Mercury doesn't merely place the band alongside countrymen like the Dead C or Gate, but also radical rock innovators from Keiji Haino to Rudolph Grey and Loren Mazzacane Connors. Both tracks were recorded live at a tavern in Dunedin, which inevitably makes one wonder what the regular drinking clientele thought of the whole thing (though the loud applause at the end of the disc indicates somebody liked it). "Fama Fraternitatis," the first track, has Galbraith on violin, with Russell handling "microphone, cheap electronics, vocal." The combination of Galbraith's open-ended droning/screeching and the feedback loops, distorted words, and general technical abuse performed by Russell definitely won't be everyone's cup of tea, but it makes for fascinating results, being bizarrely meditative at many points. It isn't quite ambient music, but the kinship is nonetheless there. The other song, "God's Love to His People Israel," features Galbraith on violin and bowed Khazar lute, Russell on guitar, and Stapleton on drums. It's far noisier than the first track, though Stapleton carefully interjects his drumming, rather than constantly rampaging. The disc is quite attractively packaged in a mini-zine further encased in a paper sleeve; the mini-zine includes some pieces by Russell demonstrating his fascination with centuries-old scientific material, as well as an extensive interview explaining his musical and philosophical views regarding his work, making for an enlightening supplement overall.
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett