Abbatoir Blues, the first entry in Nick Cave’s ambitious new two-disc set, begins with a rush of noise: the sound of drumsticks striking a snare and squalls of electric guitar. It’s an unusually aggressive sound for Cave, who has lately worked with quieter forms like ballads, the blues, and hymns. But about halfway through Abbatoir, he abandons the noise-first approach. The gospel choir of “There She Goes, My Beautiful World” seems to carry Cave heavenward, while the lyrics address a subject that is at the dead center of his obsessions: the way inspiration emerges from total darkness.
Like Abbatoir, the second disc, The Lyre of Orpheus, is strongest when Cave embraces gospel. “Carry Me” supplies a softer take on the usually boisterous call-and-response form. And on the disc’s closer, “O Children,” the choir’s vocals rise and fall like sighs. But Cave maintains an air of menace at the same time: The opening and closing of a hi-hat becomes a dark hiss. And Cave simply allows the voices to fade. It’s the sweetest surrender.