Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

How do you like your religion served up? Raining blood and lakes of hellfire, or lambs and lions idling side by side in the green grass? Your particular holy bent may determine your taste for the gritty Abattoir Blues and the pastoral The Lyre of Orpheus, two very different offerings that together make up the new, Bible-soaked double-album from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

"Get ready for loooooooooove! Praise Him!" bellows Cave on Abattoir's jumpy opener "Get Ready For Love," a conflux of his rakish, obsidian baritone, The Seeds' dirty guitar bombast, and the jump-outta-your-pew fervor of the London Community Gospel Choir. So also goes the viscous "There She Goes, My Beautiful World," which adds piano boogie to the reverent rock and soul zeal. Cave's no Christian rocker, per se, but he is obsessed with sin and redemption. Countless spiritual allusions abound, and though "Nature Boy" offers a world view as semioptimistic as its melody, most of this disc is flooded with ominous, doom-ridden tropology. "They keep bringing out the dead now/It's been a long, long day," Cave croons in the haunting "Messiah Ward." On the sober title track he intones, "Everything's dissolving, babe, according to plan/The sky is on fire, the dead are heaped across the land" (it's worth noting here that "abattoir" is a French word for slaughterhouse).

Meanwhile, The Lyre of Orpheus is comparatively calm and ballad-heavy, reveling in nature imagery. "Still your hands/And still your heart/For still your face comes shining through/And all the morning glows anew," Cave gushes in the twinkling, not quite cloying "Breathless," acoustically depicting a world teeming with little white clouds, red-breasted robins, leaping fish, and mischievous foxes.

The choir is never far from the ears, though more hushed on these eight tracks than on Abattoir. It is especially gripping in the traditional, lift-me-to-Heaven motif that is "Carry Me." On the dreamy "Spell," its collective voice mingles with modest piano, violins, and brushed drums to gently pillow Cave's deep incantations as he wanders past frosted moors and snow-caked hedgerows, yearning to discover unearthly love "upon this wild abandoned star." Whether you prefer the fire and brimstone of Abattoir Blues or the uplifting Sunday sermons of The Lyre of Orpheus, or even if you're not at all religious, the gospel according to Nick Cave is well worth a listen.