Atzmann Zoubar – Aut Sperma In Terram Effundit

05/02/2012 § Leave a comment

You wait years for an album on plants to head your way and then two turn up at once. Along with Botanist’s “The Suicide Tree/A Rose from the Dead” this is the second record to grace my path in the last few weeks entirely dedicated to plant life, though Atzmann Zoubar takes on a far more mystical feel. “Aut Sperma In Terram Effundit” came to me out of nowhere, but already it ranks as one of the most impressive ritual albums I’ve come across in recent memory, and so it should when you consider the amount of time that’s gone into making it. The Atzmann Zoubar project was founded in 2005, the songs which were to find their way onto this debut release starting their lives a year later and reaching completion to the satisfaction of the artist in 2011. Seeing as the strains within this album took a full five years to reach maturity, clearly some perfectionism is at play here. The hard work and dedication certainly paid off, since this is one of the most genuine, dark and soulful works in the genre that you could entertain.

Not that you’ll find much information about this project’s originator anywhere. K Makiri, the creator behind AZ, gives his location as being “a solitary cave” somewhere in Germany, but he moves in some very important circles. The inlay gives little away either, featuring only three pictures of the mandrake root in its four pages, with the disc released as CD “001″ under Binturong Music. This album features vocal appearances, both sung and spoken, from many contributors to the scene, most of whom are female and all of which are excellent at their craft. I was most surprised to see the inclusion of vocals by Salomeh from the ritual industrial project C.O.T.A., whose 1994 tape release “Terra-ist” caused ripples in the waters of the underground. Each vocalist has been chosen very carefully to give the exact, perfect understanding and dedication to this album’s cause, and along with the soft, underplayed industrial elements and dark ambience it’s a near perfect mix.

The title “Aut Sperma In Terram Effundit” is a reference to the spot where the mandrake root grows: in the place where a young male has spilled his last seed. The entire album is a dedication to the mandrake, its power, history, importance and relevance within sorcery. A lot of the music is taken up with incantations, all of which are carried beautifully on the train of the instrumentation. The main thread of the album’s musical feel revolves around a thick, ethereal dark ambience and even though there are industrial elements to the music, these are generally softly played, being little more than indicators of the space between one section and the next, or between one heartbeat to another between words. Indeed, the industrialist elements are there to give an impression of the transitions and timelessness within the music, not to affront or assault listeners with a heavy, martial battery.

The most impressive thing about this album is the balance it manages to strike between the chaos and the calm within. This is no work of ambience with long, actionless sections of dreary miasmic ether: the music doesn’t tie you down in a calm section without gradually ramping up the pulse and pace before long. There is much variety within the music but the band has been able to tether everything perfectly to the right point: one side ambient, one side industrial, one side experimental and one side vocal – and at no time do we end up feeling as if we’ve spent too long in any corner. The ‘experimental’ side of the music, for its worth, is more subtle that avant-garde, featuring a quiet sitar in “The Magic Root” and the droning atmospheric guitarwork of Folkearth’s Marcus van Langen in “Diese Eine”. The album also features the inclusion of violin and didgeridoo, but don’t let the mention of either flag the pressing of alarm bells since every instrument is utilised purely for atmosphere rather than melody, the violin in particular played as a soft but screeching skip between a few scratched notes. These paragraphs would also not be complete without paying respect to the excellent work of vocalist Evi whose bewitching, French incantations within “Main de Gloire” account for one of the strongest points of the release. Given the title of the work it’s no surprise that the music dips in and out of a heavily sensual feel and especially round its mid point, the album takes on an almost sexual animation and reverence.

Overall, this is a an extremely powerful piece of work indeed and a high quality example of ritual music. With all the affectation and impersonation this side of the underground is used to, it’s fantastic to see such a masterwork produced with real heart, feeling and clear in-depth knowledge of subject matter and execution. Parts of “Aut Sperma In Terram Effundit” hark back to the days of the early releases by Ain Soph and LAShTAL, whilst also thinning out their industrial sound with a fluid ambient feeling reminiscent of Raison d’être. Released on the Winter solstice this album fell right at the end of 2011, and in the current icy climate of Imbolc is just as relevant now and will be for years to come. The identities within Atzmann Zoubar may choose to remain somewhat concealed, but their sound should reap renown.

Rating: 4.5/5

Herbst9 – Ušumgal Kalamma

01/01/2012 § Leave a comment

It’s difficult for me to accurately express my tremendous admiration for this project. Herbst9 are one of the few remaining envoys of communication from civilisations past, carrying into the 21st century a musical dedication and interpretation of the true tenets and beliefs of Sumer. Since the genesis of this enterprise, Henry Emich and Frank Merten have never faltered in producing some of the finest works the ritual ambient genre has ever seen. Ušumgal Kalamma [Dragon of the Land] is no different and this time round we are greeted with a full double album of original material to close the Mesopotamian trilogy that started with “Buried Under Time and Sand”. I have no reservation in saying that Ušumgal Kalamma is the finest of the three albums: it’s a refined, mature and reverential gift to the present day, born from unending research, respect and fascination for the past. But unlike others who use ancient civilisation purely as an inspiration, Hersbt9 seems to have been birthed directly from it. There is something so genuine and unquestionably sincere about this project which makes the orthodoxy of its sound so effective and compelling.

Ušumgal Kalamma continues the venerative path of its predecessors but also weaves in selective new elements, both thematically and musically. Of particular note is the citing of, and quoting from, the Akkadian poem “Ludlul Bel Nemeqi” [I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom]. The core of the poem centres on the physical unalleviated suffering of Shubshi-meshre-Shakkan, but who perseveres in his faith and dedication to the gods in spite of having no knowledge as to how long his afflictions will draw out or what indeed he is being punished for. The tone of overcoming prolonged suffering seems to be a prevalent theme on the album, with the tracks “She Filled The Wells Of The Land With Blood” and “Birds Of Sorrow Are Building Nests On These Flanks” referring to the trials of the goddess Inana and her efforts to triumph in the face of oppression. The first of these tracks is particularly important since it is a quote from the tale of Inana’s rape by Shukaletuda, where in delivering a plague to the land of her oppressor she turns the water to blood. This is not only a mark of revenge and retribution but it also strongly signifies the power of femininity and sexual affirmation, the River of Death. Sexuality is a theme which has always been loosely implied and employed in the works of Herbst9, unavoidable largely by even the mention of Inana, but here it appears again, especially the incantation which begins “Ereškigal, Rise From Your Throne” carries a remarkably sensual feel to it.

Disc one gives us more of the traditional sounds that many listeners of this project’s later works will be familiar with. As with “Buried Under Time and Sand” and “The Gods are Small Birds but I am the Falcon” the disc contains nearly an hour of exuberant, ritualistic ambience soaked in a trench-deep and sometimes unsettlingly dark tone, with heavy use of vocal incantation, both male and female, in English and Akkadian. As usual the ancient sound of this work is authentically employed with no hint of interest or attention given to the importance of the modern age. Herbst9′s intention is not solely to stand in awe of Sumer but to use it as a reverential path and tool in the same way as a craftsman might hone new objects out of old, trustworthy materials through understanding, experience and imagination. Sumer is not a labelled exhibit but an integral, symbiotic life-force that sparks within the musical heart of this project, in turn spawning new creations through age-old practises.

Disc two sees the use of a slightly more ambient and ethereal sound than on previous albums. Whereas in the past, older works may have been slightly heavied by the weight of sampling, the balance has been struck perfectly here. This time round Herbst9 uses an intricate and interactive use of its influences to create a calmer, introspective theme through employing sparse use of vocal samples and drones. Not only this, but here we see a new influence nudging its way to the fore, as in the excellent “The Sage Lord Ašimbabbar” Emich and Merten use the sound of a guzheng to create a uniquely Far Eastern feel. This rears its head again for the stirring finale “The Great Child of Suen” which incorporates further Far Eastern atmospherics before crossing over to more accustomed Near Eastern territories in its closing half. This change is a welcome and intriguing addition to the work of this project, and one which which gives this album a new temporal and spiritual perspective.

It is this exchange of new and familiar sounds, an intensely mystical atmosphere and skilful execution that makes Ušumgal Kalamma the immense success that it is. Maybe it is because the project has such a fine comprehension of the timelessness and relevance of past tradition that the music comes across with such soul and meaning. Piecing together the authority from thousands of years of convention, this album comes across as a multiple-layered work of astonishing depth and brilliance. Albums such as these truly are what ritual ambient music should be about, using the understanding of ancient thought to explore our own emotional processes and to improve and enhance our existence on this Earth. Ušumgal Kalamma is both a perfectly fulfilled fantasy and a dark reverie for those with an interest in this genre, and on a slightly more modest level, the crowning pinnacle of the band’s musical and devotional output so far.

– Sackler Gallery, British Museum, 31st December 2011

Rating: 5/5

Phurpa – Trowo Phurnag Ceremony

03/07/2011 § Leave a comment

“There fell upon my ear the holiest sound I have ever heard” recalled Huston Smith, describing the first time he heard Tibetan overtone chants. Before 1967, the Western world was unaware of the practice, and to a large extent still are. Huston Smith, a US religious scholar on a visit to a monastery in the Himalayas in the mid 1960s, was awoken one morning to the sound of deep singing. But what was different about this chanting was not only the incredibly low vocal sound, but the fact that the monks were using several tones – in the same voice.

I wondered for many years whether it were possible for a person to sing two notes at the same time so, in effect, to be vocalising a chord. That quandary has now been laid to rest, since the practise of overtone chanting, which began in Tibet many hundreds of years ago, does exactly that. Overtone chanting is the ability to sing a very low note, but to use harmonics over the top so that multiple notes are produced at the same time. In some cases, it’s possible for up to nine notes to be produced simultaneously by a choir.

This was a very secret practise until Smith brought it to the West. It was then dubbed a “vocal miracle”. On listening to the choir, one would assume that the monks are singing in parts when in fact each individual is singing a first, a third, a fifth and additional further harmonics, the overtones being initially ‘sensed’ rather than directly heard, representing the way in which the spiritual realm can be sensed by us in the causal realm.

Several decades later, the project of Phurpa came into being when Alexei Tegin from the Fabrique of Cardinal Art began his studies in traditional ritual music. He ventured into Iran, Tibet and Egypt to do so. I, for one, would love to know more about the Cardinale since in spite of research I can cede nothing about it, my only assumption being that it’s based somewhere in France. Nevertheless, it was not until 2003 that the Phurpa project began to take shape.

This release is the first full album from Phurpa, comprising of eight tracks and over an hour of traditional ritual music. The songs themselves are long, slow and drawn-out numbers with deep chanting which puts many other ‘ritual ambient’ bands to shame. There are no synths, no inorganic instrumentation, and most of the music is conducted through vocals alone, though occasionally traditional instruments are heard as well. If the listener is unaccustomed to overtone chanting which, let’s face it, will be most of you, the sound will come across as unusual at first, if not highly unsettling. The resonating bass tones have a dark feel to them, but to truly understand their concept and function is to understand that they are, in truth, anything but dark.

And this is an important point. This original recording of Trowo Phurnag Ceremony was first issued in 2008 and now, three years later, is being reissued on Steven O’Malley [Sunn O)))’s] label, the only immediate difference between the two releases being that the 32 minute “Conferring Empowerment and Self-Transformation” has been split into two halves in the reissue. Of the ensemble, O’Malley says the music “unveils many spectral illusions and invigorates evolutions in sonic possibilities” which means little to me and sounds mostly nonsensical. Still, doubtless O’Malley’s involvement in this reissue will bring these sounds to a much wider, and arguably younger audience. Whether that audience understands the true intention behind the music is unlikely, with the religious essence of the sounds potentially shooting over many of their heads. To the new listener, these droning noises will come across as homogeneous, but this truly is ritualistic music in the genuine sense, and in a time when a lot of ritual ambient is based on summoning dark feelings or entities, the intention behind Phurpa should be completely the opposite, paying homage and respect to an age-old Eastern tradition and pledging its fealty with accuracy and authenticity.

In truth, if we are going to listen to ritualistic music, then guiding ourselves towards projects like Phurpa should be more in line with our concern. Rituals should be organic, and only the most effective ones adhere to that standard. Phurpa’s homogeneity may not hold the interest of many a seasoned ambient listener, but concentrating on the textures and prayer that its harmonics intonate would be doing it the greatest service. Aside from the work produced by the Helixes Collective and possibly Herbst9, Trowo Phurnag Ceremony calls into question the legitimacy of nearly every ritual ambient project I have heard. It stands as a proud, timeless monolith to ancient religious tradition at the beginning of the 21st century.

Rating: 4/5

Ulug-Khem – Live Improve 01

03/07/2011 § Leave a comment

If you don’t know where Ulug-Khem have got their name from, you’re not alone. I spent a fair few minutes trying to discover the etymology of this project’s namesake before deducing that the Ulug-Khem is a local name for the Yentsi River, the largest river that flows into the Arctic from Russia. Not only is the Ulug Khem a tributary though, but another part of the Tuva province, just one of the many desolate and bleak areas of Russia a few hundred miles down South. In fact, this area is so barren that Google haven’t even sent their streetview car there. That’s the level of remoteness we’re talking about, a place which the beaten track intentionally steers away from. Whether the musical project Ulug-Khem decided to name themselves after a Russian shanty town comprising of wooden housing, dust roads and large earthen mounds or a Northern river rich with coal deposits, one thing’s for certain: the geography of the music is far easier to map out.

Ulug Khem is a live improvisational project between Akoustic Timbre Frequency and Tamerlan, the latter taking care of classical guitar duties and the former looking after the wind instruments. The first thing of note here is the inclusion of the classical guitars, an element which is highly unusual in a ritual ambient album, and you’d be forgiven for entertaining skepticism as to their effectiveness. Tamerlan uses the guitar mostly in a strumming pattern, which provides a basic rhythm for each song and gives each number a certain percussiveness. The style, ebb and tempo of the guitar is very free, not conforming to any strict time or speed, regularly speeding up and down, always giving an appropriate pace and flavour to the ambience, as well as an exotic warmth to an otherwise normally cold and dark area of the music world.

ATF follows the mood set by the classical guitar, ushering in sighs, bell chimes and the soft howls of wind instruments which are subtly done, and spaced few and far between. Indeed, though it seems that Tamerlan may be leading the way though the improvisation, the reverse could indeed be the case at times as well. The fusion between the two gives off a sufficiently satisfying dark ambience, but one which is sprinkled with the glow and fluidity of nylon strings, the combination made all the more natural given the improvisational setting. Indeed, if this were an EP of pre-cognised, structured songs that had to be adhered to and mapped out, the delivery just wouldn’t work so well, it would feel forced and overhammed, but here it appears far more fluid and sentient.

Ulug-Khem’s improvisation doesn’t work on paper, but it does in sound. I was sceptical of this idea, especially given my curmudgeonly stoicism regarding ritual ambient, but this is a project that just works. I’ve come back to this time and time again, and each time it’s been a good experience and each time it’s been over too soon. A full album of this material may be a little too much to stomach, but an EP is a perfect length, and 20 minutes of rich, warm acoustic delivery moved and influenced by the cold essence of ritual ambience is an enticing match, especially for a genre with not much variety. It’s like the combination of cheese with tuna – it shouldn’t work together – but it does. And you have to try it for yourself to concur.

Rating: 4/5

Tome/Seven Morgues – Deep In Marble

15/06/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Split Album / Collaboration
Title: Tome|Seven Morgues – Deep In Marble
Label: House of the Last Light
Genre: Ritual Ambient/ Experimental

Track listing:

01 Tome – Horns Locked Deep In Marble
02 Tome – Achrit
03 Tome – Raising Towers On Shallow Water
04 Seven Morgues – Unspeaking The Universe
05 Seven Morgues – RetroTragedy
06 Seven Morgues – I Disappear When Autumn Comes

The human voice can be employed to elevating and angelic degrees or unsettling, distressing and disquieting ones. Tome know all about the latter three. Including one half of the dark ambient group Seven Morgues, Tome is a purely vocal collaboration between Arie Kishon and Oren Ben Yosef, so it’s only natural that the two projects should share a split album.

To say this stuff is disturbing is an understatement. Using incantations, clean vocals, screams and shrieks, Tome hum their way through three of the biggest aural blasphemies I’ve heard. But this isn’t loud, cacophonic white noise – it’s subtler, eerier, more malicious. Tome is a challenge for those who think they’ve heard everything in the ambient scene. Dissecting each song would detract from its magnitude, sufficed to say that throughout their three tracks Tome employ a mixture of soft, elegant chanting, pained wails, screams and even weeping. They have a perfect awareness of the strengths and abilities of the human voice, and they use this knowledge to tear out all the frustration, pain and torment within themselves, and deliver it with a hammer blow to the senses of the listener.

Seven Morgues’ dark ambience is slightly more subdued and utilises occasional piano and guitar segments, albeit minimally. Oren Ben Yosef’s vocals are now familiar, though just as disturbingly strong and sinister as before. This is the first time I’ve heard a piano used to this degree in a dark ambient record: short, staccatoed melodies play in the background, perfectly adding to the eerie elements of the music, especially in “Unspeaking the Universe”. “RetroTragedy” is the longest track on the album, beginning as a Litegi-esque incantation with deep vocals, faint piano and guitar feedback and climaxing into a dizzying series of drones. It’s perfectly fitting that Seven Morgues take the second side of this split – any dissimilar act would have totally spoiled the effect.

There’s no hesitation in saying that Deep In Marble is one of the most harrowing experience I’ve had through music and reinforces the fact that the most extreme material isn’t to be found in the various incarnations of the metal genres, but in the ambient ones. Both Arie Kishon and Oren Ben Yosef have created a pained siren of the musical realm, an auditory vine that twists and constricts its way around the listener’s subconscious producing something genuinely solemn and disturbing – and the more familiarly it resounds with us, the more unsettling it becomes. Deep In Marble is a potent and fascinating work, but one which you’ll only be able to come back to once you’ve prepared yourself.

Halo Manash – Am Kha Astrie

15/05/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Halo Manash
Title: Am Kha Astrie
Label: Aural Hypnox Productions
Genre: Ritual Ambient

Track Listing:

01 Spring Solar Semen
02 A Spiral Spine Ever Emanating
03 The Treefaced Trunk Arises – A Pillar Through All Worlds
04 In the Deepest Womb of MAA, the Skyshrouded is Born
05 At Ashen Shrines of the Seventh Sign Antlers Ascend
06 All Herald Its Shape and Shadow
07 The Dream That It Dreams – Awakened

Idly walking through the churches of Central London, I noticed that the statuettes had been enshrouded over Easter. In a time of year pertaining to penance and reflection, the veils between the worlds of light and dark can seem ever so thin. Now, in the dim dawning of Spring, Halo Manash’s latest work comes more fittingly into being. Their most recent offering, a seven-part convocation of sound, is an arrow to the heart of the orthodox, the pious and the enlightened. Am Kha Astrie, the second in their latest tripartite trilogy, is a beautifully harrowing invocation split into seven sections, each one perfectly fashioned as to be its own piece of chillingly effective ambient.

Once again Halo Manash have not disappointed in the visual department: the album’s packaging is a cruciform casing which opens outwards to reveal a depiction of a barren vista in which the CD sits. Halo Manash take more care over the presentation of their albums than possibly any band I have known – the special edition of The Language of Red Goats even coming with hand-pressed artwork and original parchment in a rope-tied box. The visual format is a perfect companion to the musical dark ambient rituals of Halo Manash.

Spring Solar Semen/A Spiral Spine Ever Emanating: As Spring brings awakenings, beginnings and new life, Halo Manash begins the start of its next cycle. A single, subtle animal horn ushers us into being and we get the feeling of being in a cavernous, large and empty space. A background drone underlies the notes of the horn, repeating ominously over and over. The sound of the horn creates a feeling of feralness, the desperate cry of a bestial being, eventually joined by indefinable human voices and subtle chants. The invocations end with the single cry of the horn, ever emanating and receding.

The Treefaced Trunk Arises – A Pillar Through All Worlds: One of Halo Manash’s more serene and calmer moments, we are greeted by the soft, low tapping of a gong while metal brushes against metal. Way in the distance we hear a prologued cry echoing and calling. This is one of the most atmospheric and ambient moments from Halo Manash. Mystifying, calming but also unsettling and unnerving. There is a sense that this is the beginning to something grander, the primer of the incantation, preparing us for the full force of something more authoritative and powerful to come.

In the Deepest Womb of MAA, the Skyshrouded is Born: As before, we feel the brush of metal on metal as the elemental drive of the wind rushes all around us, carrying us on. Then, with no warning, we hear the multiple tapping of bone on bone, speeding up while hollow voices chant in the background, interspersed with the rush of the wind. We are have never left the caverns and there is a sense of carrion, death, and the essence of control. Halo Manah becomes more powerful, more creative as we reach the active crest of Am Kha Astrie.

At Ashen Shrines of the Seventh Sign Antlers Ascend: There is a sense of calm, relief and recovery after the energy just passed. We get the feeling of rising or elevating beyond the caverns into a great, empty space. Stars boom and explode around us as we hear the soft chime of bells and single notes sung by the human voice, joining us on our journey upwards. There is an equal level of intensity to what went before, but deeper, emptier, and drainingly substantial.

All Herald Its Shape and Shadow: We continue our ascension and are aware of a great space we inhabit. Suddenly we hear the banging of metal drums. Occasional loud crashes assault our ears. The feeling of being free turns into one of entrapment and isolation. Like being in a building at night with some unseen force chasing us from room to room. Like being hunted. There is something unknown and threatening here. Soon we are joined by the melodic taunt of the horn receding into the distance and then rejoining us, ebbing back and forth. Eventually the horn recedes for the final time with just one drawn out bellow concluding the track, reminding us of its existence.

The Dream That It Dreams – Awakened: The longest and final section of the album is far more airy and ethereal than what has gone before. We are ushered out by relieving, subtle gongs and cymbals, quietly and cautiously played while ghostly voices echo softly in the background. There is a sense of permanence, relief and respect as Am Kha Astri comes to a perfect close.

As Halo Manash is in a constant form of metamorphosis, we come to this, possibly its most ambient in the series. Am Kha Astrie is the most vivid and emotive exposition so far, mixing together the industrial, the elemental, the tribal, the vocal and the darker sides of ambient rituals. Some parts are intense, full-on and authoritative; others are dreamlike, ambient and calming. There is no point at which Am Kha Astrie cannot be looked on as a perfectly dark work of depth and wonder. Out of all the blackening, ritualistic pleas and dedications to the darker realms of existence, none come so fine and complete as this.

Herbst9 – The Gods Are Small Birds, But I Am The Falcon

15/01/2009 § Leave a comment

Artist: Herbst9
Title: The Gods Are Small Birds, But I Am The Falcon
Label: Loki Foundation
Genre: Ritual Ambient

Track Listing:

01 The Lament Begins
02 Must I Die? (Because Of My Holy Songs)
03 Threshold Of Tears
04 Enenuru
05 The Gods Are Small Birds, But I Am The Falcon
06 White Ashes (Black Smoke)
07 …And Everything Around Him Answered
08 Shaking Ground
09 Ilimmu

I remember being struck by Herbst9’s ability to create ambient music when I first came across them three years ago. It’s rare to find a band with such thorough dedication not only to the music they create but to the themes behind it. Their latest work is yet another impressive addition to their catalogue, expanding on their obsession with Sumerian history: its people, ideas and spirituality. And yes, it’s becoming increasingly common for dark ambient and death metal bands to cite Sumer’s gods and magic as influential to their dour and brooding music, but for Herbst9 such an interest is a genuine fascination. This is not just another ambient record using the masque of Sumer to slap preternatural artwork on an album while the band tweets and drawls on ad nauseam for over an hour – each work of Herbst9’s is an inspired dedication to ancient Mesopotamia, and their latest album hones this ardour to a satisfyingly sharp point.

Whereas the band’s previous albums have focussed heavily on the gods, kings and ethos of Sumer, their latest seems to be dedicated largely to one person. The cryptic song titles and subject matter refer to the goddess Inanna and her worship through the eyes of the priestess Enheduanna, a Sumerian author who spent a large portion of her life writing hymns to her. The album title is a direct quote from one of the period’s many dedications to the goddess though it’s unclear whether the songs here are meant to be a homage to her or a representation of her religious rituals and it’s most likely that they’re a bridge between the two. Inanna is quite a favourite of the band – her name appearing in its Assyrian form Ishtar on the track listing to Buried Under Time and Sand but now, three years on, she has an entire album addressing her. I can’t say I don’t lavish the idea – if you’re going to write an album in the form of an hour-long incantation then who better to make the subject than an age-old goddess of sex and warfare? Anyone else seems like a waste in comparison.

All nine tracks on The Gods are Small Birds don’t feel all that separate from each other. In the band’s previous works there was an obvious break in the theme between each song, though now they’re more strung together as separate movements of the same opus. “The Lament Begins” ushers us in with soft, shamanistic vocals before the deep drones come in to start the conjuration proper, and they hardly leave us for the majority of the album. Herbst9 take a far more vocal tack on this album with many of the songs incorporating chants and distorted vocals along with the wall of sound that we often find ourselves enclosed in. According to the rubric that came with the promo, some of these audio samples are field recordings taken from authentic sacrifices and rituals, and they’re at their strongest in numbers like “Threshold of Tears” and the excellent “Enenuru” which is simultaneously beautiful and chilling. As the songs progress we become used to hearing pained wails drifting over the drones and each number builds to a steady climax before leading us in to the next part of the album. The ambience is thick with spirituality and sorcery, and at no point do we dare question its potential.

It’s not as if there’s no variety in the songs though: the distinction is just not as stark and obvious. The title track is a much more subdued but sinister number to those which have gone before it with soft, slow beats shuffling in the background while wraithlike vocals twist their moans around the samples; whereas other tracks such as “…And Everything Around him Answered” are more direct in their approach, employing gusty, windlike rushes and the tap of slow tribal percussion before building into an ocean of distant screams. Ilimmu is the most melodic, with the drones shifting measure while soft chimes uplift us, bringing an end to what has been a dizzyingly vivid experience. It is a venture which is sometimes elevating and sometimes unsettling, but always intense.

The Gods Are Small Birds is such a rounded piece of work that it’s hard to pick out anything negative to say about it. It’s more of a uniform, linear piece than previous discs, having more in tone with the older albums of Amon and the newer offerings from Finland’s Halo Manash. However, Herbst9 manage to create ritual ambient with even more texture, more flavour and more richness, with each musical layer being a perfect ingredient in their grand musical edifice. Along with other long-established greats such as Raison d’être they can proudly rank themselves at the very pinnacle of their field, and their latest album is perfect justification of such a position.

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