Matt Luem - Lyrics
High Mountain Tempel
Buzz or Howl
Acid Mothers Temple
Recording, Mixing, Mastering, Art
Beggars Review from Aquarius Records
From the same label that brought us the blissed out raga ritualism of High Mountain Tempel, and elsewhere on this week's list, the psychedelic kosmische drift of Raagnagrok, comes something a little different, the first (only?) release from Beggars, a name you might not know, but odds are you know some of the players, Glenn Donaldson (Jewelled Antler, Skygreen leopards, etc.) and Steven R. Smith (Thuja, Hala Strana, etc.) as well as a member of Maquiladora. But before you go expecting some field recording flecked psychedelia, get ready for something a bit more mellow, and a lot more country. The opener "Ghost Coyote" is a twang flecked smolder, that sounds a bit like a slower, druggier, instrumental Mazzy Star, but then "Eureka, My Love", find the sound slipping into something closer to Townes Van Zandt, melancholic, sad sack country, rife with warmly organ, steel string strum, aching vocals, all reverie and softly echoey, the follow up reminds us a bit of stoner country geniuses Souled American, all druggy, and drowsy. Some of the tracks to get a little trippy, like the warmly angular melodies on "2-3-74 Floating", or the entirety of the nearly 23 minute countrified drone jam "Midget Decapitates Clown", which begins strum my and drifty, before mutating into something much more abstract and dense, tripped out and psychedelic, almost like the soundtrack to some strange psychological thriller from the seventies.
But then the second disc gets right back into it, woozy, soft psych and countrified dream folk, shades of the Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, that sort of thing, lazy, hazy country folk, back porch, sun dappled dreaminess, with subtle bits of experimentation here and there, but really, pretty much straight up psychedelic country folk, that while well removed from the Jewelled Antler sound of old, is still pretty nice.
Double cd housed in a fancy full color digipak.
Gnosis Review from Quietus
Listening to High Mountain Tempel's new album Gnosis I am reminded of a recent staging of Shakespeare's The Tempest at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During the show, the character of Ariel – the spirit enslaved to the magician Prospero – performed various forms of stage magic, often involving complex card trick and other sleights of hand. The production – co-directed by Teller, the silent half of the magic duo Penn and Teller – offers a variety of illusions, one of the most remarkable being the character of Caliban, who is played by two actors entwined. They speak in unison and roll around the stage, their arms and legs taking turns moving their bodies from place to place.
In the original play, Prospero is at first portrayed as a diabolical wizard, his powerful magic able to conjure storms. But slowly we see him as a man seeking redemption and justice, and by the play's end, "abjures" his "rough magic". Prospero admits the desire for that kind of knowledge will persist, but vows to refrain no matter the cost. He even releases Ariel from his service. But Teller's direction does not release the audience from our own need for magic, our eager collective willingness to suspend disbelief and be awed by the illusions on stage. By combining stage magic with a play about supernatural magic, Teller exposes the single most important truth about the occult. Its power lies in the imagination, particularly as it is made manifest between the audience and the magician, the tribe and the shaman, the master of the lodge and the apprentice.
All this is to say that Gnosis is a brilliant evocation of a magical ritual that pulses between the deeper spiritual desire for, well, "gnosis", and the recognition that the staging is everything. This fifth outing by the team of Eric Nielsen and Keith Boyd invites other fascinating musicians into their sacred fold, including Isis Aquarian, one of the wives of the late Father Yod. (A recent documentary, The Source Family, is very good primer on the family, their beliefs and music, and the mercurial character of Father Yod himself). Other initiates into the Tempel include Bruce McKenzie from Buzz or Howl, and Higashi Hiroshi and Kawabata Makoto from Acid Mother's Temple. The latter mellow out their typically noisy psychedelic flourishes in favour of building up the album's sacred space.
The opening track 'Processional (An Invocation to Thee Angelic Sister) is an invitation to disarm and disrobe and to don the band's garment; a collage of keyboard, guitar, synthesiser, and voice. This is not a fire on the top of the mountain. There is no thunder here. The song is a vaguely melancholic entreaty to suspend disbelief and let the magicians perform their illusions. At the outset, a voice gives warning: "Here come the birds to take it all away."
'The Wormwood Parchments (Navigating Cameron's Star)' gives nod to the 1955 film The Wormwood Star, a micro-documentary about Marjorie Cameron's work, the artist and sorceress who was married to the rocket scientist/occultist Jack Parsons and was an actress for Kenneth Anger. The song is a haunted ambient piece. There are ominous spirits at the edges, and it furthers the sense that the listener is not only an observer in the proceedings, but a participant. Like the legerdemain of The Tempest, the magic is what is happening between the listener and the performers.
Similarity with the next piece. In 'Once Upon a Golden Mountain' Isis Aquarian's 'Alpha crone incantations'--underscored by piano--sweep away the infernal sensibility of 'The Wormwood Parchments' and offer something that is akin to the feeling of taking a deep breath after you have realised how long it had been since you had one.
The fourth song on the five-track album, 'Root Food, Deer-Mating (Moon Psalm)', a guitar-heavy landscape, is another foreboding moment. The procession has seemed to move outside into the the dark of the woods to see if Pan will make himself known. It opens with a flute as a call to the god, and when he does appear, the music reflects exactly what one would expect to feel in the presence of the divine; pretty terrified. The final song 'Vu Lan Ghost' is named after The Ghost Festival, a Buddhist version of All-Hallows Eve and is something like a seance. Here, disembodied voices are channeled through some kind of electro-acoustic machine. The Ghost Festival is ancient, but High Mountain Tempel are still modern-day musicians.
As I have written before, I am deeply skeptical, and maybe even a little annoyed, with occultism that is too earnest, too literal. Umberto Eco once wrote that it was important not to "turn metaphysics into mechanics", and the best way to avoid that danger is to rely on art as the means of whatever occult expression you are trying to make. Too much earnestness in music can also come across as cloying and a little contrived, but High Mountain Tempel are sincere in what they are doing. There is no humour here, no ironic nod to the listener, something you might find on a Ghost Box Records release that wear their pop culture influences on their sleeves. But High Mountain Tempel don't have to. It's as when the audience watching Ariel perform his feats of magic during The Tempest. We knew it was an illusion but it didn't matter. Theatre is by definition a kind of magic, originally a rite where the audience encountered the gods directly, knowing all the while it is actors in costume. Gnosis is a ritual for the imagination. All you have to do is wait for the first song to start and allow yourself to be spellbound.
Gnosis Review from Aquarius Records
It's been a while since we've heard from psych-kraut-drone duo High Mountain Tempel, but Gnosis quickly reminds us why we missed these guys. Tempel-ers Keith Boyd and Eric Nielsen unfurl a softly billowing psych folk raga, that's all softly swirling steel string strum, circular melodic shimmer, crooned, almost chant like vocals, the disc also featuring a bunch of guests, including some Acid Mothers Temple folks, as well as Charles Curtis and Isis Aquarian (!). Unlike the more purely ritualistic minimalism of the other records, the opening track here sound more like some Appalachian psych-folk, blurred into something a bit more abstract. But the group quickly returns to that ritualism, conjuring up strange fields of softly shimmering dronemusic, subtle bits of percussion, chiming harmonics, whispered incantations, those two sides of HMT's sound constantly in flux, delicate piano draped over processed whispered vocals, transformed into clouds of grey hissing sibilance, sounds pitched down to create ominous bellows, that become dubbed out drones, sampled voices also doused in FX drift over the top, churning industrial noise gives way to almost Native American sounding minimalism, fluttering flutes, shakers and bells, distant field recordings, swirling backwards melodies, swooshing ambience, and muted droning FX, occasionally blossoming into a sort of collaged soft noise-psych, and just as often expanding into a sort of free-rock campfire forest-folk. The long tracks laced with bits of psychedelic freakout, shards of feedback, buried voices, and constantly shifting layers and textures, all blurred into a heady, heavenly psych-drone ritual, that is mesmerizing and dreamily hypnotic. It's a cd-r, but comes housed in a nice full color digipak, and yeah, probably pretty limited too...
Raagnagrok by the Queitus
Occultism in the oughts is going a bit off the rails. Psychonauts are mixing their DMT with chaos magick and conjuring Lovecraftian elder gods (all three activities that Lovecraft would have likely despised). Ancient alien theories are making a comeback and Satanists are trying to get statues placed in city halls. All of this is well and good. Anything that continues to perpetuate the weird is okay in my book, but does it all have to be so artless? Thankfully there are islands where folks are using these ideas and images to actually create something, to reflect on the human experience, to deepen our relationship to myth and metaphor. It doesn't matter if you are an arch-druid or a Christian; If you are literalising myth, you are doing damage. So when something like Raagnagrok's Man Woman Birth Death Infinity comes along – an album that finds a group of musicians knowing how to be both playful and artful while grooving on an occult wavelength – it is worth taking special note.
According the liner notes for the album, the music is a result of a Quartermass-like experiment with a strange stone or gem that responds when subjected to "broad and narrow range frequencies in Pythagorean clusters". The resulting sounds are the supposed foundation for the musicians Mark Pilkington and Zali Krisha to craft an album around. There is nothing like a mysterious artifact at the center of an album to inspire a listening that is reminiscent of what it was like in the 1960s and 1970s when we pored over our albums looking for clues to some esoteric knowledge. It is the rumors of Paul McCartney's death, the obelisk on Led Zeppelin's Presence, the hidden occult wisdom in Roger Dean's artwork. But more than that, it is the pop culture that all this inspired and was inspired by, from aliens to Dungeons & Dragons, the Necronomicon to Ralph Bakshi's Wizards. But never minding all of that and how well Raagnagrok play in that sandbox, the music stands all by itself.
Analog synths oscillate and drone around guitar and sitars, resulting in a classic expression of Kosmiche. It's what New Age music could have been if it didn't take itself so seriously and allowed for a little accident and noise to bleed in. The opening track 'Elephanta Gateway' propels the whole effort forward with a little Fripp-inspired guitar work. 'Man' is peppered with Forbidden Planet-like effects and 'Women' goes the other way with a terrific fuzzy guitar dominating the piece.
The next three tracks, 'Birth', 'Tenebrae', and 'Mount Pelle' seem particularly improvised, but most of the album could be heard in this way. Pilkington is having fun with what must be an enviable collection of electronics and synths while Krisha meditates over his guitar. This lends itself to a wonderful tension between the two and again is reminiscent of stories where some ancient alien power makes itself known in the modern world, bringing with it some new technology that looks like magic. A lot of current synth-based experimental work can easily be likened to a soundtrack, and while this is often the intention, it sometime undermines the ability of the songs to exist as singular investigations into a mood or idea. Man Woman Birth Death Infinity feel like individual sessions in an alchemists lab, or better yet, two magicians scrying music out of their shew stone. The medium is the same, but the messages from the other side are all unique. Coming through from the other side each time is a different entity with a different name offering a different bit of information. And like any good occult-inspired art, the nature of that message should be opaque, enigmatic. Even the titles of the songs are mere symbols. Listen to the music, contemplate the emblem, find your own daemon.
'Death' and 'Infinity' are stand out tracks, and with closer 'HJD' (Heliocentric Julian Day?) the whole thing is brought to an hour of sublime listening, but with a wink and nod to the influences that make something like this possible. Pilkington is best known for being the hierophant of the terrific Strange Attractors Press and an important advocate for underground culture and music. But this is not the underground of Feral House and transgression, of conspiracy theories and black magic grimoires. This is the underground where occult and esoteric ideas are turned into narrative, consciousness exploration and – as on this wonderful album – art. Raagnagrok spins a story of Rosicrucian mysteries and weird science in their presentation, but the result is something that embraces and transcends those pretensions. All contemporary occultism should be so honest and bold.
Raagnagrok by Freq
Is it a joke, disguised as a New Age record? Or a cosmic drone record, masquerading as a joke?
In July 2005, a small package was delivered to an address in Stamford Hill, London for the attention of Mr Otto Amon and Mr Solomon Kirchner. The gentlemen who received the package have never revealed who sent it to them or what was inside it but a body of urban myth has grown up around the Lapis or Ovoid that was rumoured to have been seen in various locations around London, from Frognal to Fitzrovia.
That’s about it as far as background information goes for this new transmission from Raagnagrok, the spacy duo of Amon and Kirchner. Man Woman Birth Death Infinity explores and expands upon the psychedelic guitar plus electronics kosmische template to create a headphone journey from womb to dark matter.
In this day and age, it seems as if there must be some backstory, some angle, some selling point on which an album may ride. Perhaps Mssrs. Amon and Kirchner know this, and are playing with the concept – but luckily, there is no need. This is no mere press hoax hyperbole, as the music contained herein beyond the “Elephanta Gateway” is quite good. The pair have managed to make a classic headtrip of burning, growling electric guitar, trancing electric sitar and homemade, hand-hewn analog electronics.
Man Woman Birth Death Infinity comes off as a meditation record from 1979, but with some modern flourishes. Guitar loops, ubiquitous among duos, set a hypnotic mood that allow the pair to fill the space and elaborate upon a theme: raga status. Raagnagrok also know how to switch it up, elaborating upon the guitar/synth template with hints of percussion, growling bass and strobing tape loops. M W B D I sets a mood and keeps you there, unfurling in the air with sinuous grace, like an oracular vision. It will turn your bedroom/living room/automobile/apartment/five-story mansion into an ageless, vine-covered temple: the air is thick with sandalwood and copal, a rift beyond the stars is rended, and you will see.
This thick mood would not be possible if the individual elements were not glowingly captured and laid to tape. The slightest disruption would break the spell, like a lucid dream or out-of-body experience. The guitars sound noble and brave, what it might sound like if Gandalf were playing with Amon Düül II, and the electronics are warm and analog, with a degree of human irregularity which makes them more interesting than the typical digital machineloops. Raagnagrok know how to fill the space, improvising like only two people who know each other and their gear well can do.
Raagnagrok have been described as “kosmische exotica”, “Euclidean Dronemusic For Algorithmic Lovers” and “Mesopotamian Grokmusic For The End Of Days”. This sense of humor mixed with awesomeness makes me think that I would like these people, and they are worthy of adulation. Man Woman Birth Death Infinity will appeal to classic drone heads, to fans of Cluster, Terry Riley and La Monte Young, as well as recent psych masters like Expo 70 and Gnod. If you’re looking for a shamanic journey into past lives, look no further.
Raagnagrok – Man Woman Birth Death Infinity from Jam Band