Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Babalith - Cromelech.

Album: Cromelech
Artist: Babalith
Catalogue no: SomSon126


     1.      Consecration
     2.      The Black River
     3.      Shadows in the Moon
     4.      The Frost Daughter
     5.      Peacock of the Dark
     6.      Jewel of the Black Circle
     7.      The Hyena of the Sorcerer
     8.      Rattle of the Stars
     9.      The Scarlet Queen
   10.  The Veil of the Witch
   11.  Spectres in the Vines
   12.  Wolves Beyond
   13.  Dwellers under Water
   14.  The Altar and the Golden Skull
   15.  The Garden of Eons
   16.  The Idol of Time
   17.  The Valley of the Ape
   18.  Blue Serpent
   19.  Apparition of the Cross
   20.  The Spell of the Oaks
   21.  Haunted Horse
   22.  The Shadow of the Eagle 
   23.  The Shadow of the Beast
   24.  Chromelech
   25.  Outro

Let’s start this review with something not completely irrelevant, only mostly so: originating from Wales, the word cromlech is quite familiar to me – it denotes a type of megalithic tomb, consisting of one very large flat roof stone held up by smaller uprights. I am not entirely sure whether this selection of shamanic/ritualistic pieces has any connection to megalithic tombs, but in the abstract I am guessing that there is a line connecting the age of stone monuments and the 25 short pieces of music presented here. As I’ve argued elsewhere, shamanisn/animism (one of the first belief systems that evolved) was an essential ingredient in the spiritual lives of the people that lived thousands of years ago, as it was a way of keeping the lines of familial and tribal connections open and living.

And what we get is, in many respects, a collision between the ancient and modern – field recordings, tribal percussion, voices, and synthesised sounds. The artists involved, André Consciênscia and Eunice Correia, admit that these are crude recordings, but I don’t think that’s a negative in this case: the essence of shamanic ritual is to strip away the layers pertaining to this world and all its unrefined materiality until the celebrant attains access to the purer ‘otherworld’ of spiritual existence. One can easily envision the proceedings: no modern paraphernalia, just a couple of skyclad participants, accompanied by primitive instrumentation, enacting the mysteries of initiation around ancient stones put up by people whose names are unknown but whose intentions are clear nevertheless. The rhythmic drums, gyrations, chanting, and ecstatic howling are deliberately engineered to open up the pathways between those ancient lives and the ones we live today.

Electronic ambient atmospherics are often interjected around the (very) basic structures of many the songs, and for the most part the integration is highly successful, injecting layers of depth and substance which only add to the enigmatic ritualistic aspect, as well as hinting at those elements of the immaterial that cannot be seen but only felt. Like I said, this approach does reap dividends, although one or two of the pieces I felt disturbed the equilibrium somewhat through the use of synths and organs (I am thinking in particular of ‘The Frost Daughter’ and ‘The Scarlet Queen’) – they threw me out of the overall feel of this album and I felt they were a bit of an intrusion, feeling more like soundtrack compositions than stripped back shamanic conjurations. The rest of the pieces revolve around a much more tribalistic and dare I say ‘primitive’ core, the beating heart as it were of the sacrosanct nature of the ceremonies being performed.

There are moments when it’s about as sparse and threadbare of unnecessary adornments as it’s possible to be. And that, I think, is a powerful thing – in an age when music appears to be overproduced, over-layered, and overfilled, this is the species of composition which practically begs us to reconnect with and to be aware of the world around us. We’re plunged into a world where even the minutest sound contains and signifies meaning, sounds that delineate an existence that we’ve allowed ourselves to become divorced from. What’s more, these pieces also allow us to physically feel the reawakened links forged by ritual – our skin feels the winds that once blew through the hair of the tomb, mound, and sacred site builders, our bare feet the very ground upon which priests and priestesses trod when celebrating their own mysteries of life, birth, rebirth, and death. After all, a properly observed ritual should bestow insight and unalloyed clarity of vision and mind.

Allow yourself to sink into the milieu of the ancient peoples that once roamed the green land and join with the shamans of the 21st century in reinvesting and repairing our denuded landscape with the lines that infused the entire spectrum of material existence with power. Those ancient tribespeople not only knew about that power’s presence but also felt it – perhaps it’s time for us to do so again.

Psymon Marshall 2019

No comments: