Sunday, 29 September 2019

Horologium - Atavistic Americana

Album: Atavistic Americana
Artist: Horologium
Label: Sky Burial
Catalogue no: SKY029

     1.      Vexillum Stellata
     2.      Pax Americana
     3.      Ad Caelum Novum
     4.      Potestas!
     5.      Somnium Somnio
     6.      Progressus et Vigilantia
     7.      Luna

I usually avoid getting into political discussions, mainly because it’s a pointless exercise in these divided times, however to say that Horologium’s Atavistic Americana doesn’t pull its punches on that front is like saying that the sky is blue or that water is wet. It’s a hard-hitting collection of pieces whose main theme is the hypocrisy of the modern world: countries paying nothing more than lip-service to the idea of democracy whilst operating behind the scenes in a thoroughly undemocratic fashion; a world where money speaks louder than words and actions, where the maxim might is right is seen as the ultimate display of power, and where religion has been perverted to support the rich while stripping the poor and under-privileged of what little dignity they had in the first place. Grzegorz Siedlecki artfully employs all manner of styles and genres, from dark ambient to martial industrial and points in between, to get his message across – this is the current sorry disposition of Planet Earth and its inhabitants but what are we doing about it?
‘Vexillum Stellata’ (Star-Spangled Banner) opens up the account, pointing the finger firmly at America, beginning with some phrases from the anthemic music written by John Stafford Smith sometime in the 1760s before a male American voice declares ‘We begin bombing in five minutes’, which tells us succinctly exactly where this is heading. Further samples saying ‘Despicable acts of terror’ and ‘Hiroshima’ deftly leave you asking who exactly are the terrorists here? Pitching itself somewhere between danceable chaos, noise, and martial industrial this opening abstract summarises what’s to come. ‘God bless America!’ indeed. ‘Pax Americana’ (American Peace) is one that comes with strings attached – liberation at a price, or so it appears from a distance. Driving drumbeat, more samples, and scratchy guitar propel this at galloping pace, charging headlong without preamble into the fray.
‘Ad Caelum Novum’ (To Bring a New Heaven) starts off pleasantly enough, until the mood darkens with clashing drones fighting against voices. We can relate this to the modern world – in the eyes of some ‘Heaven’ constitutes living according to Western standards, the imposition of which creates clashes with cultural/religious traditions to produce frictions and tensions that are often irreconcilable, often leading to violence. ‘Potestas!’ (Power!) brings us back to the idea of the notion that ‘might is right’, featuring as it does a report of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6th August 1945. Haunting voice-like howls in the background counterpoint the blithe announcement, as the thousands who died because of its employment appear to have been forgotten. Massed organ chords swell at the start of ‘Somnium Somnio’ (To Dream a Dream), light yet still with a hint of darkness apparent intertwining between the layers, providing a vehicle for more voices, barely audible but we know and feel that they’re there in the background, perhaps ghostly memories of those who have fought for their dreams and freedom, but in the end laid down their lives without ever seeing either come to fruition.
‘Progressus et Vigilantia’ (Monitoring Progress) is perhaps the most ‘traditionally’ song-like  of all the pieces here, a simple 4/4 beat operating as a launchpad for samples and loud blasts of trumpets and horns, along with guitars. Monitoring progress is merely a euphemism for ‘keeping under control’, ensuring that the new rules are being observed. ‘The happiness of our people’, in this context, sounds sinister – it’s all about context, really.
‘Luna’ (The Moon) can be seen from two different angles: one of hope, that we as humans can pool our knowledge and resources together to accomplish something great and merit-worthy, or, approaching from the opposite direction, the money spent on space exploration could be used more usefully in sorting out the problems here on earth. Whichever way you prefer to see it entirely depends on what colour lenses you view the world through. Either way, what we have here is a dark ambient swath of susurrating textures overlaid with lunar communications between astronauts and Mission Control, and of course Neil Amstrongs’s famous line ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. This piece is both a celebration and an accusation.
An at times raucous and bombastic release it nevertheless gets its central thesis across without resorting to bludgeoning or histrionics. And that message is pin-sharp, laying out the charges succinctly and with brevity. We all know that Government (with a capital G) operates within a sphere of its own, sometimes beholden only unto itself, and we need to be reminded that what we hear about their doings is only a tiny part of the story. Even though this was released nearly a year ago (and much can happen in politics within that time) it’s still immensely relevant, perhaps more so in 2019. In that sense, this is a timeless album, which will perhaps remain relevant for some time yet to come.
Available as a digital download from Bandcamp:
Psymon Marshall 2019. 

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