Sunday, 15 September 2019

Sun Through Eyelids - Centuries.

Album: Centuries
Artist: Sun Through Eyelids
Label: Black Mara
Catalogue no: Unknown

     1.      Primeval
     2.      3100 (Ancient Egypt)
     3.      The Sun God
     4.      Sueno’s Stone
     5.      A Dystopian World (2049)
     6.      Final Frontier
     7.      Stardust

Even before I delved into the music, the tracklist was suggestive of a story, a narrative of humankind stretching from prehistory to possible futures. Post-listen that history as recounted here is filled with both darkness and light, and traces the lines of the two threads that have been consistently prevalent throughout the existence of mankind – our ability to create immense beauty and staggering works of art, as well as the black stain of our tendency to violence that has been ever-present throughout our time here on this planet.

What we are served up with are seven tracks of dark ambient, field recordings, sound effects, and percussion that together stitch a tapestry of darkness, blood, and brilliance. Starting in the time before writing, ‘Primeval’ is just that, swathes of dark drones, animal noises, and throat-singing, sending us back to when we lived in dark caves, hunted for sustenance and survival, and we experienced the world as a magical, frightening place. It is a dark, unsettling, and at times unpleasant world, one where the difference between life and death is but a sliver of time, but is also thrilling: phenomena we now know to be natural was the work of gods, and the rivers, plains, and forests were full of plenty.

Eventually, of course, we gravitated towards each other and created the idea of community, and from there grew civilisation. ‘Ancient Egypt (3100)’ outlines one of the most famous of those ancient civilisations, obsessed with the afterlife and ritual, and responsible for the creation of a plethora of gods and goddesses that we still know the names of 5000 years later. A haunting flute refrain segues into deep rumbles and gargantuan percussion, while a voice emerging as if from the depths of time annunciates, a portrait of a bright civilisation nevertheless replete with a very dark undercurrent running beneath the finery, the golden funeral masks, and the huge stone monuments they left behind. Theirs was also a society of conquest and warfare, of cruel punishments, and of slavery and degradation. All the mythical and legendary glories pertaining to them doesn’t hide the fact that, like most ancient societies,  they were capable of cruelty and barbarism.

‘The Sun God’ could refer to the Aten, the ‘god’ of Akhenaten, the pharaoh (and father of Tutankhamen) who instigated a religious revolution which swept away the numerous deities of his antecedents and replaced it with a complex concept of the sun disk being an avatar of the one god, Aten (Akhanaten could be said to be the father of monotheism – in fact, the Lord’s Prayer of Christianity [which post-dates Atenism] bears a striking resemblance to ‘The Great Hymn to the Aten’, written by him). And here, in Tell-el-Amarna (Akhetaton), the new capital he established in the heat of the Egyptian Desert not far from the East bank of the Nile in the modern province of Minya, Egypt, we experience the dawn of a new dispensation in the searing desert sun, along with the isolation and the dangers inherent in adopting a heresy. The ruins are still extant, although no more than foundations. Here, mysterious rites were conducted, rites that were anathema to the old order, and which instigated religious turmoil for decades. This, again, is another arena for strife and combat – the marked tendency for humans to insist that their religion is the one and only correct one, thus initiating conflict and violence.

‘Sueno’s Stone’ is a Picto-Scottish standing stone, located on the northern edge of Forres, Morayshire, Scotland. Scotland is a vast country, which was inhabited by the Picts, who were a proud tribe who were willing to fight for what they regarded as their home and for their own independence (much like the Scottish today). The Romans attempted to subjugate them, but to no avail. This piece, resonant and descriptive of boundless horizons, impassable mountains, expansive lochs, and deep glens, is entirely reminiscent of the magnificent Highlands of their homelands – deeply mysterious, staggeringly beautiful, and completely worth fighting for.

‘A Dystopian World (2049)’ is, on the face of it, misleading – we’re treated to almost harmonious drones on this one, a sign perhaps that, while everything appears to be fine, it is in fact nothing more than a clever façade, one that hides an uncomfortable truth. Even so, this composition appears to be a turning point, a springboard for hope that we may shake off our shackles and free ourselves. And the following track, ‘Final Frontier’, appears to confirm that – we have not only freed ourselves from our socially restrictive bonds, but also our ties to Mother Earth herself. The track explodes into existence, the starting point of our rocket-assisted journey into the unknown, the prelude to our travels amongst the stars. There will be wonders, but there will also be dangers – both sides of that same coin are exhibited here, soaring drones underscored by thrilling undercurrents of disturbance and peril. It is where our genetics has pointed to ever since we came into being – we were never meant to be children only of gravity, of rock and soil, but also of the stars. After all, as Carl Sagan said, we are made of star-stuff.

Indeed, at some point we will end where we began – as ‘Stardust’. In the far distant future, the universe will itself cease to be, and we will disappear along with it. Life is an endless cycle, on the universal scale as well as the human. The final track tells the tale of our future, as we navigate the invisible lanes between stars and galaxies, the silk roads of the never-ending sky, in our caravans of starships in the mapless depths of space. Distant drones ebb and flow, as our tiny existences are highlighted by gargantuan nebulae and even larger galaxies, amongst which we may find a new home. We must overcome our fear of time and distance if we are to survive as a species. We can never go home.

An entrancing album, veined through with the very essence of the human spirit, both in the spiritual and the material senses, as well as the positive and the negative. As pointed out earlier, we can create beauty and we can visit destruction upon ourselves. That constant has remained with us ever since we climbed down from the trees, and wherever we may find ourselves in our future, we will continue to carry it with us. This is an album that doesn’t shy away from looking at our faults, but it also celebrates our best attributes. This is an album of hope overcoming our natural tendencies to wage war against ourselves, and to unite in survival. Wonderful.

Available as a download, as a CD in wooden box containing the CD, an actual ammonite fossil, a pouch containing golden sand, and a set of photos. A golden audio cassette version is also available, housed in a plastic J-box complete with a booklet and cardboard packaging. Order from the link below:

Psymon Marshall 2019. 

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