Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Stigmate - AIWASS

Artist: Stigmate
Label: Self-released
Catalogue no: N/A

     1.      L’abbazia di Thèlema
     2.      Aiwass
     3.      The Book of Thoth
     4.      Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
     5.      Processing of a Mourning
     6.      Madness
     7.      Equinox
     8.      New Order
     9.      Ordo Templi Orientis
    10.  REPTILE

Astute readers and those in the know will already have worked out that this album is about The Great Beast 666 aka Aleister Crowley, infamous occultist, writer, and mountaineer. However one sees the man, either as charlatan or visionary, there’s absolutely no denying his enormous influence on late 19th and 20th century occultism, as a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis, and the formulator of Thelema. There’s also no doubting that he relished the notoriety he inspired, often thumbing his nose up at established religion and society, and generally creating waves of delight and revulsion in equal measure.

Stigmate is Italian musician Nicola Locci, and this is his way of paying tribute to this particular magician. Aiwass, the album’s title, refers to the discarnate entity of that name, who dictated The Book of the Law (also known as Liber al vel Legis) through Rose Edith Crowley (his wife) while they sojourned in Egypt in 1904. The book is the foundation stone of Thelema and is the central sacred text of that belief system. “Do What thou Wilt Shall be the Whole of the Law” is the central tenet of the new religion of the Era of Horus.

The opening track ‘L’abbazia di Thèlema’ (The Abbey of Thelema) refers to the building (a small house in actuality) that Crowley and Leah Hirsig established in Cefalu, Sicily, in 1920. It served as both a magical school as well as the base for a commune. The track opens with a sonorous loop of a saxophone figure, a brilliant device that plants the narrative of the album squarely in the early part of the twentieth century, and which helps to contextualise the background to the unfolding story. However, gradually making its presence heard is a whine that grows in the telling, along with a screechy, burbling blast of static, redolent perhaps of the stories and sensationalist tidbits that emerged in later years about what went on at the ‘Abbey’.

‘Aiwass’ is introduced in the short second track, a series of disembodied noises presaging a howling whine and a glitchy background beat before the piece explodes into a grainy bass drone. It’s entirely appropriate in many ways, considering that this important discarnate entity, through the agency of the Crowleys, changed the landscape of occultism in the half-century that followed (and still does, whether you believe in the existence of the spirit or not). ‘The Book of Thoth’ follows on, continuing the Egyptian theme, it being the title of Crowley’s book on the Egyptian Tarot. There’s a double pun here, as Thoth was the God of Writing and Scribes while Crowley was himself an author and transcriber. It’s suitably abstract, sawed and bowed strings delineating an otherworldly atmosphere, an attempt at describing numinous concepts garnered from a deep well of occult knowledge that only initiates are able to gain access to.

Perhaps the most famous magical order in the world, the name of which has even entered popular culture, ‘The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn’, still manages to fascinate even 130 years or so after its founding. It numbered not just Crowley as a member but also the occult luminary Arthur Edward Waite (who wrote dozens of books pertaining to occultism and Hermeticism), and more famous names like Algernon Blackwood, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sax Rohmer, Bram Stoker, and WB Yeats (although, to be fair, some of these people may only be alleged members – the nature of secret societies is that they and their membership are, by definition, secret). The track begins with a ritual chant (perhaps by Crowley himself – I had a CD containing recordings of him intoning rituals chants at one time, but it’s so long ago I can’t remember what his voice sounded like), that metamorphoses into a pulsing drone reminiscent of the building power that ritual conjures up. There’s certainly a vast amount of energy being manifested here, tinged with a certain menace too. It sent shivers up my spine.

‘Processing of a Mourning’ begins with bowl-like resonances set against a background of horn-like phrasings, followed by treated and processed guitar tones. It’s a strange abstract ritual, perhaps meant to accompany a soul’s transition from one life to the next. Its abstraction is slippery and ungraspable, a metaphor itself for the mysteries surrounding death and its ultimate meaning. ‘Madness’ is often the friend of the occultist, or so it would seem – a kind of divine madness, a chaotic condition that inspires creativity and knowledge. Strikingly both chaos and order reside in this track, looping snatches of a musical figure endlessly repeating, its accumulative effect quite maddening in itself. It could signify obsession, something which figures in all creative magicians.

‘Equinox’ (aka The Equinox: The Review of Scientific Illuminism) was the title of Crowley’s official journal of the magical order known as A:.A:. (or ‘Astrum Argentum’ – The Silver Star). The track itself begins with the kind of whistling static associated with old shortwave radios (yes, I AM that old) before transforming into a semi-ambient abstraction, utilising found sounds, noise blasts , and spoken word samples as contextualisation and grounding. I can’t help but think of disembodied spirits, alternate states of awareness, and the channelling of hidden secrets. ‘New Order’ wafts in on a reverbed cello-like figure, around which whistles and drones weave a story of high ideals suffused with spiritual overtones. This is probably my particular favourite, mainly because it went straight to those centres in my brain that sparked off delicious thrills and shivers. The ‘Ordo Templi Orientis’, although it included Crowley as an influential member, wasn’t actually founded by him (that was done by Carl Kellner and Theodor Reus sometime in the years between 1895 and 1905). It’s a thoroughly otherworldly piece, floating somewhere in the ether, a bridge between this world and the higher realms. Originally conceived along Masonic lines, Crowley rearranged its structure to reflect Thelemic principles and ideas. It is both grounded in communication with the inhabitants of those higher realms and the human plane. Again, Locci on this one opts for the abstract strategy, pinning down highly complex philosophical ideas by using ephemeral echoes and figures.

The final track, ‘REPTILE’, is perhaps a reference to the character of the man himself, or more accurately the character as portrayed by his reputation. He was larger than life in life, but since his death that aspect has been enlarged multifold. What we have here are small explosions of grainy noise, echoing and building upon each other, with other noises being introduced at intervals to build up the layers of exaggeration that have accrued in the years since he left this plane of existence. Such accumulations of legends, rumours, and half-truths eventually obscure the actual truth, so that he’s almost become a parody. Some would say that’s what he deserves, but others would just as vehemently say otherwise. It is not for me to say which portrait is the more accurate – I leave that to the individual.

Make no mistake, even with a casual glance at the titles of the pieces on here, it should be apparent that whatever one thinks of Crowley one cannot deny that he’s had an enormous influence, both in the occult world and in popular culture. In some respects Stigmate’s AIWASS goes some way to redressing the balance somewhat, a sound-painting executed by someone who perhaps has already invested a considerable amount of time in Crowley and his works. It’s an amalgam of ideas and concepts gleaned from an array of sources, a syncretic conglomeration of impressions about a complex man, created in such a way as to reflect the way that Crowley himself worked. Much of his occult knowledge was garnered through a whole host of disparate sources, but that is his achievement: the integration of numerous strands of belief and sources into one concrete system of practise. Whilst we may never get to the truth of Crowley the man, we can at least acknowledge Crowley the master compiler of occult knowledge.

Available via Bandcamp here:

Psymon Marshall 2019. 

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