Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Akkad the Orphic Priest - Periapt.

Album: Periapt
Artist: Akkad the Orphic Priest (A.T.O.P)
Catalogue no: N/A

     1.      Athame
     2.      Bezoar
     3.      Cauldron
     4.      Cloak
     5.      Besom
     6.      Madstone
     7.      Tabasheer (ft. Chad Mossholder)

Somewhere Cold Records is based out of Shelbyville, Kentucky in the US, and specialise in in the lighter end of the ambient spectrum and, considering that my most recent review was of a darkly sacral/cosmic/ritual ambient nature it appears only natural that I should continue in that vein while my mind is still on a completely different plane. And my word, this occult/drone ambient album is just the thing to sustain the mood my headspace appears to be in today, plus it stays away from any mawkish new-ageyness instead tending towards the upper reaches of the spiritual exosphere. A periapt is an object that by its very nature is magical in effect, in other words an object in the nature of an amulet or charm. Indeed, glancing at the tracklist one can easily see how the objects enumerated can be thought of as magical in nature, each one having a specific meaning to the people utilising them, with effects that differ only insofar as the user’s beliefs dictate.

The album, as can be gleamed from the song titles, tends towards the pagan side of the occult, although the treatment music-wise is anything but, rather it utilises swelling and sustained drones that hone in on those parts of the human mind and soul which are prone to thoughts and feelings of the sacred. In some respects, particularly on this album, the titles are meaningless and are probably nothing more than a way of fulfilling our need for categorisation and naming things. For me the most important aspect is the feeling that each piece evokes, and music of this nature appears to speak to me directly (as does most ambient in all its glorious subgenres). The other important facet is answering the question “Where is this going to take me?”. And this selection provides a soundtrack for an inner journey, an accompaniment to a spiritual roadtrip if you like.

Every journey has to begin with a first step, and in this case that first step is the opening track ‘Athame’ (a ritual knife for use in ceremonial magic). Organic organ chords, tinged with slight distortion, opens A.T.O.P’s account, outlining for us his approach to what in effect are gargantuan slices of spatial and spiritual concepts. Any other approach I feel would fall short of the mark. This piece, as with most of the others on here with one or two exceptions, never once touches the ground, instead wafting loftily above our heads where the air and materiality are thinner and more refined. ‘Bezoar’ (a reddish-brown stone, created from secretions in an animal’s stomachs, used as an antidote to poisons) swoops down to a lower register but still atmospheric enough to float well above the mundanity and materiality of earthly life and existence. This one shimmers like the stars do at night, accompanied by high-pitched harmonic feedback that’s as sweet as it’s possible to imagine. Imagine floating castles made entirely of light, the habitations of beings equally composed of light – that’s what this track conjures up for me. This is bliss incarnate.

‘Cauldron’, the next track, spins higher up into the sky again, layers of organ chords and harmonics, combining to create a blue sky and white cloud panorama extending as far as one can see in all directions. Those cloud banks rise ever higher, swirling and mutating, evolving constantly to assume new shapes and patterns. Perhaps the shapes we see in them are their means of communicating with us, telling us of the wonders they’ve beheld both on the ground below them and in the heavens above. The only problem is that we humans are deaf and blind to their words and visions, thinking them merely pretty superficialities meant to entertain dreamers and artists. Perhaps the cauldron referred to here is the cauldron of creation, the bottomless container of natural imagination.

‘Cloak’ envelops us next in its folds of lushly dark velvetiness, a virtual blanket of protection swirling around us. Whether it’s protection from the weather or protection from inimical forces, the intent is the same: providing a prophylactic against something we wish to avoid or keep away from us. Its intent is mostly beneficial, but cloaks can also be used for nefarious purposes, so there is a duality involved here. ‘Besom’ is a broom or a sweeping brush, used to clean floors of dust and detritus, but magically-speaking it can used as a metaphor for sweeping away negative influences, powers, and people. Of all the pieces on here, so far at least, it’s the most obviously ‘musical’, orchestral sweeps and tinkling accents, birdsong, and susurrating drones. It can almost be termed pastoral, in the sense that it elicits visions of the countryside and nature, where the latter exists in untrammelled and explosive profusion. Indeed, I felt as if I was being carried aloft myself, swooping over endless green vistas, vistas absent of any human intrusion or artifice. The endless carpet of creation below inspires relaxation and also meditation, sparking off thoughts on why we as a species seem hell-bent on destruction and defilement.

The penultimate track is ‘Madstone’, a very similar magical artefact to a bezoar which can cure humans of a deleterious illness, in this case rabies (if pressed into an animal bite). Some researchers have speculated that it’s either a type of stone, or a vegetative substance. This one feels earthy and organic, delineating a substance gleaned from the very soil itself and naturally imbued with medicinal, curative, and magical properties. Plangent, mournful tones predominate here, echoing and trailing off into a species of distortion. Finally we reach the last track, ‘Tabasheer’, which is defined as a white or translucent substance found in bamboo, used in traditional Ayurvedic, Unani, and Chinese medicine. This one is certainly the oddest track on here, sounding at times random and atonal, as well as improvised, with metallic effects that appear as if recorded through a drainpipe. It invests it with a truly alien timbre, something akin to a strange but bizarrely melodious language, one that was perhaps spoken when the world was much younger.

Very much an album placed firmly for the most part in the stratospheric heights, but also cognisant of the fact that magic can also be found here on the ground, a notion that perhaps is only explored too briefly. As I averred above in my opening paragraph, there’s none of the cloying new-age sweetness evident that some practitioners of ambient seem to employ, instead there are multiple layers of different shades of brightness (and darkness, if truth be told) that keep it from being monotonous and uninteresting (something which this definitely isn’t). This is my first encounter with Somewhere Cold Records’ output, which serves to whet my appetite to explore their catalogue of releases in deeper detail. This ticked all the right boxes for me and, whilst some might be put off by the ambient label, I can guarantee that it’s absolutely worth dipping your toes into.

Available as a digital album and stream, and also as a CD, from here:

Other releases from Somewhere Cold can be found here:

Psymon Marshall 2019. 

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