Metal Puppets that Last Forever

Batch of three items from the Polish Zoharum label.

Quite ambitious piece of work by Ander on their …Potrwa Wiecznie (ZOHAR 241-2) album, which endeavours to sustain a mood and maintain a story-telling structure across 17 tracks. Although Ander has been characterised as “dark ambient”, this is mostly a very tuneful record with plenty of simple (though very melancholic) keyboard melodies, most of them set in a minor key. A number of guest musicians and vocalists add their talents on individual tracks, among them Jakub Nox Ambroziak, Martin Neuhold, and Coelestial Services. With all song titles in Polish, I’m unable to speculate as to the deeper meaning and overall plan here, and all I can tell you is that the album title translates as “It Will Last Forever” and there are numerous photographs of animal carcasses on the cover artworks, said beasts (possibly cows) lying on stony wasteland with their ribcages and teeth plainly exposed to the merciless elements. The drama of these photos is deepened by their high-contrast exposure and printing, and this visual component does much to establish the sombre mood. The emotional punch of …Potrwa Wiecznie ranges from introverted wistfulness to plaintive murmuring expressing a subdued pain; no wonder we’re advised to listen to it while sitting in a darkened room.

Well-produced and sharp electronica of a darkish hue from Sphyxion on their album 3 (ZOHAR 243-2) …this French duo of brothers Frédéric and Olivier Charlot are improving their “act” all the time, now apparently driving their music in a “minimal synthwave” direction. And a very anonymous one, too. 12 short untitled tracks are presented in a six panel digipak, and I love the way that five of the panels are practically all blacked out, with virtually no printed information to assist the puzzled listener. The front image of crimson and black smudges isn’t exactly designed to reassure us, either. I appreciate that …Potrwa Wiecznie (above) is showcased as the stay-at-home album of the month by our Polish friends, but in many ways 3 surpasses that benchmark, with its general air of sealed-off determination and unblinking steady gaze into the abyss. I mean the creators are very focussed on their mysterious tasks, keeping the music and execution as simple as possible, and not a chink of light from the outside world enters the private world of these madmen as they forge these metallic puppets in their workshop. This might simply be because they refuse to allow human voices into the arena (unlike the distorted vocal grumbles and groans used by Ander and guests), and 100% artificial synthesis is the guiding mode. In parts, I’d say Sphyxion’s music wouldn’t feel out of place on the Kvitnu label, home to similarly laser-like machine-driven pulsations and blackened bloops. A very worthy successor to their 2018 album for this label, although it seems they continue to regard their acoustic project Maninkari as their principal raison d’etre.

Item with a vaguely mystical flavour is End Of Xibalba (ZOHAR 242-2), a concept album in four long tracks written and performed by DID. The theme has been derived from Mayan mythology, where Xibalba was the name given to the underworld / afterlife; it literally means “place of terror” or “space of fear”, and pain is also not unknown to the unfortunate inhabitants of this land of the dead. DID – real name Hania Piosik – has also done live performances of this suite, which involve story-telling “in a language that does not actually exist”, thus adding a further dimension of mystical aspirations to the release. Both of these stratagems suggest an opportunity to create some rather dismal and menacing music (we can easily imagine what Tunnels Of Ah would do with such a theme), but instead DID presents some very pleasing ambient drone music, usually rooted to a single chord, and extending for a very long time – the opening cut ‘Melting Into Bliss’ spins for 21:23 mins and stays in the same “blissful” place of sun-drenched tones, refusing to move out of the benevolent rays. On ‘God Knows What’s Next’ – a title which, invoking the Christian deity, seems inconsistent with her Mayan theme – DID indulges her keyboard skills to create doodles and synth flourishes in the manner of a second-rate Klaus Schulze copyist. Piosik also plays in Joy Pop and Warsaw Improvisers Orchestra, and memorably added vocals to Michal Jablonki’s Humanity album for this label in 2020. As I recall, she contributed bleak shrieks of despair to that exceptionally gloomoid album, and that’s an element of grit I could have used on this rather soft-centred affair. In fact, I think we only hear her voice on the last track ‘Lightment’, where it’s been fed through a tasteless distortion effect while she scat-sings uncertain melodies in a rather corny R&B fashion.

All the above from 21st December 2021.