Black Seas Of Infinity are a Utah-based project founded by Jhon Longshaw (a.k.a. Set-Heru). Their previous album for Autumn Wind Productions, Amrita - The Quintessence, was one of the more interesting ritual ambient releases of 2007, so this new Black Seas release was received with eager interest and anticipation.
The title Hieros-Gamos refers to the 'sacred marriage' of Goddess and God, a theme frequently encountered in various pagan belief systems, both ancient and contemporary. Within Wicca, the symbolic (and sometimes actual) act of union between male and female is known as 'The Great Rite'. Hieros-Gamos also features in an orgiastic scene in the thriller The Da Vinci Code. Since the last Black Seas album, Amrita, was dedicated to the feminine mysteries, an album dealing with sexual union seems like a natural progression, and this new merging of energies is signalled by, among other things, the deployment of both female and male vocals on the album. According to the press release, the albumâ€™s purpose is one of 'glorifying the marriage of gods and men. It is the dissemination of the secret art as bequeathed unto mankind by the fallen…In magnificent copulations the mysteries are revealed…'
Hieros-Gamos is idiosyncratically structured, with two very long tracks alternating with two shorter tracks. Opening track 'Iblis Hiwwah Kassia' is a near half-an-hour marathon, immersing and entangling the listener in a dense, cloying web of shimmering, shifting drones, eerie vatic chants interspersed with clearly recited passages of Crowleyesque ritual invocation, and sudden, dramatic bursts of crashing cymbals, gongs and bells. The stygian, stifling ambience of Black Seas finds its closest analogue in the projects associated with the cult Finnish label Aural Hypnox, although there are also evident points of resemblance with other ritual ambient acts such as Psychonaut 75, Hati, Chaos As Shelter and Bestia Centauri. Black Seas make more extensive use of vocals than any of these other projects, but the overall atmosphere is similar. One difference I noticed from the Amrita album is that Hieros-Gamos doesn't seem to use movie samples - all the vocals used here were recorded live. The production is clear and deep, allowing the listener's mind to wander through infinite uncharted realms of inner space (the name Black Seas Of Infinity, incidentally, is taken from the opening paragraph of HP Lovecraft's celebrated short story The Call Of Cthulhu).
'All Hail The Procession Of Masks' is much shorter, at under seven minutes, and more tightly structured, with dissonant organ chords creaking out under vocals recited in tandem by male and female voices, as percussive beats reverberate out towards the margins of perception and vanish into silence and darkness.
'I Hu Tubalo' is the album's second long track, again lasting for nearly half an hour, and opening with a low-key, almost trip-hop, beat, accented with slow, rolling waves of cymbal and distant minor-key woodwind. The recited vocals are again delivered in tandem over the musical backing, but this track has a more orchestral and less drone-based feel in its initial phase, which gives way to a starkly minimal passage of keening flute notes sounding out over the lapping of ocean waves on the seashore, and the track later introducing Hati-like brooding horns and gong crashes.
The first three tracks of Hieros-Gamos are pretty consistent in their minatory sound and atmosphere, but the final track, the lengthily-entitled 'Thy Secret Shall Stain The Heart Of The Ekstasis (Aleim Edam)' sounds radically different, and is also the most exciting and innovative piece on the album. The bright, tautly twanging psych-rock melody accompanied by stupefied, tranced-out drones and female spoken-word vocals brings to mind 70s occult-psychedelic rock pioneers such as Aphrodite's Child, Bobby Beausoleil and Amon Duul II, as well as more recent acts including Swans (in particular from around the time of Love Of Life and The Great Annihilator), Jarboe's collaboration with Neurosis and Lux Interna. I really love 'Thy Secret…', but it's not evident to me how it relates to the rest of the album â€“ it feels like a bonus track rather than an integral and essential part of the opus. It's certainly completely unlike anything I've previously heard from Black Seas - I had no idea that this project was capable of producing anything so melodically structured and (relatively speaking) upbeat.
Autumn Wind Productions have really gone to town on the packaging of Heiros-Gamos. The minimalist black digipack sleeve is emblazoned with a cryptic sigil, but the 16-page booklet inside is a visual feast, featuring mind-melting psychedelic and symbolist artwork from no less than seven different artists, namely Kathleen Averill, Joep Haemmerson, Asenath Mason, Dennis Mcambridge, Stafford Stone, Gabriela Sugier and Markus Wolff (of Waldteufel renown). The press release claims that 'These pieces, along with the music shall act as gateways to the great night of the womb of eternity…' Be that as it may, the artworks presented here virtually amount to a mini-exhibition, and provide a great visual accompaniment to the audio evocations of Black Seas Of Infinity. The booklet also contains extracts from the texts recited on the album.
Hieros-Gamos is a limited-edition release of 1000 copies.
The latest album from Black Seas Of Infinity moves even further away from anything that might resemble the black metal protoplasm that the band originally sprang from, and further develops it's chilling, mindwarping language of demonic ambience and blackened improvisational murk. This is the second album that Black Seas has released through Autumn Wind, which I feel has become the North American answer to Finland's Aural Hypnox; both labels have developed a singular approach to documenting the sound of blackened ritual ambience, though Autumn Wind does have more variety in it's catalog than Aural Hypnox, branching off with releases that touch on black metal, industrial music and fantastical symphonies. On the blackest edges of the label's soundworld sits Hieros-Gamos, a four track album of creeped-out cosmic drift and psych-industrial that revolves around concepts of ritualistic sex and the marriage of pagan Gods, inscribed in expansive slabs of ambient dark matter. The first track is nearly thirty minutes, dense with drifting clouds of Lustmordian blackness and cavernous reverb, washes of gong and metallic percussion, the clang and chime of metal struck and scraped, atonal melodies, grinding low-end distortion and the tolling of bells ringing in the depths. Male and female voices appear at a couple of points throughout the track, intoning weird, erotically-charged invocations. These spoken word parts continue to show up over the course of Hieros-Gamos, reciting their tantric like lines over constant-shifting swathes of buzzing drone or glacial orchestral strings, and sometimes devolve into wordless chants or lose themselves, eyes rolled back, in a moaning trance as insectile chitter and black ambience washes over them. The first three tracks all flow together, like one single massive piece, an ecstatic slow motion vortex of time-stretched strings and cave drift, fluttering woodwinds and ritualistic percussion, voices drowned in lust and barbiturates. The sound changes when the fourth and final track shows up, starting immediately with a weird distorted raga drone that sounds like it is being played on some alien instrumental thats part didgeridoo, part sitar, emitting a thick intoxicating buzz that burrows through the tidal wash of dark cosmic drift, joined by an eerie melody scraped out a dessicated fiddle and the female vocalist, her voice deep and resonant, chanting over the heavy raga buzz. Very Swans-like, that last track. Even if you don't put much stock into the occult/ritual themes that Black Seas explore in their music, this is still an impressive collection of weird black ambience that sounds like a fusion of the Aural Hypnox brand of percussion-heavy cave-drift, Lustmord-inspired dread, and Great Annihilator era Swans, which sounds pretty damn fantasic to me.
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