Style: Jazz Metal
Release Date: 26 Jun 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook
Neptunian Maximalism only made two end of year lists that I'm looking at, at Pop Matters and Treble Zine, but they were high in both of them and they sounded so wild that I had to check them out (and a record label that they record for too—I, Voidhanger, named for a Darkthrone track—who release what they describe as "obscure, unique, and uncompromising visions from the metal underground.") That does fit this release, which is metal, I think, though it's jazz first and foremost.
It's a rather daunting release, a triple album of experimental music from Belgium running two hours and ten minutes and covers Bandcamp tags as wildly diverse as "dark ambient", "drone metal", "free jazz", "heavy psych", "stoner metal" and "tribal", among others. The band include two drummers and one saxophonist, with Guillaume Cazalet covering everything else: bass, guitar, sitar, flute, trumpet... whatever he can find, it seems. Its press claims that it's the "quintessential mystical and psychedelic journey of 2020." Even having already reviewed the Oranssi Pazuzu album, I'm not going to argue.
What I will say is that, as wild as this is, and it does indeed dip deep into free jazz, it felt surprisingly accessible to me. Tribal drumming and pixie-like saxophone render the first two pieces of music lively, engaging and shockingly organic. Sure, Lamasthu slows things down to paint a sonic picture of a trip through Hell itself, dark and eerie from the outset but all the more eerie as the layers peel away with us left in near silence, punctuated only by demonic voices. At least that's what I heard. Its full title is translated from the French to Lamasthu: Seeder of the Primordial Fungal Kingdom and Infanticide of Neogene Monkeys. And yes, there's definitely some Ummagumma weirdness here, but this is heavier and freer and jazzier.
These titles do offer clues as to what's going on, or at least to what we ought to be thinking about as they play. These opening songs comprise a six track cycle called To the Earth. The full title of part one is To the Earth: Daiitoku-Myōō no ōdaiko 大威徳明王 鼓童—L'Impact de Théia durant l’Éon Hadéen, which includes three languages and two scripts: English, Japanese and French. So let's figure out what all that means.
The "odaiko" is the largest drum in a taiko performance of Japanese drumming; this one belongs to Daiitoku Myōō, one of the five Great Light Kings of Esoteric Buddhism. Google Translate tells me the kanji translate from the Japanese to Yamantaka Kodo, but Yamantaka happens to be a Sanskrit name for Daiitoku Myōō. Kodo has a double meaning: both "children of the drum" and "heartbeat", which is the primal source of all rhythm. The French means "The Impact of Théia during the Hadean Aeon", referring to an ancient planet that may have collided with the Earth 4.5 billion years ago, so creating our moon.
So we're delving into Japanese mythology and archeoastronomy. Nganga brings in African culture in primal times, the title belonging to a spiritual healer, and Lamasthu Mesopotamian, as she's the most terrible of all female demons. Ptah Sokar Osiris is an Egyptian composite funerary deity, while Enūma Eliš is the Babylonian creation myth. Clearly, there's a lot of birth and death here. We're also running through billions of years: two supereons, at least five eons and mere periods like the Carboniferous. What are Neptunian Maximalism telling us in this grand sweep of history and mythology?
Well, I'm glad you asked! "By exploring the evolution of the human species," the band "question the future of the living on Earth, propitiating a feeling of acceptance for the conclusion of the so called 'anthropocene' era and preparing us for the incoming 'probocene' era, imagining our planet ruled by superior intelligent elephants after the end of humanity." So there you have it. I think I need notes. It's all ritual, but it's heavily researched, multi-cultural, multi-mythological ritual that's explored in fascinating style.
To the Moon encompasses the next six pieces of music, with three of those being about Vajrabhairava, a third name for Daiitoku Myōō/Yamantaka, this time the name used in Tibetan Buddism. The reason why Yamantaka is important is because he destroyed Yama, the God of Death, thus stopping samsara, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, which is the goal of the journey towards enlightenment. I guess if you're going to go with a concept, it's worth making it a deep one. I couldn't name one deeper than this.
Oddly for such a desirable goal, Zâr is doomier in nature with a lot more cymbals in play, aspects that continue throughout this suite. While much of this feels theatrical, the initial part of Vajrabhairava, The Summoning, is especially evocative. It seems like it should be performed live while demons roam the stage, speaking to us in dark voices. The final part, Oi Sonuf Vaoresaji!, is thoroughly theatrical as well, initially an assault of percussion, mostly sticks banging against each other rather than drums. It feels like there's an associated dance that I'm missing. Even when it calms down, it still feels like it's a soundtrack to something visual.
The third part of Vajrabhairava is the one that spoke to me, The Great Wars of Quaternary Era Against Ego. It's chaotic free jazz for a while, until the emergency of a driving trance-inducing riff that sounds like it's played on bass and emphasised by percussion. It persists but so does the chaos, like we're here to witness the age-old battle between chaos and order in microcosm.
That leaves four pieces of music to constitute To the Sun and they're generally longer and much more patient. With the sole exception of the previous track, Oi Sonuf Vaoresaji!, Eôs, the first part of To the Sun, is twice as long as anything thus far, at eighteen and a half minutes. It takes its time, pitting that exploratory saxophone of Jean Jacques Duerinckx against a set of dark textures, sans any percussion, and, when it evolves, it does so into a commanding presence, as if this were an avant-garde opera. The latter part of the song gets all trippy and psychedelic.
I'm not as fond of To the Sun generally. It doesn't seem to have as much purpose to it, Heliozoapolis a fifteen minute jumble of hesitant jazz drumming, sitar noodling and ambient spirituality. It does end well for me, but it's easily my least favourite piece of music here and the rest of To the Sun pales when compared to To the Moon and especially To the Earth.
But hey, given how generous this release is, it's still at least a full album more originality than most albums can boast and I'm comfortable giving it a solid 8/10. The best music here is easily worthy of the highest ratings I give out. Now, I need to come back down to Earth for whatever I can follow this with.
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