Arktau Eos ‎– Catacomb Resonator

Arktau Eos Catacomb Resonator CD Aural Hypnox 2017

By way of background, the Finnish duo of Arktau Eos released their first three albums via Aural Hypnox label between 2006 and 2009, while the fourth and fifth albums were then simultaneously issued on Svart Records in 2012. Now after a 5 years absence Arktau Eos have returned with new material and again issued via Aural Hypnox, and although Catacomb Resonator is billed as the new ‘album’, in reality it features only a single track of 37 minutes in length.

Although all projects on the Aural Hypnox label can be broadly slotted under the ritual/drone/dark ambient categories, in the past Arktau Eos have displayed a greater degree of musicality and instrumentation than other roster artists, which on early albums made compositions feels to be more akin ‘songs’ than sonic ‘movements’. Yet that established approach has been forgone on Catacomb Resonator, given it has opted for a sprawling drone and vocal chant oriented framework. As I understand it, this album is a predominantly a vocal based work, where this both provides the focus and source material which has been subject of additional treatment and coupled with a minimalist backing of electronics (‘archaic bells’ are also noted on the cover as a sound input, but these are not individually detectable).

The use of word ‘catacomb’ within the title perhaps gives an immediate clue to the tonal depth and sonic reverb employed, which allows low deep chants to rise from the depth to central prominence, to then cyclically fall away only to rise and build again. Those vocal elements are then counterpointed by spartan synth elements which follows the same cyclic rise/ fall pattern.  Vocally speaking the chants do not appear to be articulating specific words or lyrics, and given the applied sonic treatments they resemble a drone ambient element. Likewise given the meditative and catatonic pacing of the track, it is very much a dark and minimalist sound you have to immerse yourself in to get the most out of it.

For me personally, I already have established favorite releases from the group which includes Mirrorion, as well as the sprawling double album Ai Ma Ra.  While for me Catacomb Resonator does not surpass either of those releases, this says more of its deviating approach than any sort of lack of quality, as regardless of my personal preferences all Arktau Eos releases to date have been of excellent quality (this included). Presentation wise Catacomb Resonator has been issued on both CD with screen printed foldout 7”ep sized cover, and on LP in two colour variations for the screen printed sleeve.

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Halo Manash – Elemental Live Forms MMV – Initiation

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Halo Manash – Elemental Live Forms MMV – Initiation CD Aural Hypnox 2016

First things first, this is not a new album from this Finnish ritual collective, rather it is a release which has been excavated from their past archives.  In this context ‘Elemental Live Forms MMV – Initiation’ functions to bring to light a series of previously unreleased tracks which were presented at Halo Manash’s first live performance in 2005, which itself followed their 2004 ‘Syoma’ album.  9 tracks or ‘movements’ feature herein, and despite each constituting part of an interlinking whole, they are contextually split under sub-headings of ‘The Trial of Bones’, ‘The Path of Fire’ & ‘The Ghost Ceremony’ to reflect the intended ritual cycle.

Musically speaking, the trajectory of Halo Manash over time has been one which has demonstrated an gradual evolution toward greater abstractness and musical restraint.  ‘Elemental Live Forms MMV – Initiation’ then differs ever so slightly from the ritually minimalist and amorphously ethereal sounds of later Halo Manash works. So although the music is clearly recognizable as that of Halo Manash, there is also a degree of musicality, drive and urgency here, which can perhaps be explained by that the material was presented in a live setting.  Yet this is also not to say that this album presents actual ‘songs’ or ‘melodies’, it is rather a case the synths, chanted vocals, structural loops and tribalised percussion is in the most part more forceful and driving than usual.

From the opening moments tribal floor-tom percussion, swirling percussive textures, snaking synths and ritualistic chants/ horns introduce the album, and from this point the listener is dragged into a dynamic 40 minute ritual ambient morass.  Although the tone ebbs and flows in intensity (depending on the track), and despite it ‘atypical’ musical form, the presented movements never feels improvised.  As a listening experience this is as strong as any other album within Halo Manash’s canon, but it can also be considered an important document of the evolution of the group from its earliest phase, given its sonic focus and drive which pushes ever onwards through the 9 presented movements.

Packaging wise, the regular edition features an 8-page booklet, 8 postcards and additional insert, all housed in an oversized screen-printed cardboard which upholds the instantly recognisable aesthetic of the Aural Hypnox label.  Also available in a limited special CD edition and limited cassette edition.

Halo Manash ‎– Haudattujen Valvoja

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Halo Manash – Haudattujen Valvoja CD Aural Hypnox 2015

Following the closure of the Forest Music ‘treelogy’ in 2009 (i.e. the trilogy of ‘Language of Red Goats’, ‘Am Kha Astrie’ and ‘Taiwaskivi’), Halo Manash returned in 2013 with the far more composed and musically focused released ‘Wesieni Wainajat’ (reviewed here).  Now a further two years on, Halo Manash have again resurfaced, where a shift back towards ritual ambient intent is noted.  With its musical scope being slightly rougher and droning in execution, evidently the seven ‘movements’ featured herein were previously presented live between 2013-2014 (in Russia Austria, Finland, Sweden and USA).  Furthermore the rougher ritualistic tone and focused droning atmospheres can then be put down to the use of predominantly homemade instruments and the methods of recording, which to quote from the album promo blurb: “the sonic-portals or liquid-entrances in ‘Haudattujen Valvoja’ are all authentic live recordings captured on tape with only two microphones in the group’s private Temple Hwaar”.

By way of providing a contextual link, the opening track ‘Wesieni Wainajat’, mirrors the name of the last Halo Manash album.  But unlike its more musical predecessor, sonically this track covers deep resonating bass notes, low whispered chanting and general catacombal ambience (cavernous echoes, dripping water etc.). ‘Aaveet’ then moves towards heavier and heaving sonics, as wailing atonal horns and distant metallic chimes provide tonal depth and (unobtrusive) atmospheric clatter, whilst ‘Kanto’ seeks slightly more focused paths, with a slightly woozy mid paced rhythmic bass throb which are coupled with a range of woodwind tones.  Late album track Haudattujen Valvoja’ then features as the most individually distinctive with its sparse but echo tinged percussive melody, coupled with distant drones and further whispered chants (in a word: entrancing). But without describing all compositions and their differences, it is of greater relevance that there is a high degree of tonal similarity across the 7 songs (and 72 minutes), which provides for all-encompassing ritualistic atmospheres to immerse oneself in such an elongated meditative journey.

If you have not been particularly taken by prior output from Halo Manash, ‘Haudattujen Valvoja’ will not alter your view; yet equally for all other devotees it is another mandatory journey into the netherworld of the spiritual subconscious.  Available in two editions; the first is the regular cardboard foldout cover with booklet and inserts; in addition to a beautiful limited versions which includes a rusted steel plate with special etched symbol and additional screen-printed inserts, all housed in a screen-printed cloth bag.

 

Aural Hypnox: recent batch of cassettes

The ever intriguing Finnish label Aural Hypnox continues their release campaign of special handmade editions from their expanding label roster. Here are four recent releases, all in limited special edition packaging and exclusively presented on the cassette format. Noting the stunning attention to detail that Aural Hypnox have demonstrated in the past to all sonic, visual and physical aspects of their releases; these new releases are further testament to their unwavering vision and perfect execution of it. A brief rundown on each is provided below.

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Aeoga – Impaled By The Midnight Chant MC Aural Hypnox 2014

Aeoga’s tape features two separate live recordings from 2014, yet both live recordings feature the same three interlinked compositions. As demonstrated by this tape, Aeoga are flag bearers for the recognised sound of the label; a sound which embodies the epitome of ritualistic dark ambient soundscapes built around sparse instrumentation, wailing ritual horns and sustained drones. As with much of this music presented within a live setting a cyclic approach is evident were there sound gradually builds to then fall away again, however on this tape the sound is quite a bit heavier and grindingly forceful than the bulk of Aeoga’s studio output. Likewise despite featuring the same tracks, both recordings (1 per side of the tape) come off quite differently in tone and feel, therefore warrant individual attention. Packaging for the tape includes an oversized cardboard box with screen printed insets and special package of incense.

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Lingua Fungi – Azure Beyond Aural Hypnox 2014

The recent Aural Hypnox inductees Lingua Fungi see their second release on the label in the form of this short two track cassette. The first of the two untitled tracks takes up Side A with sustained (mid toned) celestial tinged drones, which also embodies a slightly rugged and forceful edge to its cyclic revolutions. Sprawling out over a 10 minute span this first piece is generally subdued, but also too active to be truly meditative in tone. On the other hand Side B is far more musical in scope featuring a maudlin melody and plucked and bowed string instruments which intertwine within radiating and warmth exuding drones. Simply sublime. Oversized screen-printed cardboard box, inserts and special incense packet rounds out the presentation.

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Aural Hypnox – Underworld Transmissions III MC Aural Hypnox 2015

This third edition in the ‘Underworld Transmissions’ provides two more séance recordings from various members of the Aural Hypnox collective, which explains the use of the label name as the project moniker. Side A features ‘Séance IV / 2014 (July 2014)’, being a hazy atonal soundscape of shifting analogue drones and creaking sonorities which cyclically build to forceful sonic impact. Side B then features ‘Séance I / 2015 (January 2015)’, which follows similar sonic paths, although is imbedded with a more mysterious tone within its droning dark ambient frame. Both tracks are absorbing in a very positive way and packaging comes in the form of a small screen-printed cardboard box and mini-booklet insert.

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Templum N.R. – Spectrum CCCXC: Transitio MC 2015

The mysteriously named Templum N.R. are the newest addition to the roster, but evidently is the first and only release to be widely promoted, as all future releases can only be obtained by responding the subscription letter provided with the release.  The evocatively titled ‘Whispers Echo into a Monolith’ is the first of two tracks, where its title gives a strong ‘mind’s eye’ impression before the piece even starts.  Sonically it delivers a miasmic piece of pulsing analogue drones mixed with plenty of rough and scattered textual elements, ritualistic percussive sounds and swirling disembodied vocalisation to make a very strong and forceful initial impression.  The second of two tracks ‘The Glow Breathed Out from the Aphotic Depths’ seeks deviating paths and after a ritualistic chimed introduction it delivers a stunning piece of contemporary classical styled music, where cyclic violins motifs and deep bowed cello drive the tone of the piece with gradually building intensity.  Late in the piece some quite forceful trial percussive elements and chanted vocals drive the piece to its conclusion.  Oversized screen-printed cardboard box and inserts and canvas patch rounds out the packaging, and with the focused force of the music it will be extremely interesting to see how the Templum N.R. concept evolves.  Recommended.

I.Corax – From Goldem Flesh to Silverb One / Kuilu

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I.Corax – From Goldem Flesh to Silverb One Aural Hypnox CD 2014

I.Corax – Kuilu CD Aural Hypnox 2014

After recently inducting I.Corax into the Aural Hypnox fold, the release campaign of the project’s back catalogue continues.  Here we have two additional reissues of earlier I.Corax albums dating from 2003 and 2004 respectively, both of which were released on the short lived Finnish record label Blue Sector.

Up first is ‘From Goldem Flesh to Silverb One’ which is credited as a live studio rehearsal which was recorded in preparation for a live performance in September, 2003.  This album spans 46 minutes with 8 interlinking untitled tracks, thus unfurls as a singular long form compositions.  Embedded within the core of the album is a hazy disorienting tone within a constantly morphing and enveloping aura.  As such the album broadly covers an animated atmosphere of layered looped elements, including wailing ritual horns, with other passages spanning serene widescreen ritual/ dark ambient soundscapes which to a degree reminds of the atmosphere of label mate Zoat Aon.  Other passages seek tensile droning ritual ambient atmospheres underscored with prominently layers of natural/ nature based field recordings, throbbing bass undercurrents, sparse ritualised chimes and twisted unintelligible vocalisations.

The next album ‘Kuilu’ was issued in 2004 its original form, however the recording itself dates from March 2002, being a live recording of I.Corax’s first live performance. As such 4 tracks spanning 40 minutes (6 to 13 minutes each) evoke sweeping and darkly brooding atmospheres which is a touch less animated and slowly paced when compared to ‘From Goldem Flesh to Silverb One’.  ‘The Face of the Sun’ opens proceedings with subdued but shimmering looped structure, where additionally sound elements and disorienting vocalizations are gradually added to greater swirling miasmic effect. This piece bleeds directly into the next tracks ‘Menhir’ which follows a similar sonic template of loose loops and scattered sonic elements but introducing a slow thumping ritual beat to provide a greater degree of focus.  Alternately with its sparse swilling structure, distant widescreen drones and low sporadic bass thumps ‘Tephra’ follows a more straight forward dark ambient sound, whilst the final of the four pieces ‘Animus Desertis’ concludes the album in a style and sound reminiscent of 1970’s space synth music, complete with darkly brooding galactic toned echoed/ droning/ sweeping synth lines and microtonal/ scratching sound elements etc.

Noting that the more recent studio recorded material of I.Corax incorporates a greater degree of synthetic elements and encompasses an overarching swirling, chaotic and at times disorientating atmosphere, these two earlier recordings are somewhat more controlled and seem to be underscored a greater reliance on actual played instrumentation.  As such this would seem to be the sonic by-product of these recordings being derived from a live setting, rather than the more complex studio recordings from the project.  As per the established visual aesthetic for Aural Hypnox, the packaging for both constitutes beautifully designed screen printed cardboard covers, with a range of printed inserts and booklets.  Both albums are available separately or otherwise housed together in a hand-made silkscreened cloth pouch in a limited edition of 77 copies.

Halo Manash – Se Its En

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Halo Manash – Se Its En CD Aural Hypnox 2014

This CD is not a new album for Halo Manash, rather is the release of their super limited debut album from 2003 which was issued in an edition of only 100 copies.  Accordingly the liner notes associated with the original version provides useful context: “Se Its En is an album dedicated to seven specific dreams I saw between November 2002 and February 2003. Basically every track is an individual separate part, but when they are listened in a given order they form entirety – A guide to transformation, to dynamic wholeness. Se Its En perfects the whole”.

Noting the central focus of later Halo Manash albums is a reliance on played instruments and ritual percussive implements, this debut differs in that organic instrumentation is coupled with a far more prominent droning synthetic base.  As such the sound and atmosphere is drive and underpinned by melodious and sustained analogue synthesiser generated notes, where combinations of sparse percussion provides a general sense of structure within selected tracks.  Additionally low whispered to garble chanted vocalisations add to the spiritual and ritualised atmosphere.  The format of the album follows a reasonably focused and strict format of 7 tracks, equally exactly 7 minutes each, yet with the tracks morphing and interlinking into each other, as with most of Aural Hypnox’s releases, they form singular enveloping album length meditative journeys.  Halo Manash have always operated in the regions between dark ambient and ritual ambient, overall ‘Se Its En’ typically leans towards a dark ambient framework, with some ritual ambient elements incorporated for good measure.  Yet interestingly it is the fifth composition ‘Ulterior’ with its prominent tribalised percussive drive partially reflects a sound and style of Halo Manash’s latest album ‘Wesieni Wainajat’.

Although that the personal preference of this review leans more heavily towards Halo Manash’s organic ritual ambient style found later albums, ‘Se Its En’ is still a fine debut and demonstration of where the project began and where they have evolved over the course of subsequent albums.  Packaging reflects the current Aural Hypnox format of cardboard fold out sleeve, and printed screen printed booklet and inserts.

Lingua Fungi – Melankhton

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Lingua Fungi – Melankhton CD Aural Hypnox 2014

Via this release Aural Hypnox has expanded their label roster to include the Finnish comrade Lingua Fungi, whom incidentally this reviewer has not come across before. However for contextual sake this addition makes complete sense as the individual behind the project (Jaakko Padatsu aka OAK) is an integral part of the Aural Hypnox label.  With a bit of background research it is noted that Lingua Fungi has issued some 7 releases since 2006 (including tapes and collaborations), and although ‘Melankhton’ was issued in 2014 the album was recorded, mixed and mastered in 2006.  Noting this is the first album heard by Lingua Fungi and that this material dates from the earliest days of the project, it is unclear of how this fits within the scope of other albums.

On face value this album fits within the broader ritual ambient oeuvre of the Aural Hypnox label, however what sets it apart is that it is also most musical, evidenced through the use of prominent use of acoustic guitars.  Thus the sound of Lingua Fungi is one where a backing of field recordings and abstract drones are coupled with focused melodic musical passages. Also with the project self-describe themselves as “acoustic drone and ambient”, this is quite on the mark.  As such compositions are structured around a bed of nature based field recordings (crackling fire, babbling brook etc.), over which the droning textures and more prominent musical elements are laid.  The use of clean/ acoustic guitars is also subject to studio treatments where on the opening track ‘Wavy Guests’ the acoustic guitar and percussion has been sampled and played backwards for twisted effect.  The later section then ramps up into full musical guise with mid paced prominent bass guitar and driving percussion and again coupled with looped backwards musical elements to achieve a wonky disorientating tone. Of the melodic musical passages some segments prominent acoustic guitars and hand percussion of middle-eastern melody structures are utilised, with the second track ‘Departures’ being a particularly strong example.  The title track also builds on this general format but includes woodwind instruments for added musical effect.  Yet that said not all musical passages are middle-eastern tinged, give the track ‘Detached’ has a floating, forlorn and melancholic tone to the melodic acoustic guitar.

Of the 5 album compositions all are between 10 to 12 minutes each, thus allowing a general sparseness for the overarching atmosphere to slowly evolve, noting also that each piece moves through a number of distinct drone focused and musical structured segments. Although squarely of the tribal and ritual ambient sound of Aural Hypnox, Lingua Fungi elevate it into far greater musical realms with excellent result.  A recommended surprise.