Bass Communion: Cenotaph
Akhet's self-titled release came about rather serendipitously when Dirk Serries and Paul Van Den Berg visited Marc Verhaeghen at his Belgium lab one night in 2007. The friendly visit quickly turned into a jam session, with the hour-long Akhet (the term, incidentally, is Egyptian for “horizon”) the result and, at least as of this writing, a one-off. Sonically, the project works well in that all three voices have room to maneuver and assert themselves, and even though Van Den Berg's razor-sharp guitar playing can't help but be heard as the lead voice, Verhaeghen's sequencer pulses form a rhythmic counterpoint for both Van Den Berg and Serries' atmospheric textures to unfold against (and, for the record, Verhaeghen's ultra-radiant patterns in the fourth piece certainly do challenge the guitarists' for front-line status). There's little drone-like about the album's four excursions (all in the thirteen- to sixteen-minute range); instead, the material feels largely rooted in the cosmic synthesizer style associated with Faust, Amon Düül II, and Ash Ra Tempel, though Van Den Berg's serrated attack possesses a raw bite reminiscent of Robert Fripp's that makes Akhet more resemble the kind of thing a Fripp-Klaus Schulze collaboration might produce. To their credit, the three don't settle for lazy, repetitive jams but instead bring an aggressively explorative attitude to the project, seemingly intent on breaking free of customary habits and making the most of the liberating opportunities their union, however temporary, offers. As a result, a given piece moves through multiple passages, becoming more violent at certain moments and more restrained at others, and moments of molten slow-burn alternate with cauldrons of turbulent activity throughout.
Given Steven Wilson's (Porcupine Tree) choice of Cenotaph as the title for his latest Bass Communion opus, no one should be too surprised to discover that the recording's general character is brooding and unearthly (one dictionary defines cenotaph as “a sepulchral monument erected in memory of a deceased person whose body is buried elsewhere”). For the sake of convenience, one might think of the album as somewhat of a Gas-Chain Reaction hybrid, given that its material is as vaporous and dense as Wolfgang Voigt's Gas and is as deeply textural as the Porter Ricks and Fluxion albums issued by Chain Reaction many years ago. Wilson's Bass Communion project is likewise one with a long history, considering that the first recording surfaced in 1998 and that a long string of others have appeared since, including Ghosts On Magnetic Tape (Headphone Dust, 2004) and Molotov And Haze (Important, 2008). In the opening piece, wailing souls longing for peace hover over a thick, amorphous mass of crackle and dust. Six minutes into the nineteen-minute setting, a muffled bass drum emerges to give the material momentum, and the pulse remains solidly in place thereafter, a firm foundation for the cross-currents of wails and tones that billow overhead. The smog lifts to some greater degree in the subsequent piece, as the insistent thump of the percussive elements declares itself more clearly and with better definition, even if the piece itself grows ever-more haunted as it unfolds. The most Gas-like of the album's four settings is the industrial-drone third, where occasional melodic fragments are almost buried under an ultra-thick cloud of dust and fog, whereas the fourth exhumes the spirit of the third for one final march through opaque fields of crackle and grime. It's the perfect soundtrack for those who like their overcast skies filled with rusted flakes of metal and the moans of disembodied ghouls.