Celestiial and Blood of the Black Owl
July 8, 2008
There is a great glyph on the back of this mighty split LP of grim forest after-metal, a rune beast that looks like figures I’ve seen on Scandinavian rock art. It, and the name of the label—Bindrune Recordings—is already an invocation of sorts, and it both charges and seals the storm of lament in these analog-only grooves. One side is devoted to “While Depths Dove the Red-Eyed,” a 17-minute tune from the shadowy and superb one-man act Celestiial. Now I’ve sifted through a fair amount of gothic ambient music, forest metal, and dark folk looking for this sort of sepulchral traditionalism, this sense of ancient mysteries seeping up like clammy moisture through the moss underfoot, and most of it is as corny as clove cigarettes and black nail polish. In contrast, Celestiial’s haunting and glacial Desolate North album made me feel like I was alone and paddling into a dark fjord toward some ancient whale cemetery that was way spookier than the one I vaguely remember from that Disney movie I saw as a kid. I finish listening to this record feeling cold and clean.
“While Depths Dove the Red-Eyed” claims to have been captured “in sunless houses…” and I certainly see little light in the dark pedal tone that sounds continuously beneath a wash of frigid mist during the opening section. A distant horn sounds a melody, like a loon’s lament for a warrior. Or a god. Or a biosphere. Cause that’s what I hear in the wordless scream that rides across the slow flailing riffbeast agon this song becomes: a primal scream for the gone world, for the wilderness that is barely possible as a category of thought, let alone a real territory of the unfucked-with, of unmanaged wolves. And that’s what makes this music more than a pagan soundtrack. This scream is not trying to frighten. This scream is in pain, but not for itself. In the outro, we hear a dark rumble and then a bewitching olde ayre plucked on what sounds like a medieval harp, as birds twitter in the background. It is unutterably sad, and the sadness sounds strangely like home. In these days of ravagement and extinction, nature mysticism only announces itself in memoriam. Perhaps such eco-laments are rear-guard, counter-productive, proto-reactionary. But as the emotional dimension of a soundworld that so well recalls nature’s hoary old correspondences, Baudelaire’s foret des symboles, they sound true.
The funereal cast continues on side two, with Blood of a Black Owl’s equally epic “Contemplating the Death of an Old Friend.” Blood is a band from the Pacific Northwest, and I discovered their sometimes crude but atmospheric self-titled album along with Celestiial and listened to it about as avidly. A dawn chorus of birds decorates an almost Eno-esque drift of melancholic bass and organ (second side of Before and After Science to be more specific). The tune grows into an almost Isis-like slab of slow space metal, like some Sigur Ros Nordic sunset soul reborn in the clammy fogs and perpetual rains of Washington State. Drifting off course into more contrived sense of drama, the song’s barked lyrics become a sort of Spook Theatre radio play monologue about lost souls. Throat singing, mournful horns, and shamanic antler rattles keep the textures rich and resonant, and a steady drum beat subtly introduces America’s aboriginal paganism into the tune. Though the band don’t hit the ambitious mark they have set for themselves—they declaim more than they contemplate—there is a raw sense of organic integrity to this music. Recorded during the Autumn equinox, and completed during the following full moon, it is an authentic heathen metal dirge—garage shamanism.