Friday, October 10, 2008

Halo Manash - Language of Red Goats (2008)

Mystique is an important but elusive concept. Like charisma, it’s not really something you can strive to acquire. You either have it or you don’t. And the Finnish underground label Aural Hypnox has it in spades. I’ve been absolutely hooked on their releases ever since the first one, Par-Antra I: Vir, also by Halo Manash, appeared in 2004. Since then, they have maintained enviably high standards, releasing a mere nine CDs, by Halo Manash, Zoät-Aon, Aeoga, Arktau Eos and Aural Holograms. I own eight of these pieces, most of which have been reviewed here on Judas Kiss, and every single one of them is excellent. Very few other labels I can think of have been so consistent, although the Seattle-based Glass Throat Recordings, home of Ruhr Hunter, The Elemental Chrysalis, Beneath The Lake and At The Head Of The Woods, also springs to mind. The personnel behind the Aural Hypnox releases maintain a studied anonymity, and there is considerable interchange between the various projects, so it makes sense to think of them collectively:

…the personae involved in Halo Manash is not central – rather it is the face of Halo Manash itself that is at the heart of all. The members of Halo Manash are the Dream that It dreams, the mask that It wears.

Language Of Red Goats is the fifth release of Halo Manash, and their third for Aural Hypnox. There have also been the Se Its En CD-R release on Blue Sector in 2003, and the r.A.S.H.n.k.a-RA DVD and vinyl LP which appeared in 2007 on Kaosthetik Konspiration. Halo Manash’s music is dense, ritualistic ambient, thick with occult signification and the potential for producing altered states of consciousness. It’s so potent that if the government ever finds out about it, they’ll probably make it illegal. As the press release puts it:

Guided by nether nectars and dream herbs, oneiric visions and the light of lunar tides… Language of Red Goats aims to be a cartography of cavernous elemental realms and regions, sources and springs that run deep and thick with the fluids of life, death and dream. What was seeded at the Thin Veils has been gathered at Harvest time, and is offered to the seeker as a libation and guide into the ever-liminal, shrouded spaces, for dream-vigils and awakenings.

If nearly any other band said something like this about their music, I’d dismiss it as pretentious piffle, but Halo Manash put their music where their bold rhetorical claims are, and fully justify them. Don’t be driving or operating machinery whilst listening to Halo Manash. No, seriously. And you needn’t just take my word for it – search the internet, and you’ll find it littered with reviews written by people who’ve been driven a bit nutty by listening to this stuff.

The three lengthy tracks on Language Of Red Goats are officially untitled, but the sleeve contains three cryptic texts which it’s tempting to regard as song titles. The album opens with the 22-minute ‘Through The Gate Of Horn - Slithering Spiraling Fluttering - Shrouded Messengers Gather’. It’s immediately apparent that Halo Manash have stripped down and refined their sonic armoury. Language Of Red Goats deploys only acoustic instruments, including gongs, singing bowls, bells, and wind instruments, as well as field recordings of birds. There are no keyboards or synths here – this is an entirely organic trip. Parallels can of course be drawn with the work of other creators of ritual acoustic music, such as Ruhr Hunter, Hati, Chaos As Shelter or Exotoendo, but these parallels are beside the point. Sublime and impassive, the music of Halo Manash exists within its own hermetic realm, sufficient unto itself. Austere yet resonant, these sounds reverberate through the most elemental aspects of your psyche. This is music from before music existed, the music of the earth singing to herself before the dawn of time, music which seems to have been mined rather than composed. Deep, smooth gong beats vibrate though space like a planetary heartbeat, answered by mournful, wordless cries, wading birds lost in a fog. The album also seems less threatening in tone than previous Halo Manash releases. Maybe I’ve just got desensitised, but Language Of Red Goats feels quite calm and placid compared to the restless chaospheres of Par-Antra I: Vir or SYoMA. (Incidentally, whatever happened to Parts II and III of Par-Antra? That was supposed to be a trilogy.)

The next two tracks are ‘Feast On The Bitter Fluid - Flowing Through The Lips Of Her Vulgar Womb - Ingest Inebriate Initiate’ and ‘Earthen Wheels Turn - Shifting Chariots Of Moon - Drawn By Red Goats’, but actually, it’s difficult to tell without checking the player exactly where one track ends and the next begins, and it’s more accurate to regard Language Of Red Goats as a single 50-minute piece divided into three parts. In any case, you’re in for a deeply absorbing journey to the underworld once you start listening to Language Of Red Goats.

Aural Hypnox have always displayed the most painstaking attention to detail in the packaging of their releases, and Language Of Red Goats upholds this proud tradition. The album is a limited edition of 920 copies, and it comes exquisitely presented in a custom-made, cross-shaped, fold-out sleeve of roughly textured, deep red card, with hand-stamped artwork, including a cover image of a herb which I feel confident in identifying as mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). Mugwort has considerable associations with magic and witchcraft, both in its own right and as a member of the venerable Artemisia family, sacred to the moon goddess Artemis, and which also includes wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), the principal ingredient in absinthe and Artemisia tridentata, the sacred sagebrush employed in traditional medicine and religious ceremony by American Indians. Mugwort is no doubt enjoyed by goats too! And all this elaborate packaging is just for the standard edition, mind. There also exists a deluxe, 71-copy, boxed edition whose intoxicating aesthetic delights I shudder to contemplate.

For those sufficiently initiated and illuminated to have experienced an Aural Hypnox release before, merely being informed that there is a new one will suffice to energise the engines of desire. For those who have yet to discover their otherworldly darkling joys, Language Of Red Goats is as good a place to start as any – you’ll be speaking with a goat’s tongue in no time. All hail Aural Hypnox! May your revelation sunder the veil of illusion! May your blessings rain down upon us like the urine of the gods! So mote it be!
Review taken from Judas Kiss.

01 - Through the Gate of Horn - Slithering Spiraling Fluttering - Shrouded Messengers Gather
02 - Feast on the Bitter Fluid - Flowing Through the Lips of Her Vulgar Womb - Ingest Inebriate Initiate
03 - Earthen Wheels Turn - Shifting Chariots of Moon - Drawn by Red Goats



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