Artist: Zero Kama
Title: Live in Arnhem and The Goatherd And The Beast
Label: Athanor Records
Genre: Ritual Ambient
02 Quabalistic Cross
03 Seven Nights Of Tantra
04 The Call Of The Aethyrs
05 Prayer of Zos
06 2CR11 (Love Always Yieldeth)
07 Pygmy Dance
08 Inauguration (Of The Pleasure Dome)
09 Kyrie (BDSM version)
Bonus track : Zero Kama interview, Radio Stad, Amsterdam
01 Prayer Of Zos
02 Seven Nights Of Tantra
03 Liber AL I.13
05 Post Mortem : The Sea Of Cefalu
Zero Kama has long been a fashionable name to drop in ritual ambient circles. The project was founded in 1983 by musician Michael DeWitt, and at the time, contemporaries of Zero Kama who were also engaged in the creation of post-industrial music with a heavy occult influence included the British groups Psychic TV, Current 93 and Coil, and the Italians Ain Soph. Unlike all these other bands, however, Zero Kama’s manifestation on the material plane was brief and fleeting. The band ceased to exist in 1986, having released only one album, The Secret Eye Of L.A.Y.L.A.H., which appeared on cassette on Michael DeWitt’s own Nekrophile Records label, as well as a handful of cassette compilation appearances. This obscurity has only added to Zero Kama’s cult reputation – after all, anyone who’s sufficiently interested has long been able to discover what early Current 93 or Psychic TV sounds like, whereas Zero Kama recordings have been distinctly more elusive. The Secret Eye Of L.A.Y.L.A.H. was given a CD release in 1991 on French label Permis De Construire , but that has long since been deleted, and French label Athanor collected Zero Kama’s compilation appearances under the title of The Goatherd And The Beast for a limited edition vinyl release in 2001. This material comprises disc two of this new CD release.
During the group’s brief existence, Zero Kama only gave two live performances, in Amsterdam and Arnhem. The first CD of this set is a recording, released here for the first time ever, of the September 1985 show at De Doos, a famous squat in Arnhem at the time. The show opens with ‘V.V.V.V.V.’, a track named after the magical motto assumed by Aleister Crowley when he ascended to the rank of Magister Templi, and this begins with a recording of the voice of Crowley himself. I find myself, not for the first time, wishing that there were a few more Crowley recordings in existence. The only extant sound recordings of The Great Beast 666 were made onto wax cylinders between 1910 and 1914. They have been released in numerous editions, including a vinyl LP released in 1986 by under the aegis of Current 93, and have also, predictably, been sampled to death. I must have heard the same crackly old recordings used by at least 20 different bands, putting Crowley on a par with Charles Manson and the film Hellraiser as the most clichéd and overused sample sources in the entire industrial music scene. To give Zero Kama their due, they must have been among the earliest, if not actually the first, users of these Crowley recordings. It’s about time there was a moratorium on any further use of them, though!
After this, the music which fills the CD’s nine tracks ticks all the usual occult ambient boxes – ritualistic droning chants, frenzied invocations, bells and gongs, heavy tribal drumming, discordant wind instruments, all are present and correct, and sounding very much like any number of present-day acts. It’s startling to reflect that this recording is over 20 years old. The pounding drums and wailing shenai of ‘Seven Nights Of Tantra’ are a dead ringer for KnifeLadder. The lengthy ‘Prayer Of Zos’, with lyrics taken from Austin Osman Spare’s paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer, sounds just like one of the many versions of ‘Unclean’ to be found on Psychic TV’s mid-80s live albums. The drum’n’flute workout of ‘Pygmy Dance’ could easily pass for C.O.T.A., Terroritmo or Psychonaut. The sound quality of the live recording is only passable, really – there’s a lot of crowd noise, and I’d guess that this was recorded onto cassette by someone in the audience. As a historical document, though, ‘Live In Arnhem’ is of considerable importance, and if you like any of the other bands mentioned above, you should check out Zero Kama. There’s also a hidden bonus track on the CD, which is a radio interview with Zero Kama originally broadcast on Radio Stad in Amsterdam in September 1985. The questions are asked in Dutch and answered in English, and topics covered include the construction of ritual instruments from skulls and bones, the Qabala and sex magick.
The second CD of this set contains five studio tracks taken from Zero Kama’s compilation appearances. The first two tracks, ‘Prayer Of Zos’ and ‘Seven Nights Of Tantra’, were originally released in 1985 on the Nekrophile Records cassette compilation The Archangels Of Sex Rule The Destruction Of The Regime, alongside tracks by Ain Soph, Sleep Chamber and, interestingly, Ewald Spiss, who now records neo-folk music under the name Jahrtal. ‘Prayer Of Zos’ differs from its live version in that there are prominent rock guitars and bass on it, making it sound a little like SPK or Einstürzende Neubauten. ‘Seven Nights Of Tantra’ is still dominated by the shenai playing of Michael DeWitt, though primitive electronics howl and drone in the background.
The next track, ‘Liber AL I.13’, is the sole remnant of an abortive Zero Kama project to set Crowley’s Book Of The Law (a.k.a Liber AL) to music. For all those who don’t know Liber AL by heart (what’s wrong with you?), I.13 is as follows:
I am above you and in you. My ecstasy is in yours. My joy is to see your joy.
The lyrics (not simply a repetition of the above) are snarled out over shenai, conga drums and dirty, buzzing guitar. at under three minutes, though, it’s over all too soon. This track originally appeared on the vinyl compilation Q.E.D. in 1987. The following track, a studio version of ‘V.V.V.V.V.’ is in fact the very earliest recording of Zero Kama. Originally released on the 1983 Nekrophile cassette compilation The Beast 666 alongside works by Coil and Hunting Lodge among others, this retains the monastic chanting and chiming tingshas of the live version, though the recording of Crowley’s voice is absent. The final track on The Goatherd And The Beast is not actually by Zero Kama at all – it’s a field recording of the sea at Cefalu in Sicily, the site of Aleister Crowley’s infamous Abbey of Thelema, made by Post Mortem, a.k.a. Kadmon, who is better known these days as Gerhard of the Austrian experimental project Allerseelen, and who must have been a wee lad when he recorded this!
The five tracks of The Goatherd And The Beast add up to 22 minutes, which would make a rather insubstantial release by itself, but as a bonus to the live album, this second disc is great. Athanor are to be congratulated on making this material available again, in a move which will be welcomed both by aging 80s esotericists eager to replace their crumbly old cassettes and younger ritual ambient fans curious to see what all the fuss was about. Athanor has also announced a forthcoming CD re-release of Zero Kama’s studio album, The Secret Eye Of L.A.Y.L.A.H.