Genre: Experimental / Dark Ambient/ Neo-Folk
01 Wave Rolls
02 Cambry (Hart of the Chyld)
03 Full Spectrum Dominance
04 Gnawer From Beneath
07 Tomorrow Never Knows
08 Peat Fire Flame
Even the most experimental, adventurous and creative music can seem brittle and false. It is a sad story, but despite the heroic attempts of so many underground musicians to articulate new universes of expression by smashing conventions there are few unequivocal successes and few articulate voices.
Into this state of affairs return A Minority of One. With a line-up of notoriously magical artists (band leader Jason Hovatter Craban plus Markus Wolff, Jason O’Neill-Butler, Arrowyn Craban and James Woodhead, with guests John Murphy and Manzanita Craban) I had very high expectations that Bathe In Fiery Answer would unleash a torrent of creative power in shattering the forms of musical expression.
If anything this album exceeds my lofty hopes.
The cover art of this digipak release presents stone and moss and one of Jason H. Craban’s remarkable leatherwork images – Nidhogg, the serpent/dragon – devouring the Tree. This imagery is primal and darkly rich, and as such provides a faithful door into the music itself. Jason’s reflections in the booklet are thoughtful and articulate.
There is also a limited edition leather-bound version which looks fantastic judging from the photographs I have seen.
Whereas so many artists lack the creativity to express anything at all once they’ve abandoned form and convention, AMO1 seem to be just hitting their stride as the rules get dispelled. Nothing on this record has been done in order to be clever or emptily referential. Pure expression and spirit bursts from the seams of this recording.
A word on the general atmosphere: this music feels old. Not like medieval, not like Palaeolithic, but more like tectonic. Great beings, lurking in the primordial mists of the earth’s history, have reached across the eons and set this band to work as their musical vessel. The result seizes one by the reptile brain and greedily devours.
The music is generally minimal. Primitive drumming, singing chimes and clattering percussion; shadowy sibilance and echoing sounds falling away into caverns of aural darkness; beautiful nature samples, commanding choral vocals, eerie croaks and groans; arrangements that open spaces rather than define concrete melodies or themes.
There are the kinaesthesia-inducing swells and tides of the acapella "Wave Rolls"; the consciousness-stretching epochal transformations of "Cambry (Hart of the Chyld)"; and the almost Dionysian cries of Jason and Arrowyn Craban’s daughter Manzanita as she ranges across the plains of her imagination in "Full Spectrum Dominance".
The strident horns and driving 5:4 rhythms in "Cambry" also draw out the bestial forms that dwell within subterrania and I imagine this track could drive an audience just wild when performed live.
"Gnawer from Beneath" invites us into the deepest shadows of the album’s theme of compost and rot (and this is definitely an exploration of nigredo in alchemical terms, both musically and thematically).
We find ourselves almost possessed when the menacingly divine spoken word of "Lungs" takes control of proceedings, and driven into stately frenzy by its development and unfolding in "Breath".
"Tomorrow Never Knows" affectionately takes John Lennon into menacing realms the old Beatle would never have dared traverse himself.
The journey then carries us clear with the marvellously beautiful "Peat Fire Flame", an old tramping song woven from drums, flutes and voices, and which feels like a turn in the spirit of the album.
It feels in fact like, after the extended underworldly travail filled with nightmares and dissolute mystery, the journey finally begins to turn back to the surface. There’s a weary optimism here that I can relate to – and the whole album to this point is like a microcosm for all dark journeys of the heart.
The final track, "She" is the most distinct on the album due to its much more conventional instrumentation (some smooth bass and atmospheric guitar alongside the voices and primitive drumming). This of course is partly because the music has been adapted from a Beatles track.
On "She" Arrowyn Craban unleashes an impassioned evocation derived from an old Anglo-Saxon magical spell; the words seize on one’s unconscious in fractal ways, triggering strange associations, before the track trails out into mist and provokes us to press "play" again before we even realise the journey is over.
It is a mark of distinction that this album can make familiar instruments and music seem novel and alien to the listener’s ears, but that is how this track strikes me as the conclusion of Bathe in Fiery Answer.
Even as it invites us to delve down again, "She" also completes the album’s turn in trajectory, though it is by no means a neat or overly-convenient resolution and leaves plenty of space for the ambiguous and impossible odyssey to continue where it wills.
For an experimental/ambient release, Bathe in Fiery Answer is a very vocally driven album. Along side the dark bass choirs (mostly provided by Jason C. and Markus I think) we find Jason O.’s soaring voice; Manzanita’s war and hunting cries; a host of dark and mysterious animalistic beast noises; and the languid drawl of "Lungs".
The last two tracks continue the remarkable vocal offerings of the album, with some very heart-felt singing on "Peat Fire Flame" and Arrowyn’s compelling performance on "She". It takes much courage to place vocals centre stage in music as adventurous, open and conventionless as this; AMO1 are more than equal to the challenge.
Similarly, the band’s ability to radically re-imagine other peoples’ words and music is inspiring. Tracks like "Lungs", "She" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" are not just covers but total transmogrifications of past works into profound new forms.
In an age where digital artists attempt with mixed results to reassemble new forms from old sound fragments AMO1 have forged ahead and successfully shown the way for all those seeking to assimilate and transmute their musical predecessors – take what you love and rework it so that it feels utterly alien to the original, yet more right and true to the music’s essence than perhaps even the original was.
Form and essence reflect one another beautifully on this album, for surely the concept of decomposition and collapse is borne out in the music’s structural fragmentation and openness, its reliance on primal vocals, trance-inducing chimes and bellowing drums.
I find that this music can really creep into my consciousness, like a dream that encroaches on the hazy line that marks the boundary of waking awareness. Listening to it repeatedly places me firmly on the hedge between worlds; dank water laps at my feet and the smell of mud, moss, fungus and rain swells the tide of blood in my veins.
As mentioned I feel that the last few tracks lead us back towards sunlight, though with deep insights gleaned from the shadows and suffering and rot. This final turn is to me a powerful magical act. This is deadly real music, an undiluted conduit of power and breath and primal life-force which transcends the mortal humanity of its creators.
Wreathed in smoke and shadow, coiled around Yggdrassil’s roots, Nidhogg would be proud of and warmed by the raw animism and jagged grace of this ground-breaking sonic opus.