Sunday, 13 November 2016

Album: EORÐESLAJYR - Häxan



Info: EORÐESLAJYR are an Irish experimental music group. At Hallowe’en just passed they released their debut album 'HÄXAN' - an album of music inspired by, and written to work as a soundtrack for Benjamin Christensen’s 1922 silent film 'Häxan' (aka ‘Witchcraft Through The Ages’).

'Häxan' tells the tale of Satan worship, demonic possession and the persecution of witches in medieval Europe. EORÐESLAJYR’s eclectic soundtrack emphasises the extreme hysteria of the witch hunts and the dark religious fervour it inspired through a constantly shifting, varied blend of styles; which ranges from heavy industrial doom and frenzied tribal cacophonies; to brooding textural ambiences and lush choral arrangements.

Info: When Benjamin Christensen made Häxan it was pitched as a documentary, with the filmmaker looking to highlight the misunderstandings between historical ingrained fears of the supernatural and mental illness. To maximise impact, he tirelessly sought out the most horrifying imagery he could collect to hold up a macabre reflection of the diabolical underworld to the faces of his audience, perhaps knowingly hinting that it was their ignorant fears that were the truly diabolical characteristic of the human condition. Of course, when reflecting on history, it is easy to be judgmental with the benefit of hindsight, on those who lived in an entirely different time. We now know, for example, that Lucifer was actually a pretty good guy, a death count in single figures compared to his former employer's genocidal tendencies, and a chap who thought we should embrace the instincts we were given, rather than deny them...anywho...!

Dublin's EORÐESLAJYR have created one of the most wildly experimental and magnificent Irish albums of 2016 in Häxan. Hands up I thought, hmm, is this a doom metal album from Finland? Purely based on the Nordic name of both band and album. No. It is not. This becomes wholly evident with the dark and beautiful opening track 'Surrounded By Nine Angelic Choirs', hell (!), even the name of the track is beautiful. Strings and gently clattering glass wisp gently through the air, the unnerving sounds of vocalist Sam Burton are surprisingly calming, and half-way through it's 8-odd minutes we find ourselves in a soundscape that is more Beach Boys than Enslaved, already hooked, I want to hear more.

Settling in for more ambience EORÐESLAJYR then throw my pre-conceptions about my pre-conceptions out the window and do hit it hard, on the gloriously ominous 'Uprooting The Seed', thick chugging bass and a feral vocal growl to go with it. The poetically titled 'In Decaying Dreams' reboots back to the album's beginning, another lengthy but not long feeling track, atmosphere is built with patience, allowing the listener to disappear into, well, a dream world. In an odd but really, really fulfilling way, Häxan is not only an ode to the film of it's title, but also recalls modern horror, I imagine myself as Patrick Wilson's character in Insidious, crossing over to the misty ether, or surrounded by the supernatural characters in a Pang brothers film.

While the album is dark, but not in a heavy way, it regularly reaches Agaetis Byrjun levels of sheer beauty, captured in 'Baba Yaga The Boney-Legged', haunting chimes and sometimes indiscernible vocals contrast both the demonic and angelic sides of the LP, and in case you are getting a bit too comfortable, the rabid cacophony of Hades crashes down on you for a manic 30 seconds near the end. 'Lullaby' does what it says on the tin, soft violin and tingling chimes giving an old folk feel, it's beyond pleasant, it's invigorating and would put a contemplative smile on anyone's face.

'The Old Horned One' sees Burton do a fine job of incorporating what sounds like ancient Chinese Buddhist monk chanting, a drawl that brings the past in close proximity with the tracks industrial sounds, which then intriguingly, albeit briefly, introduce a Western European Christian choir vocal. Ancient East meets Middle-Ages West. Alluding to the forced extinguishing of our most primal and natural instincts, 'Put To Death What Is Earthly In You' furthers the case for accomplished beauty and oddity in Häxan. The choral vocals sound amazing, but then make way for an almost science fiction ambience, there's just no end to the surprises here.

Like the intro theme to an apocalyptic film, 'Vigil' begins like a raging thunder, Thor's hammer pounds your senses, and the electronic sounds, in particular the manic beat and yet again, industrial percussion, are so well executed, it almost turns into some kind of anarchic mid-90's electronic dance explosion, with the mushroom cloud expanding and reversing frantically. Although it's theme has been touched on before now, the burning of the witches comes on final track 'Lead Me To The Steak', a subtle crackling wood sound effect flutters in the background, the sharpening of a blade, the hammering of a wooden steak into the Earth. Static overload reflects the burning, the pain, the agony and the injustice, but fittingly this makes way for a euphoric rising, the wronged individual has been set free, they've burned in the fires of Hell, but it was overground. 

The reason Häxan is such a triumph by EORÐESLAJYR, aside from the incredible sound and music within, is because it tells so many stories and brings you to so many places, whilst barely uttering a word. The Dublin band masterfully use sound, mood, atmosphere and our own imaginations, which we willingly hand over to them, to create a long-lasting experience.

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