I am late in writing this review. I’ve had this album since mid-August and have enjoyed it over multiple listening sessions since then. It deserved more prompt attention, and it deserves even more words than I’m devoting to it now. On the other hand, the album isn’t projected for release until early next year, so I suppose I’m not too late.
The name of the album is Downstream, and it was created by a part-Russian, part-Ukrainian group named Goatpsalm, whose ranks include members of another very good, but very different, band — Sickrites.
The music of Goatpsalm is spacious, mystical, shamanic. It conjures images of aboriginal rituals, as if holding the keys to dark communions with nature and with spirits that have been long lost to time. Some of this effect comes from the band’s frequent use of sounds from the natural world — rain, wind, waves breaking on a shore, bird song — and some derives from unusual instruments, such as clay bells and flutes, the plucking of a sanshin, the twang of a mouth harp, and from tribal rhythms that sound like the pounding of hand drums and the propulsive rattling of sticks on wood.
The mysterious and mystical aura of the music is also attributable to the dominance of the synthesizer in Downstream. On the low end, deep droning sounds build an atmosphere of ominous and morbid power, while shimmering, cosmic ambient waves swirl overhead and build into sweeping, panoramic melodies, accented by chiming guitars.
While all of the songs on Downstream make significant use of dark ambient and electronic music, sometimes touching the edge of industrial music, that’s only one aspect of the album. Yes, there is a meditative, and even narcotic, quality to the album, but it’s often heavy as hell and chilling, too.
Apart from the compulsive percussive rhythms salted throughout the album, Goatpsalm also introduce huge, jagged riffs, sometimes slow and trudging, sometimes hammering hard in a way that gets heads moving. The heaving glacial riffs in “Grey Rocks” and “Flowers of the Underworld”, coupled with the vocalist’s cavernous, freezing growls bring to mind the slow ravages of funeral doom — but in Goatpsalm’s case, they create an aura that’s both doomed and transcendent at the same time.
“Of Bone and Sinew” shows yet another side of the band’s sound. It rocks and rumbles right from the start and eventually makes its way to a big chugging rhythm — though it also features a slow, lurching stagger; an overlay of cosmic ambience; and the high, harsh howls that, together with those gargantuan growls and ghostly whispers, make up Downstream’s diverse vocal array.
Goatpsalm have a penchant for building their songs gradually, beginning with something simple and isolated and then adding layers of texture through the slow accretion of new looping sounds and instruments — and then moving off in different musical directions just as you think you’ve become thoroughly hypnotized. It’s the kind of album you can sink into, deeply, but it can be as physically jolting as it is atmospherically mystical.
Downstream is an hour long, with four of its seven tracks in the eight- to 14-minute range, but it’s the kind of album that really will carry you away. In your head, you’ll be far downstream from where you started by the time it ends — and for me it has been a trip worth repeating. I haven’t heard anything else quite like it this year.
Downstream is currently projected for release by Aesthetic Death Records in January 2016. Below, you can listen to the album’s second track, “Flowers of the Underworld”, which is accompanied by a video montage of beautiful landscape photography.