How far can you go in the creation of harsh, ritualistic noise and still term the results “music”? Sutekh Hexen test those limits with their new album Larvae — the first of their creations I’ve heard. They come pretty close to the bleeding edge — and I say that as someone whose musical diet is confined largely to the kind of extreme metal that 99% of the world’s population would scorn as “not music”.
I found a quote from a musicologist named Jean-Jacques Nattiez that seemed relevant: “My own position can be summarized in the following terms: just as music is whatever people choose to recognize as such, noise is whatever is recognized as disturbing, unpleasant, or both.”
Of course, I would disagree with that conceptual dividing line (and I suspect Sutekh Hexen would, too). Some of the most powerful metal is both disturbing and unpleasant, just as life can be, and I would still call it music — because listening to it is a human-generated experience that engages the mind and moves the emotions. Larvae certainly does that, and isn’t that what music does?
The album is a paradox: Though it’s often massively distorted, atonal, and violent, it’s also hypnotic. It’s often utterly unnerving, and yet it matches the explosiveness of rage with moments of hollow resignation and sensations of grief-ridden acceptance. Much of the music sounds like a massive turbine generator on the verge of going supernova, and yet it includes extended passages of subdued acoustic guitar melody that somehow don’t seem out of place amidst all the background static.
And as unsettling as the Larvae listening experience is, it’s one that’s likely to stay with you; it has certainly stayed with me.
The album consists of only three songs, but two of them are quite long: “Isvar Savasna” (9:40), “Lead Us In Warfare” (5:28), and “La Det Bli Lys” (Norwegian for “Let There Be Light”) (15:03).
The first two and a half minutes of “Isvar Savasna” are consumed by a cloud of strange, skittering noises. Although the skittering noise doesn’t abate, a muffled chiming of chords and a droning bass tone join the mix, leading eventually, at the 4:00 mark, to an eruption of distortion, barely human sounds of howling, and an attack of drumming. It’s an explosion of blurred cacophony that eventually subsides, to be replaced by a synthesized ambience and more droning bass tones until a final sensory assault leaves the sounds of wreckage falling to the ground.
“Lead Us In Warfare”, on the other hand, erupts almost from the beginning with blackened guitar chords, battering drums, and enraged vocals, all drenched in a storm of discordant turbulence. The storm’s intensity abates somewhat as buzzing bass grinding and eerie susurration become dominant. But of course that doesn’t last long. Screaming/chanting voices rise up, accompanied by the roar of what sounds like a distant battle being fought with photon weapons. The pulse of a beat becomes stronger, only to be drowned in static.
Speaking of static, the first ten minutes or so of “La Det Bli Lys” could be sub-titled, “A Concerto for Acoustic Guitar, Static, and Inhuman Voices”. Against the backdrop drone of low-level scratchiness and occasional mysterious noises (pinecones!), a tranquil guitar melody repeats itself while a dark, deep voice methodically intones words, and other, more unhinged speakers occasionally babble from hidden corners.
But having heard the first two songs on the album, I was pretty sure this one wouldn’t end before providing a good sideways skull-fucking, and so it did. The acoustic melody disappears and a heavily distorted series of repeating guitar riffs take its place, accompanied by an unceasing roar of abrasive howling, which might be a gale of electrified wind or mangled shrieks of agony or some mixture of the two. No less hypnotic than the long build of the first two-thirds of the song, it’s more disturbing by orders of magnitude.
Larvae envelopes the listener in a typhoon funnel of blackened ash and radioactive waste, and yet its riotous, richly textured discordance proves to be mesmerizing and moving.
Sutekh Hexen are Scott Miller and Kevin Gan Yuen, joined for the first time on this album by a sound manipulator and recorder of field samples, Lee Camfield. They live in the San Francisco area.
“Lead Us In Warfare”[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/2-Lead-Us-In-Warfare.mp3|titles=Sutekh Hexen – Lead Us In Warfare]
Larvae was released in late February on the Handmade Birds label and is available on CD from the label’s web store. Previous Sutekh Hexen sounds can be streamed here:
And finally, based on this report, it appears that the band is already at work on an LP/CD called Behind the Throne for Magic Bullet Records and should be available shortly.