I don’t know whether this is true in other countries, but here in the U.S. our holidays have become ritualized celebrations (each with their own distinctive personalities) that have very little to do with what they were originally intended to commemorate. And so it is with Thanksgiving. As for the holiday’s historical antecedents, The Font of All Human Knowledge tell us these things:
In the United States, the modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is commonly, but not universally, traced to a sparsely documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest….
Thanksgiving proclamations were made mostly by church leaders in New England up until 1682, and then by both state and church leaders until after the American Revolution. During the revolutionary period, political influences affected the issuance of Thanksgiving proclamations…. As President of the United States, George Washington proclaimed the first nationwide thanksgiving celebration in America marking November 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God”….
Thanksgiving was first celebrated on the same date by all states in 1863 by a presidential proclamation of Abraham Lincoln. Influenced by the campaigning of author Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote letters to politicians for around 40 years trying to make it an official holiday, Lincoln proclaimed the date to be the final Thursday in November in an attempt to foster a sense of American unity between the Northern and Southern states….
On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday. Two years earlier, Roosevelt had used a presidential proclamation to try to achieve this change, reasoning that earlier celebration of the holiday would give the country an economic boost.
We now live in a time when many people challenge the legitimacy of a holiday that’s associated with the beginning of a European invasion of the continent that ultimately led to the decimation of indigenous peoples and the isolation of survivors on reservations. But I would guess that on Thanksgiving Day most Americans don’t think very much about the holiday’s origins.
Instead, it’s simply welcomed as an occasion to get together with family and friends, to consume mass quantities of seasonally appropriate food and drink, and to prepare for the relentless onslaught of “the holiday season”, i.e., the paroxysm of consumer spending that precedes those other ritual days in December when people are left gasping and exhausted after their bank accounts have been drained and credit cards maxed out. Hallelujah!
Don’t get me wrong — I’m really not as cynical about Thanksgiving as the preceding paragraphs might lead you to believe. I enjoy stuffing myself with stuffing, and all the other delectables associated with the day (while trying not to think too hard about turkey genocide), and I look forward to seeing most members of my little family gathered together in one place for a few hours (though for various reasons, that’s sadly not happening this year). But perhaps most of all, I do think there’s something to be said for a holiday that reminds us to reflect upon things for which we should be thankful.
In my case, I don’t mean thankfulness to a deity or deities, because I don’t believe in ’em. I mean thankfulness to people — I’m thankful to the people who care about me even when I don’t deserve it, thankful for all the good fortune I’ve had in my life (including a fucking day job that mostly leaves me free to indulge my blogging obsession), thankful to you for patronizing our putrid site, thankful to all the artistic people whose creations we celebrate here at NCS.
And so, as you might expect, this leads me to a slab of metal for the day.
As usual, I’m drowning in new music I want to explore, but what I did this morning was to immerse myself solely in an album called Dýrtangle. That’s a name that has no literal translation in any language, but could be thought of as meaning “in rough embrace of the beast”, or so says the one-man band who created the album: Ego Depths.
Ego Depths is the project of a Ukrainian musician now based in Canada who calls himself Stigmatheist. Drawing primary inspiration from the music of Finland’s Unholy and literature about ancient Tibet and Mongolia, he has released three albums as well as music for a handful of splits. Dýrtangle is the fourth full-length, due for release on December 15 via the Dusktone label, and the entire album is now available for streaming on Bandcamp — and stream it is what I did this morning, and for that I give thanks to Ego Depths.
Dýrtangle could be considered funeral doom, but it’s an unusual form of funeral doom, in which spectral, reverberating guitar melodies, soul-crushing riffs, and the deep, ritualistic rumble of drums are joined by exotic instruments such as the dan moi (a Vietnamese jaw harp), the damaru drum, a Tibetan flute called the kangling, and in the final nightmarish track an Armenian flute called the duduk — as well as throat singing and chants (along with ghastly wails and shrieks, strangled howls, terrifying cavernous roars, and even muted clean vocals).
The music is hypnotic, mystical, and haunting, with extended periods of dark ambience that feel like sonic astral projections, and it reveals a lot of dramatic, melancholy beauty in the pervasive gloom.
It’s also frequently frightening, conjuring images of vast, blood-freezing, desolate landscapes cloaked in shadow, where the few remnants of life have taken the shape of wraiths and the stars are winking out, one by one. Now and then, there are terrifying eruptions of violence among the phantasms that dwell in this blasted place.
Three of the album’s five songs fall in the 18 – 29 minute range, and so taking in the entire album requires a big investment of time, and freedom from distractions. But there’s nothing monotonous about this fascinating journey; the time spent is richly rewarded. It’s an unusual symphony of doom, a long, deep drop into an alien abyss with no bottom, the kind of immensely powerful, immersive listening experience that beckons your imagination to take flight, leaving your worldly cares far behind. It has quickly become one of my favorite doom albums of the year.
Dýrtangle will be available for order from Dusktone here. The CD booklet includes the artwork at the top of this post, created by the same artist who made the album’s cover seen above.