Mauta Tala, the name of Sarpa‘s new EP which we’re premiering today, translates to “Death Rhythm” from the ancient Sanskrit language. It’s the solo work of David Baxter from Austin, Texas, the drummer of Plutonian Shore and a former member of Skrew and Škan. We’re told this about how he conceived the music:
“David Baxter wanted to write a completely chaotic song, followed by a more mellow, yet still dark sounding passage. Day and night. Sun and moon. The music was mostly influenced by the time he spent out in the American Southwest desert, which is why it includes the sandstorms and other related sounds. The EP starts with the storm, which blows in the chaos, then ends with the storm, after which the music gets swallowed back up into the void.”
Consistent with this explanation, the EP consists of three tracks, two of them very long and one in the middle that’s considerably shorter. The opener, “Arcane Rites – Tohu wa Bohu“, floored us when we first heard it, and spawned these impressions while still in the throes of exhilaration after hearing it:
Invoking ancient mythological names such as Charchurel, Apep, Set, and Tiamat, “Arcane Rites – Tohu wa Bohu” tells a tale of wrath and ruinous war, of fiery annihilation and the dissolution of all reality. In its music, the song is a nearly 12-minute madhouse-carnival of sound, twisting and turning in dazzling and discombobulating ways.
With riotous energy and a free-wheeling creative spirit, Sarpa leads us on a wild chase through twisted realms behind racing, demon-eyed stallions of black and death metal, and a few other hybrid genre breeds. Ruination at the hands of supernatural forces may be the concept, and the song is indeed martial and savagely warlike at first, but there’s a ferocious and even joyful kind of delirium that rapidly blooms in the song’s intricate and evolving surge.
Flickering and calliope-like guitars rise up through clattering percussion and masses of boiling yet diseased-sounding riffage. Guttural growls transform into scorching howls and crazed chants. Rapid electronic pulses join together with a bubbling bass and a pinging cymbal. Guitars buzz like humongous killing hornets and swivel and swarm. Chords clang like warning bells, signaling a mainly instrumental finale in which the riot subsides and things get both head-hooking and entrancing, but pretty dark and unnerving too.
And then comes that shorter interlude track, “Necropoleis of the Nebulous Deserts“. It’s an intriguing collage of sounds that perpetuates the EP’s head-spinning impact, albeit in a different way. Among those sounds are dim and distant swaths of abrasion, ritual drums and other percussive tones that come and go, flickers of electronics, and voices of different shades drawn from an ancient land.
And finally, you will reach “It Looms“, another saga-sized excursion that rivals the EP’s opener in its startling twists and turns.
“It Looms” is eerie and inviting in its opening phases, thanks to scratchy yet still somehow celestial swirls of sound, but with a big rhythmic pulse and monstrous guttural chants in play as well.
That phase is both mystical and primeval in its atmosphere, providing a prelude to an eruption of off-the-hook drumming and searing, skies-on-fire melody. Writhing and whirling arpeggios and slashing chords surface when the opening sequence recurs. The vocals rise into exultant snarls, and the surrounding music elevates as well into an aural vision of daunting grandeur, still exotic in its atmosphere but panoramic in its scope.
Near the middle of the song, the electrifying drumwork vanishes, yielding the floor to the interplay of reverberating notes that resemble a haunting organ. Take your breaths there while you can, because the drums return in another electrifying display of percussive acrobatics, and the music again soars, but seems more frenzied and desperate. The rhythm begins to stalk and stomp, creating sensations of dread in advance of a calamitous crescendo that sounds like a destructive avalanche in the midst of a firestorm.
At the end, it does indeed sound like a storm, opening a portal into the void.
In a nutshell, Sarpa‘s new EP will leave most listeners bewildered and bedazzled, addled yet addicted. In the shell of an even smaller nut, these death rhythms are a hell of a lot of surprising fun. See for yourselves:
Mauta Tala was mixed and mastered at Trepan Studios by Tony Petrocelly, and he and David Baxter engineered the recording. The drums were recorded and engineered by Clifton Miles at Stone Creek Sound.