Gygax – Lethe, River of Slumber Review
The album is called “Lethe, River of Slumber” [12th Records, 2011], featuring some great album art by Malleus, which some of you may know as the graphic geniuses whose work had graced the now defunct stonerrock.com and countless european gig posters.
First off, there are no traditional vocals or drums, which I guess is de rigueur for a lot of drone bands. Maybe someone out there could enlighten me. A little research into the band turns up their Facebook and MySpace profiles – which show them employing a Kamancheh to make some of the sounds on this record. I couldn’t tell you how they are making each and every sound effect here, but the kamancheh and whatever voice sounds are laden with effects to build these eerie soundscapes. And that’s what they are. Soundscapes.
If they indeed took their name from Gary Gygax, the genius creator of Dungeons & Dragons, my inner nerd salutes them, because this opus would make the perfect soundtrack to a long dungeon crawl. This thing clocks in at 1:07:23 for just 4 tracks! It’s no small task to listen to the whole thing in one sitting, but it is the best way to really experience this record.
So, here I’ll attempt to break this beast down, track by track, to diminishing effect:
Kicks off the album with an otherwordly repeating vocal or possibly kamancheh patterns backed by thick, crusty doom droning. Their Facebook profile shows an Orange and an Electric amp – from that info, you could start to imagine what types of tones I’m describing here. I’ve heard other doom records start with tracks like this. However, at 16:53, Gygax is definitely letting you know, with zero uncertainty, they are creating atmospheres.
Within the Arms of Morpheus
Fat doom drone kicks in. I might be ever-so-slightly retarded, but I hear a vocal pattern poking in and out of the doom. You know, I’m one of those guys that never pays attention to vocals, and consequently, usually get the lyrics all cocked up. So, what sounds like a voice to me here, could be anything. Mainly, you need to know that this track develops from the first. Thick and crusty.
Flight of Nyx
Machine noise. Or something. There is a noisy, higher register drone layered over a low, doomy drone. I imagine hearing this sound while coming upon an abbatoir somewhere in the depths of the Earth. There’s also some kind of wind instrument in the mix. I don’t know what it is. I’m terrible at describing this, except to say that it’s cool. Once you’ve listened to the whole album, this track makes sense in the progression – or, at least it did for me.
Tears of Somnus
Things quiet down a little bit here. Substituting for what you might call a vocal, is a kamancheh (I think?) drone that sounds like, well…spooky, stylized weeping. Hence, most probably the reason for the track name. Our weeping drone is backed less aggressive bass or guitar drones here and there, making for a wholly unsettling atmosphere. I’m old, so my frame of reference is the weeping sounds on Side 4 of the “Jesus Christ Superstar” vinyl from 1970. Specifically the track “The Crucifixion”. At least it had the same uneasy effect on me as I listened.
I’ve never really heard anything quite like this. Admittedly, I don’t seek out this type of band in my casual listening. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this album. For me, it makes a great background noise for doing creative things.
Cliched as it might be, I imagined this album playing behind Kubrick’s “The Shining”, almost immediately. It reminds me of what Wendy Carlos did on the OST for the movie. Maybe because I just got the Kubrick boxset. No matter though, because I think they would match up well. Better than Pink Floyd and The Wizard of Oz.