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There isn't too much that is wrong with this split. I really can't think of anything. I just don't like giving out 100% because I might have missed something. These two bands are part of a mysterious, heavily nature-orientated funeral doom metal sound. The music is very slow, sometimes exhausting, with very long songs (the two on this clock in at around 16 minutes each). The best thing about the music on this split is that it puts you into a trance.
Celestiial is a very interesting band because they use a cello to get a very draining sound that really does help inducing a trance, and there is no better song than this one for trance creation. The climax of is one of my favourite parts of any song ever. It is mind-boggling.
The Blood of the Black Owl side is far more aggressive with a very loud, booming drone and percussion to start off the song. The song is a little faster than the Celestiial track and it varies a little more. The track changes from mid-paced aggression and yelled spoken words in the distance to crawling, slow, deep throat rumbling chants. The Native American aspects are very evident in BOTBOs works through the use of different rattles, flutes, and horns, etc.
This album is an excellent album to "zone out" to. If you feel like forgetting your life, then just play this LOUD, light some incense, and enjoy the beautiful dissonance that personifies nature in these two tracks.
The best split releases are those that feature unreleased material from two or more artists that have already smitten you. This would be one of those cases, a showcase for two of the best bands in the US to produce a hybrid of backwoods ethnic vibes, funeral doom tones and brilliant, flowing ambience. I cannot imagine a better pairing for such a release, and once again Bindrune brings the quality.
Celestiial is a beastly trio from Minnesota, featuring Tannder Anderson on the vocals and guitar (Autumnal Winds) and Jason Walton (Agalloch) on bass. Their debut Desolate North was impressive, but in truth I prefer this new track "White Depths Dove the Red-Eyes", a nearly 17 minute sprawling vista of scintillating ambience, a rise and fall swell of steadily shifting percussion and bleak rasping vocals. The band's commitment to the empty beauty and purity of our northern US regions is fully translated through both the sorrow and glory of their minimal compositions, an aperture of rural exploration.
"Contemplating the Death of an Olde Friend" is a darker piece, but just as mesmerizing. Chet W. Scott is the man behind Blood of the Black Owl and also the man responsible for bringing you this release. Again chiming in at the 17 minute length, "Contemplating..." opens with a mesh of repetetive strings, flutes and grizzled distortion beneath the cerebral black pitch of Scott's narrative vocals. After three minutes, the track 'devolves' into an ambient underpining with some sparse guitar plucks, beautiful tonal vocals and remains along this course until the end, in which the creepy black rasp returns to bury the coffin.
This is a fantastic split effort, and the fact you can't get the tracks elsewhere makes it an essential acquisition. Both of these acts are among the cutting edge of what the USA has to offer in terms of our own ethnic identity, our own culture. So many post-black metal, ambient black or funeral doom bands have shit to offer by comparison. Celestiial and Blood of the Black Owl have much to offer, their full-lengths are uniformly wonderful and the material here is no exception. Expressive, original and hypnotic.
The first vinyl release from American label Bindrune Recordings brings together two well-matched funeral doom projects, with each of them filling one side of this record with a single 17-minute track.
First up is Celestiial. This is the Minnesota-based band’s second release, following 2006’s debut album Desolate North, also released by Bindrune. Celestiial is the solo project of Tanner Reed Anderson, and Celestiial’s side of this release is entitled ‘White Depths Dove The Red-Eyed’. The song opens with breathy forest atmospherics of birdsong and dripping water, unfurling into a low, buzzing keyboard drone which gradually builds in volume, cut through by keening flute notes repeating a mournful refrain. This section is virtually dark ambient, but after a few minutes a slow, shambling beat and anguished vocal cries usher in the doom. The guitar has a warm yet engulfing presence, with smooth transitions between notes which make me wonder if it was e-bowed. The overall sound is organic and earthy, yet brimming with melancholy, as if the forest were singing a lament for its own destruction. The guitar and drums fade out to what sounds like a bowed cello (the record insert offers no information on Celestiial’s instrumentation), before the beat is picked up again with a faster, more urgent section of busy double bass drum work pounding away behind the cello and gasping, sobbing vocals. Then the drone which opened the track wells up again, obliterating all the other instruments and creating a void which is filled by an archaic plucked harp melody as the track concludes.
According to Bindrune Recordings, ‘Celestiial was created to mirror mysticism in nature,’ and this nature mysticism is readily apparent here. ‘White Depths Dove The Red-Eyed’ is a complex and accomplished piece of funeral doom which augers well for the next Celestiial album, whenever that might appear – although Tanner Anderson works slowly, so don’t hold your breath. According to Wikipedia, Celestiial’s follow-up to Desolate North will be produced by Chet Scott (of Blood Of The Black Owl, Glass Throat Recordings etc.), so apparently the collaboration between these two musicians extends further than this split release.
Flipping the record over, we come to Blood Of The Black Owl (BOTBO hereafter). BOTBO was originally the solo project of Chet Scott, but for this limited-edition split release, Chet was joined by guitarist and vocalist James Woodhead, who also plays with Chet in The Elemental Chrysalis, and the lyrics were provided by Daniel Ellis Harrod, who also wrote the lyrics for BOTBO’s second full-length release A Feral Spirit (reviewed elsewhere on Judas Kiss). As with many of the projects and releases associated with the Glass Throat Recordings label, there’s a distinctive tight-knit tribal feel around these artists and their various interlocking and overlapping collaborations.
BOTBO’s side of this split release contains a single track entitled ‘Contemplating The Death Of An Old Friend’. As usual with BOTBO and Ruhr Hunter releases, a rich array of instrumentation is used on the recording, including guitar, dulcimer, flute, drums, rattles, gongs, organ, harp and environmental recordings. The track opens abruptly with a sudden dissonant explosion of sound, trundling along on a solid foundation of mountain dulcimer, with wooden flute notes floating eerily over harsh, reverbed vocals. This section has a trancy, timeless atmosphere, the relentless fusillade of dulcimer notes seeming to create a shimmering veil behind which time and motion are suspended, but this energetic opening fades away to leave only a field recording of birdsong. A tolling bell heralds a section of sombre organ and the high, ethereal vocals of James Woodhead, which provide a nice counterfoil to Chet Scott’s hobgoblin growl. The eventual return of bass and drums beefs the sound up into a doomy dirge with a clammy, oppressive atmosphere, as Chet recites the morbid lyrics in a theatrical, rasping whisper: “No spirits remain… No ghosts reside… Only do they live… As the wind blows… Cold… & the earth is still… & silent.”
Chet’s vocals for BOTBO have attracted some criticism from various quarters – personally, I prefer the frenzied shouting style he employs in BOTBO’s noisier moments to this kind of declamatory style. After this vocal-dominated invocatory section, there follows a kind of shamanic breakdown, with antler rattle, horn blasts and throat singing leading into a low pulsing heartbeat drum, the reverbed vocals eventually fading out into silence.
‘Contemplating The Death Of An Old Friend’ is the longest track from BOTBO to date, but it splits into four distinct sections. I feel it needs more of the raw metal of the opening section – the energy raised at this point is dissipated through the more restful middle part of the track. BOTBO’s aspirations to fuse shamanic, pagan and environmental themes with heavy, aggressive music are admirable, but it seems like they haven’t achieved a perfectly coherent fusion just yet. Still, you can feel the fierce passion in this music, and I'll take something that’s passionate, primitive and true over cold, classical perfection any time.
This release is strictly limited to 500 copies, and the tracks will never be available on other releases or formats. The 180g black vinyl comes housed in a high-quality sleeve with moody brown and black artwork and a colour insert. An unspecified number of copies come with silkscreened patches for both bands. Both James Woodhead and Daniel Ellis Harrod have now joined BOTBO as permanent members, and the third BOTBO album, entitled A Banishing Ritual, is currently being recorded, and is due for release in 2009.
This review was originally written for Judas Kiss webzine:
A pretty good idea for a pairing, these two artists; both do that whole pagan hippie thing rather well, with a very similar aesthetic but yet a rather different sound. I'm normally a bit reluctant about splits as it seems that bands often use it as an occasion to offload some b-sides, but this is probably the best work I've heard from either of these guys. Combined with the simple but excellent packaging and overall this is a quality slab of vinyl.
I was wondering what was going on with Celestiial; the last album was sweet in all of it's reverb soaked, foresty glory but the guy seemed to have disappeared for a few years. What he's got here isn't all that different from his previous works, although it's a good deal more sun dappled and prettier. It's a gorgeous sound really, the drums slowly belting away a slow dirge, the processed to hell growls, a heap of foresty samples and the guitars swelling up with a warm, cavernous tone that suggests Celestiial love the first Sigur Ros album. Things gradually get more lush and resonant, but the whole thing never really resolves in a satisfactory manner; the drums go on an inspired freakout but a few more guitar layers would've made this really, really good. As it stands it's still a great piece of forest-y funeral doom but it stops short of being a classic; a shame because it was really close. Regardless I'm really looking forward to whatever this guy does next.
Blood of The Black Owl really exceed themselves (himself?) with a rather ambitious song that works rather well. The typical BoTBO sounds are here- crushing black/doom, those annoying spoken/shouted "hillbilly in the darkness" vocals, the forest-hippie instrumentation. This is easily the best it's ever worked, though. A thick death/doom meets suicidal BM dirge kicks things off, before a doomy theme kicks in and everything gets repetitive and just incredibly immersive, an intoxicating riff and a very nice arrangement of said forest hippie pipes and flutes all going off. It's a simple sound that is nonetheless extremely powerful; a great trip out of a tune that just gets better and better as the song goes. Fantastic stuff, really, although points off for the whole "credit yourself with heaps of instruments" thing on the liner notes. Seriously dude you're not impressive anyone, no one cares that you can play ‘Percussive Ocean Harp' or whatever.
A few nit picks, perhaps, but this is still a great LP that's decent enough value (34 or so minutes). Fans of doom and funeral doom who are also tree huggers will undoubtedly love this to death; I'd also recommend this to people with a boner for that sort of foresty, pretty black metal stuff, as this is basically that slowed down a lot.