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Opium Warlords, the solo project of former Reverend Bizarre frontman Sami Albert Hynninen (otherwise known to doom fanatics worldwide as Albert Witchfinder), are an odd proposition indeed. A vehicle for Sami’s more obtuse musical outpourings, Opium Warlords seemingly has more in common with dark, abstract free-folk acts like Sylvester Anfang II than it does much of the Reverend Bizarre material (although some of Sami’s trademark doom riffery still remains, naturally). Following a few years of inactivity after Reverend Bizarre called it a day, Sami is back with the charmingly titled ‘We Meditate Under The Pussy In The Sky’, an endearingly oddball collection of strange, disorientating sounds.
After the tense but fairly uneventful opener ‘Sxi-Meru’, the album’s epic 12 minute centrepiece ‘Slippy’ comes on like a more subdued Reverend Bizarre before exploding into an almighty aural mindfuck complete with awkward King Crimson-esque riffs and larynx lacerating black metal rasps. Alternating between incredibly still, stark passages and bafflingly frantic outbursts, the track conjures up a bizarre, eerie atmosphere whilst retaining an obscure sense of humour, building to a brilliantly crushing doom meltdown and subsequently collapsing into a cascade of feverish tribal drumming.
Side 2 ventures into doomier territory still, with the heady drones of ‘Lament For The Builders Of Khara Khoto’ and Quaalude laden riff extension of ‘This Wind Is A Gift From A Distant Friend’ casting a wonderfully gloomy shadow across the record. The latter eventually snaps under its own weight and gives way to a gently groovy folk tinged break, without sounding contrived at all. ‘Satan Knew My Secret Heart’ almost sounds like a rough sketch of a new Reverend Bizarre piece, stripped of any pounding drums and mournful vocals allowing the melancholy riffs to shine through, moping around for a bit until coming to an incredibly abrupt stop. It’s an interesting addition, but not the strongest contender for an album closer.
At a lean 35 minutes, ‘We Meditate…’ doesn’t quite allow for the same mammoth musical voyages that Reverend Bizarre’s finest records offer, but it also means that Opium Warlords are incapable of wearing out their welcome, with the record staying constantly engaging and surprisingly diverse throughout. It’s a pleasure to hear Sami branching out beyond the traditional doom blueprint and letting his imagination run wild, and whilst this may not be the most essential avant-folk-doom-whatever release of the year, there’s much to enjoy here for fans of Reverend Bizarre and fans of creepy, weirdly whimsical music in general.
[Originally written for http://destructive-music.com/]
Though the album title and the band's name here are both fantastic, and the chosen artwork fascinating, it does feel for the first few minutes elusive as to what the Opium Warlords are bringing to the table for their sophomore, since the opening instrumental "Sxi-Meru" is not 100% representative of the contents of the record's remainder. What we've got here is a curious excursion into psychedelic drone/doom, interspersed with long passages of bleak, folksy acoustic guitars, contrasted by the irregular eruptions into distorted chords and tortured howls that are almost lost in places below the volume of the guitar. I was somewhat reminded of the US act Blood of the Black Owl, only We Meditate Under the Pussy in the Sky isn't nearly so grim or ritualistic, promoting more of a wasteful, morose, rustic scenario that breathes cold air into its spacious compositions.
There are only five tracks here, and no two are entirely the same in structure, with various instruments taking the 'lead' in various phrases. All are performed by a single musician, Sami Albert Hynninen, who has also played in Reverend Bizarre and Spiritus Mortis (among others), and you'll definitely hear a measure of correlation with the bleakness of the former, in just how dry and agonizing the simplicity of the guitars can be. Admittedly, though, in the case of this album, that is indeed their chosen function. This is not an intricate, complex or nuanced album by any means, but a sheer outcropping of emotion borne on very authentic, live sounding drums, and minimalistic progressions of notes. Walls of melodies are eschewed for a countryside coldness, and you can really envision yourself sitting by a decayed wall, abandoned farm equipment or a withered tree stump in an overgrown, kudzu-infested garden as you listen through. Apart from this banal, haunting, outdoorsy aesthetic, though, you can't always determine precisely what will happen next. For instance, "Sxi-Meru" is a noisy, guitar intro which morphs from calm atmosphere to spikes of dissonant, metallic noise, while closer "Satan Knew My Secret Heart" is all fuzzed up and uplifting...apart from the fact that both are very loosely, almost spontaneously composed, they've not got a ton in common.
I did feel the disc was more effective when Sami was laying on the 'doom' element full-bore, as in the dour bass ruptures of "This Wind is a Gift from a Distant Friend", or the wide open, 12 and a half minute center piece "Slippy" which gradually develops into these raw, raucous guitars and booming bass curves. I would have liked more vocals throughout; these seem more like a dusting tease than a prominent component of the songs. Also, at least for myself, I found that the music was all but useless when I wasn't mentally positioning myself in the proper shadow it casts, a slightly overcast panorama of rustic sadness, whether naturally or artificially induced through substances. Hynninen's vision is in no rush to get anywhere even though most of the tunes are reasonably brief), so if you're in a hurry or tense environment it's not going to function for you much at all. Won't say I loved this, but it's decent when one can really grasp its 'mood', and if you've an interest in the more ambient side of drone, doom or extreme metal like Khanate, Sunn O))), Fell Voices, or Blood of the Black Owl, with a mildly folkish discourse, give it a listen.