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Swadhisthana is one of Senmuth's earliest masterpieces. It's a great electronic folk album about Hindu religion, Indian culture and Central Asian lifestyle. Senmuth was influenced by some Indian movies he saw and this album uses some film samples and employs some church choirs and traditional female chants that sound very authentic and fusion perfectly with the instrumental work of our Russian workaholic. It's a majestic album, it has many catchy moments and its also danceable. It has a strong tendency towards Senmuth's experimental ambient works but sounds less overloaded and much more coherent.
From the beginning of the album on that kicks off with the brilliant highlight "Para-Brahma" the music is able to create images of Indian villages celebrating folk dances and chants. You immediately have a smile on your face and go on a cultural voyage of the grandest kind. The great thing about the album is that it sounds coherent from the beginning to the end and has no filler material even though the strongest tracks are probably placed in the beginning such as the memorable experiment with the strange title "Sakala-jana-kAmyAm".
In the end, this is the first record made by Senmuth that truly makes you discover a foreign culture in an authentic way. There are many more albums of that kind to come but this first try is easily among the strongest ones and touches a country that Senmuth didn't touch that often in his discography. It really feels as if he took more time and creativity to create those authentic songs than he did on his previous releases and is intellectually his strongest release of Senmuth's first year of multiple creations. Forget about Bollywood soundtracks or international folk festivals, this release here is all you need for your next curry cook night in candlelight with a beautiful Indian maid.
Four albums into Senmuth's career, and already, this listener/reviewer was been taken to a wide range of vistas through the music. Although he releases albums very closely together, I can see a development of his sound; the man behind the music is certainly not afraid to leave the shackles of heavy metal behind and explore new ways of expressing himself musically. While the album before this may have had a firm basis in the culture of China and Japan, 'Swadhisthana' takes us to the sands of the Middle East, and the spiritual lands of India. While this album may have been the most professional-sounding work he had done to date, most of the music is incredibly derivative from age-old Arabic traditional music and Indian Bhangra; material that we have all heard before at some point, and certainly not a style of music I find a wealth of enjoyment in. While this is one of the less enjoyable albums by Senmuth I have explored, I can easily see anyone seeking to look into the genre of Indian popular music or Arabic traditional finding a good deal of interest with this album.
Despite the fact that the music here is all produced on what the man behind the music of Senmuth dubbed a 'home studio,' things sound very crisp and professional. Also, for the first time in Senmuth history, the vocals consistently fit well into the music, and contribute to the overall sound in a productive manner. What makes 'Swadhisthana' a comparatively poor release in the overall scope of the Senmuth library then, is it's lack of real melody or noticable composition structure. More often than not, this feels like the soundtrack to an educational film on the Middle-East, than an album you would put on the enjoy for the music itself.
While I am (as always) impressed by the sonic arrangements here and the introduction of some strong female vocal work, 'Swadhisthana' is certainly not my thing, and I am under the impression that many listeners that were hoping for an exercise in strong oriental metal here will come out dissapointed. On the other hand, the album makes for some listenable 'background' music, and shows that with each album, Senmuth's execution of his music becomes all the more professional and polished.
Well, how to begin a review about one drop out of Senmuth's musical ocean? Praise his tireless efforts in producing music, almost like clockwork in their frequency and consistency? Why that should be clear to anybody who looks upon his discography and has at least listened to a small portion of it.
Compare it to some other album(s) and analyse how it fits into his musical journey? I could try, but I'm afraid that would make for a rather poor review as far as accuracy and validity is concerned. The problem is this: Although Senmuth is one of the artists I've listened to most these last months (though not by a large margin), I'm still a novice in his huge and wonderous temple of sound. I couldn't possibly approach his material from a general perspective, yet.
Okay, now that I covered this pesky little duty called introduction with notions of idiocy and irony, I can move on to more relevant parts.
What I can do to give you a better picture of what to expect is -naturally- to treat this very album from the limited viewpoint I thus far have, maybe cite a few other releases as counterpoints or reinforcing elements for whatever descriptive construct I might come up with. First and foremost though, my particular reviewing of this album will consist of the experiences and impressions I had when I first came across this album. This point is all the more relevant in its own right as it also was the first release by our trusted Russian workhorse fate had singled out for me.
Well, I owe fate one. "Swadhisthana" was an excellent choice for a proper introduction into Senmuth's zoo of wonderous creatures from all over the world. Some might object, but in my opinion the album is one of the best ways to show people what (one form of, I daresay) Senmuth is practically about: Crafting a homogenous black pearl out of goosebump-inducing ambient atmosphere, oriental and generally unusual melodic and textural arrangements mixed with some semblance of heavy industrial/doom metal. Or, at the very least, metal that conveys feelings of desperate awe in a cyclopean world, its grandeur and ...epicness?
It's along these lines that one important thing about "Swadhisthana" comes to light: being a force of its own. Not for the fact that it is pretty unique concerning sound and style (well, many things are among the Senmuth host, although "Kami-no-Miti" would be an adequate sibling), but also because it takes this autonomy and somehow also makes a strong statement about what to expect from Senmuth's other works. You can pull it out of the catalogue and impress whoever you'd want to impress with its harmonious mix of heaviness, exoticism and an otherworldy amalganation of the two that no one who appreciates it now knew of beforehand. Save to say, the music was upon me like scarcely any other. It didn't waste any time as well, the opener "Para-Brahma" makes it pretty difficult not to be instantly sucked into Senmuth's own interpretation of what a cybernetic Taj Mahal floating in space would look like (-replace with any other silly futuristic orientalism analogy-). Evil, ancient and savoury in its instant catchiness. An ominous horn beckons one in, quickly joined by spacey synth licks and tribal drum work, finally seasoned with a wonderful tremolo melody on some ethnic string instrument. About a third into the song, the vocal performance sets in and it's at this point that you pretty much know what you WANT to have coming your way. Namely, more of the same, and, thank Senmuth, your wish will be fullfilled.
As said, the first track pretty much sets the tone for things to come. Sinister beauty and timeless lands pristine when it comes to advances of the modern rational mind are presented to our ears in a manner so natural that seems to defy some of the inherently unfathomable aspects of such primordial dreamscapes. The atmosphere is incredibly thick, menacing instrumentation of all things ethnic and Indian sounding is all around, while heavy droning guitars show up from time to time to further accentuate a dark past of savage many-limbed war goddesses waging war against pre-sultanate civilizations.
For the record, I will not bother being precise with the ethnic instruments used (or imitated) and their exact nomenclature. I'm also lacking the necessary knowledge to address exactly what mythological or historical templates Senmuth used and referenced over the course of assembling this album. However, I don't think a full understanding of all these things is required to enjoy the music. Here, the instruments and themes transcend whatever purpose they originally had to be bent into the shape that makes this still a modern intricate metal album at its core. Or certain parts of the core.
The samples providing the vocal part are, to say the least, getting along perfectly with the rest of the music. To say the most, they appear almost to be specially recorded for the album. Goddamnit, those fuckers do their part so well, it's like Senmuth jammed away in front of some overlong Bollywood dancing scene in progress. The sung parts range from choral chanting to medium-range female leads, a male spoken word part in "kadAcit" and most saliently a high-register female wailing done in what I assume to be some Vedic/Sanskrit variant or similarily antique Indo-Aryan language. This last instance of vocal performance is in my opinion the most chilling of them all, as demonstrated on the ingenious last track "WreNi-ruciraH". This song has -along with a beautiful guitar solo, a thing the album at this point never really indulged in so shamelessly- a hauntingly beautiful vocal melody merging perfectly with the majestic horns/chanting/etc. resounding their thundering chord progression in the background.
Compared with some of Senmuth's more ambient stuff I heard this, apart from being relatively heavy, is so infectious and accessible that you could almost call it a downright rock album for a theme and style of its own making. This album probably provides the music blasting over drinking binges of the Vedic gods. It's so exotic and monolithic, yet entertaining through the careful insertion of enough hooks and pseudo-familiar textures. As pompous as it sounds, but after all, it seems, this album may have been created by gods for men. This proposition is not a crude quality assessment or an attempt at sucking up to its real creator, but more me trying to explain the galactic scope this album invokes, all the while managing to stay down to plain ole mother earth in certain areas crucial for a so-called "fun listen".
I'm always tempted to say that no one can entirely dislike such a creature of uniqueness if he confesses to having the musical taste spawning visits to this site, but thanks to a world proving me constantly wrong in this regard, I'm settling for the simple assertion that this will probably float the hell out of your boat if you're into gargantuan soundscapes, the union of the modern and the old, have a fetish for all things exoticly melodic and like even the most freakish children in your collection to emit moments of pure, old-fashioned and simple heaviness.
Recommended tracks: "Para-Brahma", "viWuddha-AtmA", "nayana-patha" and "WreNi-ruciraH"