The Fire of a Fallen Angel
It feels like forever since the last full-length Secret Chiefs 3 album. In fact, it’s been just shy of four years since Trey Spruance’s ever-evolving band released Book of Horizons, a jaw-dropping dissection of their many stylistic approaches to music that began a promised trilogy called Book of Truth. In spite of a detailed and articulate battle plan to address each of these musical methods, no release date has been announced for part two, Book of Souls. Without warning though, the band has released a new album as part of the massive John Zorn compositional series Masada Songbook Two, Xaphan: Book of Angels Vol. 9.
As opposed to previous efforts where various players were recorded separately, this outing finds Secret Chiefs 3 recording as a complete band. Xaphan is a stunning interpretation of Zorn’s notoriously dissonant compositions. Once again artfully combining Spruance’s myriad influences, “Akramachamarei” bounds forth with surf guitar tremolo and soaring delay-ridden violin, while “Shoel” slams violent percussion against a sighing keyboard drone and a walking jazz bass solo. “Bezriel” envelops listeners with an instantly catchy three-note bass melody and a one-chord metal blast, creating spacious texture through flutes and splashy cymbals before driving the prime motif home.
Some tracks (“Balberith” and “Kemuel”) show Zorn’s decidedly improvisational imprint, patiently wading through nuanced solos from keyboards, guitar or violin. It’s songs like “Asron” that provide the shock and awe though, galloping through dueling guitar and violin licks, simultaneously embracing squawking keyboards and speed-picked palm-muted guitar with such precision and glee that three-and-a-half minutes feels like a fully realized story. Before coming to an ominous conclusion, fluttering harp plucks and a distant choir against a deep chasm of endless distortion on “Hamaya,” only one question remains, “More, please?”