The Ancient Truths of Ambient
With a good thirty years of work with the likes of Maynard James Keenan and Rich under his belt, as well as being seen as one of the forerunners of the dark ambient movement, the reclusive Lustmord (real name Brian Williams) shows that there are still deep, soul-etched paths imprinted on the psyche to explore. His new album, The Word As Power, likely takes inspiration for its name and cover from the 1856 book by British philosopher and champion of eastern religious studies Sir John Woodroffe. And whether exploring the labyrinths of Brahman, or reaching down into the pits of soul quenching sounds, the album is quite the trip.
Finding a supreme reality in life is of course no easy task, but through his layering of foggy rumblings and unearthly bellowing choirs, it is clear that Lustmord likely hears an otherworldly call thundering in head most times of the day. “Abaddon,” the twelve minute second track blends passages of scorched wind thrushes and minimalistic percussion under the harrowing moan of mountaintop temples. It’s inescapably cinematic in its scope, which makes sense as he has produced several tracks of movie music in the past. Like some of the most affecting ambient music however, Lustmord is able to create the ambiance (no pun intended) of high intensity soundscapes, even if they brood and inch along like massive and encompassing cumulonimbus clouds.
This is extended even more so into a track like, “Chorazin,” which replicates the mood of every scene in a movie where an unexpected death, ritualistic or otherwise, is about to take place. By expertly panning and moving these small choirs of voices around the aural spectrum, he is inevitably able to create an almost physical presence to the track. Light feedback colors the scene with another shades of white smoke while the voices disappear and return down hidden alleyways. There is a reason they call it dark ambient to distinguish it from its lighter fare: This is feasible tension.
Invariably, with the extended lengths that are offered here and elsewhere in the ambient genre, the project of keeping things interesting is an important one. And though diversity is not the name of the game here, there are little nods to the listener just in case they become distracted. Slavic for the word “watcher,” the fourteen minute “Grigori” features a bewildering and guttural intonation towards the middle of the track that if not straight from a didgeridoo in underworld somewhere, is a thoroughly frightening manipulation of the human voice. Calling forth a cataclysms of haunting voices, this is the peak of the album in the best and worst sense.
Clearly, much like the book, The Word As Power is a dense experience that entrances at some points, and envelopes at others. However, it is always admirable when a composer is able to create the sense of more with less, as the echoing voices trail off in their meditations, only to return with the same power. Though it might be an exercise in endurance to finish it, it is nonetheless an enthralling listen if you take it on its own terms.