There comes a point when listening to a record becomes more of a religious experience than a musical one. Queen Elephantine’s 10th release is one such experience. Indy Shome and his merry musicians from the NYC have once again crafted a singular flowing piece of belching doom chords, ringing Middle-Eastern tanpura twangs and neo-gospel vocals to accompany the thematics of Tibetan Buddhist mythology.
A short release for a full length, ‘Garland of Skulls’ wastes no time in dragging you across a floor of distorted bass for 30 minutes plus. The simplistic bass riffing becomes so repetitive that before you know it the record has nigh on finished and you’ve been swallowed up into a hypnotic trance for a half-hour! It’s sometimes difficult to tell with such long and disjointed pieces of instrumentalism, quite what is written and planned songverse, and what is simple improvisation to fill in the gaps. Vocals are few and far between, and when they do surface it sounds like a trio of lonely church-goers praying to the dead at dusk inside a cavernous and isolated cave. It’s certainly far from cheery on all accounts as half-riffs drop down off-kilter, like tombstones collapsing under the humid weight of damp smoke in a deserted graveyard. When drums do kick in and some form of tempo is set, the tanpura (a sitar-like creation) becomes the instrument of mystery, shaking off conventional string arrangements to create a nervous ambience; uncertain and eerie in its textures.
It’s hard to make comparisons to the dense, suffocating atmosphere here, which is almost drowning in a pool of its own wonder. Sleep’s ‘Dopesmoker’ comes close with its hour-long droning riffs and almost liquid heaviness, but Queen Elephantine are one step beyond, kneeling at some long-lost stone altar in the middle of a snow-smothered winter forest of pines. This music is primal, raw and natural in its composition, and with the master of the decks himself Mr Billy Anderson’s name proudly billed in the mixing position, the heaviness of the guitars is dutifully cranked up to add an extra weight crushing down on the skull behind the ears. The swirling noise-box sounds echoing out of the final title spook the mind to the same effect as seeing a UFO briefly settle down on the Earth to dump some trash, having a quick peruse around the local villages before vanishing silently and undetected into the night. Jeepers.
Another strong and forceful record this from the prolifically active New Yorkers. Each listen produces new sounds that previous attempts glossed over, and ultimately this is not a piece to listen to whilst doing anything else as it will be over before you even realise it has begun. Anderson’s impact pays its due with those bassy guitar riffs rumbling like church pews in a summer hurricane and the volume of the notable silences inflicted between the musical motions further exaggerates the sheer weirdness of the concoction brewed.
A difficult and partially unhinged outing, ‘Garland of Skulls’ leaves you feeling as if you’re walking out of a monastery, enlightened by the confusion you’ve left behind.
Check out the video for Part 3 of ‘Garland Of Skulls’ below.
Scribed by: Pete Green