Following up The Lord‘s (aka Greg Anderson) debut full-length Forest Nocturne comes this collaborative effort with Petra Haden; daughter of legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden who during his lifetime collaborated with free jazz pioneers Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. In the 1990s Petra was a member of alt-rock/power-poppers That Dog, teamed up with her siblings in The Haden Sisters and has an intriguing solo career, particularly the brilliant a cappella albums Petra Goes To The Movies and Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out, both of which I highly recommend.
Devotional is not the first time Haden has teamed up with Greg Anderson having done so on the second Sunn O))) album ØØ Void as well as with his other outfit Goatsnake. Both the album’s artwork and title imply spiritual overtones and according to the promo notes, inspiration came from an interest in the life of Ma Anand Sheela and the Rajneesh movement. Sheela, the spokeswoman for the movement was notorious for her role in the 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack, add to the mix the esoteric liner notes by The Cult‘s Ian Astbury and you have all the ingredients for a fascinating listen.
Devotional has Greg Anderson‘s heavy droning guitar and Jade Davitt‘s (Engine Kid) steady percussion providing a highly effective back-drop to Haden‘s brilliantly dynamic vocals. Like a Buddhist chant in times of high stress, it offers one a chance to reflect and meditate. The vocals on Rise To Diminish take you by surprise and are absolutely harrowing in places, mirroring for me what is happening in Iran (my mother’s homeland) at the moment. The track for me is reflective of the cries of the Iranian people who are bravely fighting for freedom against a thoroughly evil regime.
Greg Anderson’s heavy droning guitar and Jade Davitt’s (Engine Kid) steady percussion providing a highly effective back-drop to Haden’s brilliantly dynamic vocals…
What Lies Behind Us Lies Buried Because It Is Dead marks the album’s halfway point and is its longest track at nearly twelve minutes. After the darkness of the preceding number, it feels ethereal by comparison, Petra‘s beautiful violin offsetting Anderson‘s unrelenting chug. This definitely tips its hat to Earth and their relatively recent Primitive And Deadly and 1993’s Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version albums, as a fan of that band I fully appreciate this.
Ma Anand Sheela takes its cues from Indian classical music ala Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussain both in its guitar tones and vocalisations, and also reminds one of the work of bands such as OM who too were inspired by devotional music. Yama according to the definition I found on Wikipedia, represents the ‘Hindu god of death and justice, responsible for the dispensation of law and punishment of sinners in his abode Yamaloka or hell’.
There is a tasty psychedelic element present which reminded me a little of the darkness of The Doors in contrast to the clichéd late ‘60s San Francisco flower power hippy nonsense; meanwhile, The End Of Absence again embraces the Indian classical music tradition of Ma Anand Sheela and there is something uplifting about this number that puts a light in my heart as I listen to it. It’s possible this was the effect Anderson and Haden were going for, making it an ideal conclusion to the album.
There are many artists who have embraced Indian devotional music and concepts such as melodic hardcore crew Shelter, the aforementioned Sleep drone offshoot OM and even J Mascis (and Friends) on his Sing And Chant For Amma album. However, few have conveyed it as convincingly as Anderson and Haden and in a chaotic world, this is an album that makes for required essential listening.
Scribed by: Reza Mills