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RMEDL/K11 - Chthonian Music [Cold Spring - 2012]

Cold Spring have rescued 'Chthonian Music' from total obscurity by reissuing this 'transposition' of an underground, multi-channel acoustic installation previously limited to just 50 copies when first released in 2010. And we can be thankful that they did, as the results provide for a surprisingly coherent album, despite its convoluted concept and absence of the original presentation's staging. Indeed, it succeeds in its ambitions to bridge "contemporary art, post-industrial culture and the avant garde black metal", deftly assisted by contributions from a generous selection of suitably underground (ahem) artists of note.

The original concept formed by RMEDL (AKA Sandro Gronchi) relates to the Etruscans, who populated the west coast of Italy in the Middle Ages. Like the Egyptians, their polytheistic religion believed in an afterlife, where spacious tombs combined with esoteric rites better prepared individuals for their liminal journey between physical death and a prosperous eternity. Specifically, Gronchi chose an ancient Etruscan hypogeum in Cecina in Tuscany as the specific site for the audio installation, that had apparently been consecrated to the worship of Ancient Greek's Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and fertility and her daughter Persephone. Kidnapped by Hades, the god of death and the underworld, Persephone is said to have been tricked into returning to the underworld for several months each year, providing a correlation with changing seasons and a symbol of rebirth.

This disk, though, with the central five pieces collectively named 'Katabasis' (descent) seems to be more concerned with the downward journey into the mythical underworld than any subsequent resolution. But what does it sound like divorced from textual and geographic concerns? Suitably, Pietro Riparbelli (AKA K11) composes and performs a copiously creepy set of results, as one would expect having previously worked on similarly ghoulish sound installations including one at Crowley's Abbey of Thelema in Sicily.

Opening with fresh field recordings gathered by Franciso Lopez, his sounds of the outdoors are gradually subsumed as we enter a damp, underground environment filled with delicious sub-bass from Seth Cluett and Riparbelli's distorted organ.

The full descending journey then commences, filling the majority of the album with sinister, suspended tones from several of Italy's contemporary experimental electronic composers such as Andrea Marutti, Gianluca Becuzzi and Masimo Bartolini. This long, downward drive is variously complemented by a wide range of further flung international artists from the dark cello of Christina Kubisch, through Utarm's moody electronics and Burial Hex' funereal piano, to Deadwood and Nordvargr's drone sounds on the closing piece, Nuktelia.

But far from being a mere collage of deathly drones, the rhythmless, cavernous tracks are offset by gnarly black metal guitar strokes from Francesco Brasini and L'Acephale. These long, rough, blackened chords stretch across the sombre sound field like a particularly virulent strain of crawling ivy, providing dramatic obstacles in the listener's relentlessly downward path. Meanwhile, L'Acephale's drums occasionally provide much needed climactic passages amidst the cult ambience.

So, while it would seem that the evocative pooling of an international parade of participants would have much greater impact at the ancient site for which it was conceived, the album works in its own right as an inventive document of imagined rituals, journeys and beliefs.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Russell Cuzner
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