Halo Manash - Elemental Live Forms MMV - Initiation [Aural Hypnox/Underworld Editions - 2016]Finnish ritual dark ambient group Halo Manash are perhaps the best known artists of the Aural Hypnox label, a label known for their united esoteric ethos, cryptic titles and imagery, and elaborate packaging. Like other artists on the label, their style is unconventional in that it uses few electronics and relies primarily upon organic sound sources like drums, rattles and gongs.
"Elemental Live Forms MMV - Initiation" is an unreleased live recording from 2005, in the band's early period (their debut was in 2003), which I generally prefer, although my favorite works came in 2008, namely "Am Kha Astrie" and "Language of Red Goats". Their earliest albums such as "Syoma" aren't as spacious, minimalist or even ambient, with quite a bit of noise and growling vocals. I find aggression doesn't suit them, and comes off as cheesy. These musicians really hit their stride when they began to craft subtle, patient atmospheres. At its best, their music is almost frighteningly otherworldly.
This was apparently their 1st live show, although they'd had two albums previous, but you wouldn't know it, as the improvisation of the members playing together is quite fluid. The recording quality is thankfully very clear, with quite a bit of natural reverb. One wonders why this recording was not released sooner.
This recording is actually a rather perfect document of the transformational period between their aggressive, active 'industrial' early sound and their atmospheric sound. There are growls and screams, particularly at the beginning, and quite a few instances of aggressively pounding drums, but also quite a few eerily sparse passages, sustained by drones creating by blowing some kind of animal horn (seen in the included performance photos). The ebb and flow between intensity and quiet is skillfully achieved.
This package is perhaps the most elaborate of all from Aural Hypnox, coming in a large book-like envelope printed with glossy silver and gold paint. Inside, one finds a collection loose items: a foldout describing the circumstances around the recording, and various postcards of images. Of interest are some shots of band playing, which I have never seen before since they play up the mysteriousness and anonymity factor. They look like some regular guys to me, as much as they'd have you believe they are supreme occultish warlocks who have transended bodily form. The liner notes are written in some very cheesy terms, so it's hard not to poke fun. For example, it describes how "AKIZ, clad in ash, sat as an empty Earthly vessel through the first phases of the ritual", and when stating a new member joined the band, says "This live ritual served as a blood initiation for AKIZ to join the group".
Still, there is something about Halo Manash. Their sonic world is deep and complete; they take themselves so seriously that they must truly live there. Focusing my mind upon their darkly shimmering sounds, I can't doubt they are sincere when they write about "communication with cosmic ancestors". The raw primalism of their music, utterly separate from modern technology, is a rejection of our doomed civilized world which I completely understand. They have escaped into nature and written their own language. The feeling of their music is not unlike staring at a campfire while surrounded by forests and darkness. This is definitely one of their best albums. I would recommend it.Josh Landry