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Chöd - Bardo Thodol [Old Captain Records - 2018]

Named after the Tibetan word meaning to “to sever” or “cutting through the ego” Chöd is the one-person esoteric dark ambient project of French musician Dominique Maud. Bardo Thodol, based on the teachings of the book of the same name (The Tibetan Book of the Dead) features a collection of twenty two untitled tracks of raw, primordial sounding atmospheric ambience spread across two CDs, that was recovered from old DAT tapes recorded between 1996 and 1999.

Chöd itself is a combination of Prajñāpāramitā philosophy, specific meditation methods and Tantric ritual. Practitioners of which, attempt to tap into the power of fear through the use of graveyard rituals, or by offering their body in a Tantric feast. Ironically the first Western reports of Chöd came from a French adventurer Alexandra David-Néel in 1932 and so it seems most appropriate that Dominique Maud should have continued this French interest in the Chöd tradition.

Trying to review this album on a track by track basis is never going to work, the whole thing feels too much like one long 100 minute sonic ritual. Chöd takes electronic drones, samples and various other esoteric/traditional sounding instrumentation and melds a dark meditational piece that is free of contemporary rock and pop sensibilities, that sprawls and flows, and is both beautiful and harrowing, or harsh and fragile. The album is packed with contradictions, but they flow beautifully together. There are moments when one gets the feeling of being in the presence of Yogis sat atop Himalayan peaks deep in meditation. At other times one gets the feeling they’re chanting from their vantage point and those chants echo out among the valleys below. This makes for a life affirming listening experience, as John Lennon once wrote “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream, this is not dying.”. I am also reminded of Phurpa, the Moscow based vocal chant and throat singing group whose work creates similarly atmospheric music with a Tibetan flavour.

Bardo Thodol is a masterpiece of ritualistic dark ambient that gets under the skin of the listener, mixing beauty and darkness to great effect. As its name suggests this is the perfect accompaniment to reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead, as disembodied Tibetan chants intermingle with electronic drones, while traditional sounding Tibetan instrumentation is never far away, occasionally we hear the cries of wolves, or the odd vocal chant breaks through the ambience. This is a special record and one to be treasured.
If you like dark meditational music or have a yen for something with a flavour of traditional Tibetan Buddhism then this is the album for you.

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

Darren Charles
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