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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Geist & the Sacred Ensemble - Waning Hymns [Scry Recordings - 2020]

Psychedelic Folk has its roots in the distant 1960’s. Over the decades, the style has developed, merging with other genres, such as experimental electronics, noise & metal. In my opinion, the most progressive and interesting bands combine elements of folk, drone and ethnic touches in their sound. I know a few such projects, and really enjoy them for their non-trivial and experimental approach to writing music. One such ensemble is the Geist & the Sacred Ensemble, a Washington quartet whose history began in 2005. Their debut album was released in 2008 and titled "Geist & Samuel Joseph"- which to begin with was the band name too. Over it’s time, the band changed it’s name,  took part in five compilations and recorded seven albums, the last of which is Waning Hymns- it released in the summer of 2020 by the American experimental label Scry Recordings. It was released in either vinyl LP or digital download.

The album cover is a photo that has clear ritual leanings. It shows something like an altar, which consists of different objects. The central part of the composition is occupied by an almost burnt candle, standing on a candlestick, which is located in the dried jaws of some large fish. On the sides of the candlestick are two black porcelain figurines of horses. In the foreground are several large bones, withered and not yet blossoming flowers, as well as the spur of a horse rider. At the bottom in the middle is an object that reminded me of the plaster hand of Christ, positioned in such an angle in which it is difficult to recognize. In the background, behind a candle flame, are several dried poppy stalks and black raven feathers. At the top of the cover, is the title of the album and the bands name written in plain print. The cover is rather interesting in both it's composition and  atmosphere. One gets the impression of a very personal altar, made up of things that are understandable only to its creator. This makes for a mystical and depressing sense of something secret, autistic and inexplicable. It fits perfectly with the music featured with-in

The album runs just under forty one minutes long, and takes in four tracks. Geist & the Sacred Ensemble take on Psychedelic Folk is a darker and more ritualistic twist on the genre, bordering on heavier side of things. By combining delay, chorus and reverb-processed guitar parts with the wobbling rhythm of percussion instruments, the musicians create deep and atmospheric compositions. Along with fairly common musical instruments such as guitars, percussion and bass guitar, the band members use the piano, bowed bass guitar, clarinet, as well as completely non-musical things such as a metal spike and a power drill. Thanks to this equipment, the correct choice of effects, as well as the skill of the musicians, an almost wall of sound is created, in which all the instruments sound as a whole, but at the same time play their own part. All this sounds meditative and hypnotizing, like a mantra or an Indian raga. Undoubtedly, this effect is created by the parts of the percussion instruments, which mainly follow the rhythmic line close to the parts of the tablas in Hindustani classical music. However, at moments, the rhythm part is reminiscent of rock music, nevertheless still retaining its ritualism. Also, vocals play a big role in the overall sound- the vocal work doesn't sound professional- very much like the singing of common man, he sometimes misses the tone and rhythm, but he has the emotional and directness, which further underscores the kind of primal ritual sound and makes it more lo-Fi. From a compositional point of view, all the tracks are quite simple and have a certain structure. With the exception of the third track "Closed Eye", which is an instrumental composition and stylistically close to Free-Jazz. As for the professionalism of the musicians, it's hard for me to say anything about this. I think that this genre may not imply a virtuoso mastery of instruments. The main thing here is the atmosphere, the presentation of mood and melody, which, by the way, very often gravitates towards something oriental or Asian.

While listening to the album, I made comparsant to psychedelic folk projects- such as, Pocahaunted and Natural Snow Buildings. However, I would say the most accurately define the style of Geist & the Sacred Ensemble on this album as a mixture of Neurosis / Tribes Of Neurot, Pocahaunted, Current 93, Woven Hand, with possibly touches of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. Nevertheless, Geist & the Sacred Ensemble is an original and independent ensemble, not afraid to mix musical genres, staying within the style, but creating something, sometimes unexpected. Waning Hymns is a really strong and solid album, marketed as 'Doom-inflected folk ritualism', which is generally close to the truth given the distant similarity to Neurosis. But here everything is much more complicated and deeper. This album needs to be perceived with feelings and emotions, not just hearing. This is a great piece of work that I can recommend listening not only to fans of Psych Folk and experimental music, but also to fans of heavy music genres. 

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

Sergey Pakhomov
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