It was on a tepid spring night that I witnessed, for the first time, the show put on by three mysterious French shamans going by the name of Aluk Todolo. All lights in the small concert venue turned off. The darkness pierced only by timid, innocent, and fragile rays of a single light bulb dangling from somewhere above the stage. The unusual scene and its pitch black backdrop filled by the three long-haired silhouettes and a few of their followers. Yet, beyond the visible spectrum, the molasses-thick blackness was not empty. No, it was unreasonably, impossibly saturated with synesthetic auras arising from the expansive, excessively loud and at moments indecipherable sound. A psychedelic, trance-inducing “krautblack” assault washed over the audience, permeating and shaking each molecule and atom of their beings. An unforgettable experience.
Continuing the tradition of Aluk Todolo’s previous three records, Voix paints the picture of a band that is in a state of constant motion, finding new variations of their voice on each release while a trademark, unique approach lingers in the background. In that regard, Voix (coincidentally or not, “voice(s)” in French) is a harbinger of expected changes that stretch the band in unforeseen directions and produce an even more varied and dynamic style. It’s simple: the dominant, throbbing, and hauntingly organic bass accompanied by scrambled, razor-sharp but unhinged drums feels stuck in a droning loop while the freewheeling, screaming guitars explore spaces occupied by the monuments of black metal, krautrock, and psychedelic rock. Unlike with many drone bands, the riffs and feedback-noise are mere tools and not objects of worship for Aluk Todolo. Because of that, it’s the repetitive, frantically hypnotic, and strangely jazzy rhythmic foundation that acts as a centerpiece and anchor for riffs that might otherwise break loose and get lost in the vast expanses of the cosmos. To achieve this effect and to expand the colours of their sonic palette, the trio relinquishes some of those unrelenting, voluptuously meaty, Krallice-like black metal elements found on Occult Rock and embrace rockier structures resembling psychedelic and kraut groups such as Acid Mothers Temple, Seven That Spells / Jastreb, Electric Orange, or even CAN. A change that, while welcome and understandable, comes at the price of some of the ferocious impact previously found in their music.
Compositionally, Voix is a single piece divided into six movements named by their lengths. While all tracks are made to follow the same patterns woven around fast-paced, rolling and bouncing drums, it quickly becomes clear that, as I’ve mentioned before, there are significant variations in the tempos, guitar chords, and bass lines. This is dynamic music. As if unraveling the threads of some occult, long-forgotten, and unspeakable story, the instruments become mechanisms of translation. Words into vibrations, sentences into cadences, paragraphs into songs, all punctuated by interludes during which the rhythm section itself disengages and starts roaming freely. There are many impressive moments along the way: the threatening, suffocating bass lines and agonizing guitar wails in “7:54” that suddenly appear after a misleading slowdown; the sparse movements of “7:01” that rumble constantly but lead nowhere, and the almost kosmische-feel of “5:34,” possibly the best song here. Throughout, the band imposes atmospheric, peaceful passages only to crash and burn them all with wild guitar tremolos, while the bass resumes its pulsing dance.
It goes without saying that this music is difficult to play, requiring endurance and a peculiar form of virtuosity from the musicians, but Antoine Hadjioannou on drums, Matthieu Canaguier on bass, and Shantidas Riedacker on guitar all perform a really good job. Especially impressive are those segments during which they become free to move as individuals rather than a group, dropping into minute improvisations and bending their instruments at will, but still acting as if bonded by a synchronicity. On the technical side of things, the production and mastering, that are generally punchy, pleasant, and warmish, tend to stay out of the way of the music and show just a slight accent on the bass.
That’s four really good releases in a row for Aluk Todolo. While I would suggest newcomers start with Occult Rock which remains the band’s best record, Voix is yet another solid addition to their discography and an album that will please both traditional fans and those ever wanting of something new and fresh. Recommended!
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: The Ajna Offensive
Websites: aluktodolo.bandcamp.com | amortout.com/aluktodolo | facebook.com/aluktodoloofficial
Releases Worldwide: February 5th, 2016