Dark Buddha Rising – Mathreyata Review

I read somewhere that the standard of a good drone record is that good drone isn’t catchy, good drone catches you. When I was listening to Dark Buddha Rising’s 2020 release Mathreyata, I was making quizzes at my desk before school started. “Sunyaga” came on at about 8:30 am, and I found myself pausing my work and letting myself succumb to the waves of drone and ritualistic atmosphere. Suddenly, my students walked in at 8:45 for class. I had gotten so lost in the Finns’ seventh full-length’s trance-inducing doom swells that I had completely lost track of time. The big question is: did I get lost in it for its impressively effective atmosphere or did I simply doze off from boredom?

Dark Buddha Rising is a Finnish band, formed in 2007 and packing six full-lengths and an EP under its belt. For a collective that channels drone, doom, and sludge (you’d be safe to throw some stoner doom in there too), their megalithic songwriting is surprisingly restrained, relying on simple bass riffs, distant vocals, and other instruments to communicate their psychedelic soundscape as it reaches a drone climax. While albums like Abyssolute Transfinite and Dhakmandal were densely expansive trips to the void, sprawling beasts in their hour-plus exercises, while 2015’s Inversum and 2019 EP II found the band streamlining their sound into more concise listens that nonetheless channeled its colossal sound albeit to shorter and crisper ends. 2020’s Mathreyata continues this trend, offering the most “accessible” installment yet, in a droning, sprawling, and psychedelic listen that benefits from its more concise runtime and cleaner production.

While previous albums had introduced their offerings with drawn-out ambient intros, “Sunyaga” kicks in almost immediately with a megaton mountainous riff, with its keyboard emphasis pushing strange atmospheres atop the density. As per the norm, Dark Buddha Rising’s songwriting takes center stage, as tracks like “Nagathma” or “Mahathgata III”1 are dynamic sprawls, adding more and more simple tricks to a simple foundation of percussion or bass, allowing riffs to emphasize the weight they carry. “Uni” is an interesting take, as its ambient non-drone swells pave the way for the immense dread of “Mahathgata III” with intense crescendos and ritualistic drumming. Unlike Sunn O))) or Earth, whose density is a donnée and sluggish progressions meet mixed reception, Dark Buddha Rising’s focus on slow-building dynamics and ritualistic atmosphere sets it above other drone, sludge, or doom of similar ilk in the use of the riff as climax rather than a given.

Vocals have always been an intriguing dimension to the Finns’ sound, utilizing whispers, chants, shrieks, or other strange tricks. Inclusion of clean harmonies a la Baroness or Intronaut in “Sunyaga” and “Mahathgata III” add a newfound clarity, a stark contrast, between the enigmatic and the forthright. While the mystery of earlier albums was certainly a selling point, the purposeful opaqueness relegated each track to following a similar pattern: ambient intro, bluesy bassline, build, build, drone crush. Mathreyata instead revels in its variety and a decidedly album-long dynamic: “Sunyaga” is a furiously crushing opener, followed by the drone-meets-Amenra slow burn “Nagathma,” the seven-minute crescendo of “Uni,” and ending in the crushingly hypnotic “Mahathgata III.” It’s easy to write off Mathreyata as being too concise or too streamlined in light of its sprawling past, but the balance of crushing density, hypnotic repetition, and flurries of vocals, keyboard textures, and ambiance, all through the swelling tide of its consistently mammoth ambition, balances the razor’s edge with amorphous precision. Repeated listens furthermore peel back its dense layers, discovering new rewards with each feasible spin.

At the end of the day, Dark Buddha Rising is still drone, and likely won’t change your mind about it. However, Mathreyata, like its predecessors, is so crisp and precise in its patient crescendos and hypnotic pitch-black atmosphere that comparing it to the genre’s stereotypical drone sprawlers in Sunn O))), Earth, or Nadja feels unfair. If anything, it aligns itself most closely to Boris’s classic drone efforts “Feedbacker” or Pink in the shapeshifting miasma, but even then, these Finns have accomplished an intricate atmosphere utterly devoid of light more reminiscent of Khanate or Black Boned Angel. Ultimately, Mathreyata is, in the words of the great Carcharodon,2 “an album to get lost in” and another stunning addition to a fantastic discography – a pinnacle of drone and songwriting. As I lose my mind in the spirals of hypnotic drone repetition, consider my dark buddha risen.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Svart Records
Websites: facebook.com/dbrising | darkbuddharising.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: November 13th, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. A continuation from the two tracks of EP II.
  2. About a completely different album.
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