Neptunian Maximalism – Éons [Things You Might Have Missed 2020]

One of my all-time favorite acts is Godspeed You! Black Emperor. In spite of their post-rock status, they’ve always felt metal in their colossal songwriting and emphasis on strange atmosphere. I was introduced to Belgian collective Neptunian Maximalism via AMG commenter Dirty Tlelaxu on their comparison to the infamous anarchic Canadians. Consisting of core members Guillaume Cazalet, Jean Jacques Duerinckx, Sebastien Schmidt, and Pierre Arese, alongside a massive entourage of musicians, Neptunian Maximalism (or NNMM) utilize a range of influences, genres, and instruments both traditional and contemporary, to create their second full-length and crowning achievement Éons. While it’s unclear if it is indeed metal, that matters little. It’s an immensely sprawling release, more than two hours over three discs, and its content is just as challenging.

Incorporating world music, folk, free jazz, and drone into a narrative propelled by strange vocal styles in fictitious languages, NNMM takes us on a journey through distinct movements that adhere to its story: the rise and fall of the planet and humanity’s place on it. The first chapter, “To the Earth,” incorporates a decidedly ritualistic palette in its portrayal of earth’s geological timeline from creation to present, tracks like “NGANGA – Grand Guérisseur Magique de l’ère Probocène” and “ENŪMA ELIŠ – La Mondialisation ou la Création du Monde: Éon Protérozoïque” focusing on pulsating percussion and nearly voodoo-esque atmosphere. The second, “To the Moon,” is the most metal-focused in its painting of the end of earth, tracks like the “VAJRABHAIRAVA” trilogy and the stunning climax “Ol SONUF VAORESAJI! – La Sixième Extinction de Masse: Le Génocide Anthropocène” accomplishing pitch-black atmosphere through intense driving rhythms and blackened doom influence, emphasized by free jazz sax freakouts. The last, “To the Sun,” aptly described as a “solar drone opera” flows freely through swaths of warm drone and ambient tones, punctuated periodically by chants and saxophone, a beautiful and longing reflection on humanity’s extinction.

Éons is a colossal release with its content just as inaccessible. Its concept is rife with mythological and cosmogonical significance from an abundance of cultures, in the speculative proto-language of Pierre Lanchantin, utilizing all its nuances and assets in the most organic listen in recent memory. Vocals, as in the case of post-rock or drone, are simply another instrument in the orchestra of fuzz, utilizing blackened growls, whimpers, shouts, and gentle singing, reflecting the shape-shifting miasma surrounding it. Ultimately, Éons’ seemingly infinite influences rain down through the album’s massive runtime, but never feel scattershot or disjointed, borrowed or emulated. In spite of the “To the Moon” disc being the most accessible, all of Éons’ 16 tracks are buried underneath sprawling drone that dims any easy comparisons to existing acts. But what distinguishes NNMM is their range: from the pulsating, writhing darkness of “Ol SONUF VAORESAJI!” to the basking glow of “HELIOZOAPOLIS,” these Belgians prove in their dynamic songwriting that they do not belong amid the sprawling drone of Sunn O))) or Nadja, but are too diverse to truly fit within the ranks of modern new age music. Truly, Neptunian Maximalism resides in a realm all its own.

Éons is one of the most demanding listens I’ve ever tackled, but easily one of the most rewarding. Evocative and stunning like nothing else, its sounds are beyond comparison. I’m not entirely sure if it is metal, but it simply feels too big for labels. Drone? Jazz? Folk? Blackened doom? New-age music? Sunn O))) meets Miles Davis meets Goat meets Swans meets Mahavishnu Orchestra meets Nahvalr? I’m not sure—it all feels like a mere iota of Neptunian Maximalism’s expansive repertoire. Perhaps most notable, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve experienced something important after listening to Éons, more than just an interesting listen or competent use of its instruments. It’s a haunting, strangely beautiful listen that will challenge the mettle of anyone willing to listen, but it should definitely end up on AOTY lists everywhere.

Tracks to Check Out: “To The Earth: NGANGA – Grand Guérisseur Magique de l’ère Probocène,” “To The Moon: Ol SONUF VAORESAJI! – La Sixième Extinction de Masse: Le Génocide Anthropocène,” and “To The Sun: HELIOZOAPOLIS – Les Criosphinx Sacrés d’Amon-Rê, Protecteurs du Cogito Ergo Sum Animal”

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