Neptunian Maximalism – Solar Drone Ceremony Review

Neptunian Maximalism took the metal world by storm last year. Éons was an absolute monument of an album, fusing drone, jazz, and psychedelia into one of the most evocative listens in recent memory. It spoke to something primal, something ancient that lived at the bottom of a listener’s subconscious, and snuck its way into my year-end list at number 2. Conjuring the likes of Sunn O))), Sun Ra, Swans, and Miles Davis, it was a concept album regarding the fate of Earth and its inhabitants, resulting in mass extinction and planetary destruction, ending in the stunningly bleak and beautiful “To the Sun” quartet of “solar drone opera” that bathes the wreckage in rays of light. Only nine months later, we’re treated with a new offering; can Solar Drone Ceremony continue where its predecessor left off?

Éons, in spite of its many sprawling directions, felt planned to the last detail. Each of the three discs took on a life and mood of its own, and there felt a distinct destination and purpose amid the deceptively chaotic rubble of droning guitars, jazz freakouts, vocal varieties, and shamanistic percussion. Solar Drone Ceremony separates itself accordingly, as it is a remaking of an earlier song1 and recorded live in March of 2020. While its hallmarks remain largely the same, it’s benefited by a trimmed-down fifty-three minutes. While some of drone’s best moments have been live recordings,2 Solar Drone Ceremony offers a massively effective dynamic, though hindered in its closing act by its hurried progressions and jarring use of assets.

Unlike Eons’ 14-track, two-and-a-half hour listen, Solar Drone Ceremony is a single fifty-three-minute track with multiple movements. Free jazz takes front and center following the swelling ambient introduction, and each new element flows into the spotlight with amorphous fluidity. It recalls Trist’s hour-long “Hin” in this fluid and organic movement across its sturdy instrumental backbone, as sax freakouts, moaning vocals, and layers of psychedelic synths pile atop the foundation of droning riffs and complex percussion. Like last year’s offering, Neptunian Maximalism’s patience is the real star of the show, stretching its runtime without compromising its solidarity: in spite of the collision of existing and improvised material, Solar Drone Ceremony feels surprisingly well-written. It also feels a bit like a concentrated dose of Éons, offering all of the collective’s formidable assets in a comparatively bite-sized package. Likewise, instead of these elements spread across three movements, they appear side by side, allowing a tasteful fifty-three-minute sampling without having to commit to the two-hours of its predecessor.

Solar Drone Ceremony’s biggest fault is twofold. Similar to Éons, this ceremony requires its listeners to buy into the aesthetic, that while it proves to be an immersive experience, can just sound like weird sounds and droning bizarreness if this style of challenging music is not your cup of matcha. However, while Éons provided consistent engagement, its successor simply runs out of steam once it reaches its peak at roughly the thirty-five minute mark. In spite of a buildup executed with marksman precision, the last twenty-ish minutes feel directionless; while the tricks utilized are solid, their implementation feels crowded. Prior movements were patient and organic, but the shifts between overly repetitive guitar melodies and chanting, to an overly energetic punky drumbeat, to the saturated swaths of drone and ambiance that conclude – it all feels jarringly rushed.

The final twenty minutes can be forgiven with Solar Drone Ceremony, but I can’t help but feel disappointed after its final note closes out and the studio audience applauds. In all fairness, Éons set an incredible precedent and was impossible to top, and “Solar Drone Ceremony” is a remake of an earlier track. Neptunian Maximalism has no doubt grown since its composition and the live improvisation quality cannot be ignored. It’s worth mentioning that even as an act of improv, it manages to outdo other similar releases from acts like Wolvennest or The Body, showing the project’s ongoing earth-rumbling potential. The ultimate takeaway of Solar Drone Ceremony is that, in spite of its highlights and professional execution, it’s a solid primer to Éons but likely little else: offering all these Belgians’ greatest assets in a concise, no-commitment listen. It’s a tasty and unique platter of, ahem, “experimental psychedelic new age blackened doom/jazz,” but it loses the evocative direction and sense of importance its frankly better predecessor had – a caustic casualty even if the battle is won.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 256 kb/s mp3
Labels: I, Voidhanger Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: April 23rd, 2021

Show 2 footnotes

  1. The title track from 2018’s The Conference of the Stars EP.
  2. i.e. Sunn O)))’s Dømkirke.
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