Bavarian doom barons Obelyskkh have turned to pagan imagery for the basis of their third full-length release, Hymn To Pan. A mix of doomy psychedelic and stoner sludge, the title of the record is drawn from a poem “Hymn of Pan” by romantic writer Percy Bysshe Shelley. Pan, a pagan god of wild places, music, and sexual freedom, is evoked with delicacy as a muse in Shelley’s poem, whereas Obelyskkh most definitely appeal to the goat-limbed gods darker and more lecherous side.
As well as Pan, the record draws deeply from the folk myth of the wild hunt. While there are many interpretations of this legend, a few facts are constant: an illusory group of hunters, with weapons and horses and full regalia, appear in the sky chasing after some spectral beast. Sometimes they are supposed to be fairies; other times ghosts. Catching a glimpse of the Wild Hunt was considered a dangerous thing, often a bad omen; people believed they could be pulled into the hunt themselves and carried off.
Hymn To Pan begins with a pastoral intro: a light breeze a birdsong can be heard, suddenly pierced by a hunter’s bugle. As the hunt begins, the call is transformed into voices calling out to Pan, soon joined by vast, rough riffs that circle and tighten. The opening, titular track has a repetitive, elliptical structure that evokes the image of the wild hunt, circling and enveloping the listener.
While they have primarily worked in the stoner and doom metal genres before, Hymn To Pan has distinct post-metal leanings to go with its neo-pagan tendencies, with the huge evolving song structures reminiscent of Neurosis. Which is not to say the stoner or sludge tendencies are cast by the wayside. The textures of the guitar work on “The Ravens” is tar black and scab thick, the rhythm beating like wings made of lead. “Heavens Architrave” has a stomping heaviness, like trudging through a sudden forest during a midnight rainstorm. But in each case, the structures loop back, repeat, shift. This technique represents a step forward for Obelyskkh and serves them extremely well.
“Revelation: The Will To Nothingness” is in many ways the keystone of the record, a 23+ minute epic that unfolds like a spiritual journey. Like a spirit quest in the desert only among the trees, the track evolving from an an ominous rolling growl that sounds like thunder that folds into deep doom contemplation. It’s a dive inside the abyssal trenches of the self, a journey down rather than up, with the barest shivers of light trickling through. It’s an epic, but very much worth experiencing all together.
The stoner genre can be plagued by aimless musical wandering, allowing the druggy and fuzzed out tones to linger too long over themselves, musically navel gazing. Hymn To Pan is on a very specific, though meandering and intensely strange, journey. It’s an act of exploration, certainly, but one into the mythic structure of the self. It requires patience, and and suspension of disbelief, and trust, but if you’re willing to follow the golden threat into the labyrinth, the rewards are rich and glowing.