Label: Zazen Sounds
Release Date: 8 November 2022
Greece’s Shibalba return with another deeply haunting and esoteric offering of ritual ambient that could easily be one of their finest works to date.
I happened to become obsessed with Shibalba after coming across their 2020 opus Nekrologie Sinistrae (Orchestra Noise Opus I). The album was one of the most haunting and unsettling things I had ever heard and remains that way to this day. It should be noted though that this release takes things in a somewhat different direction diving even deeper into ethereal soundscapes and coming across as less directly menacing but more ominous and haunting.
The band was formed by members of black metal acts Acherontas and Nåstrond and the influence that this background had on Shibalba’s overall sound and essence can’t be ignored. This is very much ritual ambient, but there’s a black metal essence that permeates it all.
Musically the band employ shamanic, trance-like soundscapes through the use of ethnic instruments and to religious ritual music. They tie this in with synth and drone elements to create music that makes horror movie soundtracks seem cheery and upbeat. I would try to explain their musical composition myself, but they do it so perfectly themselves that I’ll just quote them. They state that their sound is a blend of “liturgical chants and spectral vocal incantations, minor keyboard orchestrations, resonant chimes and prayer bowls, ceremonial percussion, and atmospheric drift ensconced in sepulchral reverb.” If you aren’t sure what any of that means, then you’ll have to listen to the album to understand but know that it’s a perfect blend between being mind-altering esoteric and hauntingly unsettling. There’s a duality to the music as a whole that both elevates and frees the listener but also oppresses them simultaneously.
Vocally the album is more stripped back than previous offerings that I’ve listened to, with very few if any being features on each track. When they do appear they’re heavily faded, distorted and echoed and come through as haunting chants or breathy releases. Musically the album also leans towards minimalism, making each sound and tone that much more impactful and helping to develop that all-encompassing atmosphere.
This isn’t the type of album where you pick favourite tracks, as you really need to experience the release as a whole. However, there are two stand outs to me that I found to be the most haunting. The winner overall is Samsara which at times makes my skin crawl with how eerie and esoteric it feels. The vocals on the track along with the chamber like echoes and noises make it truly unsettling. The next is Dharma And Alchemy which feels as if the listener is witnessing some dark and forbidden ritual that they were never meant to be present for. At times this track is honestly kind of terrifying, but it also has you intrigued from start to finish, leaving you wanting to know what comes next.
Overall, this is a truly dark and unsettling piece of music that also holds a great deal of beauty. The band have shown once again that they are the kings of ritual ambient and honestly, I’ve yet to find anyone else that even comes close. Samsara is just another notch in an already impressively marked belt and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
Listen to and order the album: