The United States is home to a resounding number of “centers” or “origins” of intellectual creativity; from New Orleans correlation with Jazz to NYC- more specifically the Bronx being the genesis of Hip-Hop, to Haight-Ashbury- birthplace of the early sixties counterculture movement, and many, many more. Amongst the myriad of cultural touchstones, there lurks a place on the Northeastern seaboard that is analogous, at least in the musical sense, that inspires awe, dread and terror through its weirdness, that place being Providence, Rhode Island. Home to Howard Phillips Lovecraft, master of Weird Fiction, originator of Cosmic Horror, whose impact has resounded throughout history and whose Mark can still be felt to this day. Hailing from the same town is Yuggoth Records, who are making strides to have an equally lasting effect on the underground music scene.
Yuggoth Records is a proud denizen of Providence and even takes its namesake from a poem penned by Lovecraft entitled Fungi From Yuggoth, originally published in 1943. Much like Lovecraft, Yuggoth Records has embraced the Strange, making it the very fabric of their existence, so much so that simply naming the label a Lovecraftian entity was not enough-it must be a the planet that spews forth its abominable creations onto an unsuspecting universe. To this end Yuggoth Records finds its self releasing challenging pieces of the Avant Garde, Metal, Dungeon Synth and even Classical and Jazz to round everything out. Originally founded in 1998 by composer Peter Scartabello, the label is clearly doing something right to not only survive the intervening decades, but remain consistent and relevant to the underground scene. Below is a smattering of varied releases that I was fortunate enough to have sent on vinyl, and which have since earned spots in my heavy rotation.
Artist: Sky Shadow Obelisk/ Djinn and Miskatonic
Album: Sky Shadow Obelisk/ Djinn and Miskatonic (Split)
Release Date: February 9, 2018
Up first is the self-titled Split featuring Sky Shadow Obelisk and Djinn and Miskatonic. Originally released on February 9, 2018 this psychedelic infused trip of Sludge-inspired Doom is given physical manifestation by way of an orange and green mattered LP that appears as snap-shot of the Flow Psychedelia videography medium. Comprising three tracks over two sides, Sky Shadow Obelisk opens things up on Side A with The Alogon. This track starts with an introspective, moody edge that has a clean guitar tone to reverberate the isolation it cultivates. At over twelve minutes The Alogon takes its time to develop in typical Doom fashion, with the noted difference of a developed intro to recede back into after the initial thundering release just after the three-minute mark. In the recession, the isolation of the original guitar is washed away in the rumbled bass and measured, cautious tappings of the drums. However the isolation remains in the near timid presentation of the initial vocal efforts. Notice I say here “initial”, as another vocal performance soon adds an antithesis to the timidity in an onslaught of full-bodied gravely Doom vocality while the original is turned to a refracted schism. From here the psychedelia really starts to take hold as a strong Stoner/Doom progression is barrelled out with the highlights of lighter/higher pitched vocal styling in either Nerea Cabana or Danielle Blue near chanting of,
“The warmth of refracted light
Emblazoned crown of crystal
Mirror the star child’s hand
Pass through the gloaming veil”
The lyrics resemble Weird Fiction in their nebulous description of The Alogon or unutterable in true Lovecraftian fashion. Somehow Sky Shadow Obelisk has injected that same feeling into their musical progression, becoming unknowable in its lovely twisting and turning madness. This is definitely a track worth several listens to develop it to its fullest potential.
Bangalore India’s own Djinn and Miskatonic grace the B-Side, giving us two tracks at near eighteen minutes. Up first is Empress of the Sands of Time, a straightforward riff worship in the form of accessible Stoner infused Doom. Gautham Khandige gives a throaty and harsh vocal performance as he unfolds a story of praising a darkened queen of death and blood which resides in the infernal sands. Alongside Guatham are guitarists Sriram Kvlteswaram and Mushaf Nazeer, who keep things fuzzy yet tight, clean and tactical while bass player Jayaprakash Satymurthy and drummer Siddharth Manoharan keep things rumbling and grounded rhythmic timing.
Following is Through Engines Within, a strange and trippy take on the Doom experience. While there are solid moments of the quintessential Doom experience, reverberating guitars and bass amid crashing cymbals and sustained growlings, Through Engines Within presents a unique experience in Guatham’s vocal stylings that feel more grandiose bard telling than any traditionalist Doom outing. At first it is raher off putting, and slightly disengaging, so large is the gulf from normalcy; however upon subsequent listens after the initial strangeness wore thin, Through Engines Within actually creates a space for itself in an incredibly bleak and Doom-like way. Listening to the lyrics, as they are clearly and sonorously presented creates a strange, almost Uncanny Valley of Doom, creating a feeling of supreme discomfort and unease in presentation, giving off a feeling of some distant future oral retelling of our impending armageddon.
Release Date: July 1, 2021
Though there may be multiple iterations of Arcanists out there ranging from track or album title, and even one or two other musical projects, do not be fooled, for theirs are an illusion. This is especially if you’re looking for spaced-out experimental atmospheric offerings of the Berlin School tinged with Dungeon Synth. If all this sounds like a lot, well, that’s because it is, however, the masterworks that Arcanist has on display in Poseidonis makes it appear as effortless as it is darkly enchanting. From the first Poseidonis, steeps us in mystic atmospheric ambience in The Last Incantation, a slow moving exercise in tension building that is reflected in the beautiful artwork by Matthew Jaffe. There are moments of rising urgency that feel on the cusp of an 80’s themed breakout, before being tempered by the ominous trappings of thrumming bass stylized synths. The Last Incantation is then the emblematic flagship for the rest of the album in that there is a well defined exploration of ambient textures and atmospheric stylings that never stagnates.
A Vintage From Atlantis, the following track, sees a more lightened, near whimsical longing-as whimsical as the bleakened darkness of the last remaining piece of Atlantis that is this album’s namesake could be. There is less of reliance on heavy shadings of reverberated bass and more of an emphasis on higher noted synths whose long and drawn out notes create a sense of fragility; driving this point home is the fade out at the end of the piece into a backing track of sonorous water that lasts for well over a minute, leaving the listener in a deeply contemplative state. The Death of Malygris (Part 1 & 2) are tracks that resurface the brooding darkness with moments of tension filled trepidation, that I won’t spoil here and simply urge readers to listen for themselves to fully appreciate the beautiful strangeness. Of special note, and further tying Arcanist to Yuggoth’s equally special brand of Weird, is the fact that The Death of Malygris is originally the title of a short story, published in the April 1934 issue of Weird Tales and written by Clark Ashton Smith, a noted contemporary of Lovecraft, and one whom Lovecraft thought of quite highly and gave praise to. I would highly recommend reading Smith’s piece in conjunction with Poseidonis for an intense experience.
Release Date: July 6, 2022
Hyperboria is the second effort from Arcanist. In this release we see an expansion of sound, while still recalling the familiarly strange within Clark Ashton Smith’s Hyperborian stories, of which formulated the basis for this album. Again, Arcanist comes out the gate swinging within the opening track, The White Sybil, at first immersing us into a delicate atmosphere that is so much stalagmite ice formations. It is not long before the lumbering, creeping and malevolent feelings intrude by way robust rumblings and yawning reverb that bring on the chill. Arcanist seems content to let us wallow in this frigidity for long moments before breaking up the gloomy ambience with an equally mysterious combination of synths that sound as if they are from a spacefaring tribe with a penchant for psychotropic experiences, and intermittent chimes that only heighten the surrealism. Towards the back end of the track we are treated, rather abruptly, to an intensely moody Atmospheric Black Metal offering. With a hauntingly beautiful wall of noise accompanied by a steady and sedated percussive offering-which is eventually let off the chains, Arcanist brings the Dungeon Synth experience full circle and back to its brutal roots. Helping this is the recurrent, near ethereal wailings and synth resurgences that make it feel as if one is in the midst of a conjuration of something wholly unholy.
Ubbo-Sathla, the following track seems to bleed off the ending ferocity of The White Sybil. With its meandering synths and near liquid sounding pluckings of infused electronics there is a relative ease to it and a near comfort run opposite of the formulated iciness of the preceding track. Of course, there is an elevated moment, with interjected vocality that makes it feel as if one is part of a ceremonial functioning, but the overall effect is one of being ensorcelled. This effect continues into the following track, The Coming of the White Worm, where there is an experimentation of the Neo-Classical and Electronic to superb effect. While it could be said that mixing two disparate, anachronistic elements should typically best be avoided, Arcanist puts on a masterclass in blending the styles to the point of obfuscation. Think the strange and beautiful idea of the 80’s that was Krull, cramming Sword and Sorcery into Sci-Fi, but done exceedingly well, and to the point of not realizing that such anachronism is in existence until subsequent playthroughs. That is The Coming of the White Worm, and it should be on the merits of this track alone that one seeks out Arcanist, and explore everything else they have to offer.
Album: Glimpsing Into Oblivion
Release Date: April 7, 2023
Closing out this mini-marathon of reviews is my favorite of the lot, and also the most challenging- Seer’s Glimpsing Into Oblivion. Peter Scartebello’s minimalistic expressionism in composition are evenly matched with label mate Chris Bozzone’s surreal, and eerily sensuous vocal delivery are not exactly what you would call easily accessible. However, therein lies the charm and allure of the piece, it is bleak and sorrowful, yet poignant and peaceful which then commands attention, yearning for repeated listening. To this end, Glimpsing Into Oblivion is overwhelmingly complex in its simplicity, and seems to seethe in its transcendental imagery that mixes the straightforward with the nuance, offering a hypnotic listening experience.
Opening the album is Shattered Glass, and an introduction to a seemingly thematic element of fragmentation and reflection. Scartebello comes in delicately, and sets the atmospheric tonality and a slightly shaker synth. It is not long before Chris Bozzone makes his entrance in a shimmering vocal performance that seems equally fragile, but finds itself strengthened in a reverberation. From here the track meanders in and out of a Drone and near Doom-Industrial presentation as Bozzone continues his shimmering performance, introducing a concept of quiet violence in the form of blood being drawn from the titular Shattered Glass. Though perhaps not conjuring up the same visceral imagery as precious bodily fluids, The Fleshy Cape continues the imagery of fragmentation and reflection as Bozzone whispers,
“Flashes of the corridors appear in dreams….
Shadows reflect from broken mirrors
Waking life, filled with a tortured existence,
The world is dying,
The world is dying,
She is dying”.
This is accented by a wallowing, stringed synthesizers, mutated to more traditionalized electronic soundings, that offer a secondary reflection of the lyrical imagery in the transmutation of perceived worlds of a dreamscape into a bitter reality. Speaking almost sardonically to this overtly apocalyptic musing is the following track, Shining Plumage, that weighs heavy sonically, with the emphasis on Drone becoming the focal point for the front half of the track until a small hope of musicality is interjected before being subsumed and the slow roil of despondency and Bozzone’s resurgent voice muttering a confused incantation of absolution. Lyrically, this piece seems to run near parallel to The Fleshy Cape in its philosophical musings of what aesthetic trappings must ultimately succumb to.
The solemnity continues into The Sea, which first presents a soft wall of Ambient Noise that only begins to yield under Bozzone’s chanting to “Open the curtain”, tempting us to, “Remove the blindfold, Embrace the trembling”. Acting as sort of a gateway, The Sea creates a hauntingly introspective verse through which the listener passes through to gain access to the ever deepening strangeness of the ritualized musicality that constantly turns back in on itself with repetition in the familiarized vocal patterns and respoken keywords that creates a feeling of familiarity; a dark shadow that is not your own and which grows still yet steeper as you progress. Casting off any extraneous thoughts and/or distractions is the Fleeting Shadows, a track that speaks to the transitive nature of the universe,
“Leave the nightmares behind you,
Spiral in dark nights”
It is easy to become so overly transfixed in decoding and striving to understand the cryptic messaging that it is easy to overlook Scartebello’s compositional contributions at times. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is much the effect that he was going for, as there is a nuanced dial back in the center of the track to make space for Bozzone’s performance, before serenely reemerging to envelope the listener in a near loving tonal embrace that fades to warmed shadow in its fade.
Along a Marble Column provides a stark opposition in its isolationist feel. Bozzone’s effort here seems strained and adrift in the sparse, toned-down Ambient Dronings that are an island unto themselves. It is here that you notice the previous connective tissue forged between the two artists, marked socially by its absence, and while it is only for a small time, and there is a rejoining, the bereft feeling is one not easily shaken or dismissed. From here we enter into the macabre in The Obscene Mirror, quite possibly a reference to the 1973 Giallo film Al Otro Lado Del Espejo which has a storied and complex history with three separate versions spanning three countries. While admittedly I have not seen the film, and thus cannot draw any definitive parallels, I can guess however at inspiration, as there is an edge of dread and death tinged throughout the tracks lyrical emphasis that circle about the mirror, that coincides fatalistically with the morose atmosphere cultivated. Bloodstained Gate brings us into the homestretch in a funereal procession of woe inspired organ-styled modulated synths. There is a feeling of finality approaching in the transformative movements of musical progression that Scartebello conjures that inject an anxiety of doom in a rising action that is all at once dissolved into sustained grainy texture which swallows the track. At long last we come to the titular track, Glimpsing Into Oblivion, though the title belies the tracks substance in that it is a pale and crimson dawn set against a darkened, thrash-inspired storm of a night. There still resides within it a tempestuous sort of spirit, but it is tamped down, tamed, as the final moments play out in verisimilitude of comfort, as Bozzone brings the lyrical content to the near positive. One has to wonder about the length of this track when set against the other fleeting moments of hope and spots of brightness found within Glimpsing, while there is an overwhelming profundity of intensity translated to sorrow, questing for meaning and insight throughout the album, this reprieve causes wonder as to what precisely the glimpse into oblivion entails all told? Surely a matter for each individual on their own sonic journey in and through the voidscapes of their own realities…