Herbst9 – The Gods Are Small Birds, But I Am The Falcon

Loki Foundation (LOKI 48), 2008

First of all, this is easily one of my all-time favorite album titles.

Germany’s Herbst9 (Henry Emich & Frank Merten) is quite an interesting dark ambient project.  Several of its releases, of which Gods is one, focus on Sumerian and Babylonian mythological figures and themes as central concepts.  The sound design reflects this, but filters it through a futuristic lens; Herbst9 is not interested in representing history as it was.  Gods is, atmospherically speaking,  perhaps not quite as dark as the theme might suggest; it’s certainly not on the same level of blackness as Lustmord, for example.  The vocal samples scattered throughout the album range from spoken word to sparse bits of chanting and singing, and many tracks use tympanic percussion to enhance the mood, but it’s not a relentless onslaught like This Morn’ Omina.  In fact, if one is familiar with TMO’s quieter moments, consider Gods to be an extension.

As Gods is a stubbornly concept album, the tracks all contain identical characteristics.  “The Lament Begins” sets the stage with a deep bass drone that follows a simple chord pattern, as a female vocal sample wails at looped intervals, gongs sound from the deep, chimes clatter, and static-twisted voices wind from the speakers.  The formula has been established, and the remainder of the album follows suit.  Many of the samples, on this track and elsewhere, seem suited for a deep-space ambient album; they’re unintelligible bits of distorted speech snatched from the ether.  Combined with Herbst9’s minimal yet effective electronic treatments, and then augmented by the chanting and traditional percussion, the result can be astonishing.  Gods is never threatening, but is full of awe and mystery – at what exactly, we are never quite sure, as the paradoxical elements don’t always blend together seamlessly.  When things do mesh naturally, however, as on the moving “Must I Die? (Because of My Holy Songs)” and the sublime “…And Everything Around Him Answered,” Gods leaks into places few albums go, conjuring a vision of ancient yet somehow steampunk rituals.  If only it moved into these realms more boldly.

While Gods never reaches the poetic chasms of R|A|A|N, and doesn’t have the wild energy of This Morn’ Omina, it provides a solid ambient experience.  It never strays from its strongly established themes; I wish there was a bit more variety from track to track.  After a few listens, adventurous listeners may soon find themselves craving more provocative and immersive spaces.  Herbst9 has made ritual music for electronic ghosts, but Gods treads its sacred ground a little too cautiously.

 

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