Cyclic Law (67th Cycle), 2014
A creature squats before a small bonfire. Its form bears aspects of the avian and the humanoid. As it sits in a field of grass, it holds a bowl in one hand; for what purpose, we do not know. It is an image steeped in mystery; indeed, in mysticism, as it seems something risen out of ancient myth. This is the cover art for Lacrimae Mundi, the first album from Croatian dark ambient project TeHOM in fourteen years, and its immediate visual impact sets the stage for the sonic odyssey contained within.
Lacrimae Mundi contains extensive liner notes concerning the eternal search of the true self for enlightenment during an age where mankind has lost ancestral memory to the lure of technology. It’s mystical stuff, to be sure, and the album certainly seems to have taken inspiration from the worlds of the metaphysical, the philosophical, and the transcendent. Miljenko Rajakovic applies the theme of the lost soul to his dark ambient template; Lacrimae Mundi is dark, to be sure, but it’s not a darkness born of black voids and brain-shattering inconceivable architectures. No, this is the soundtrack of one who is searching, through whatever far-flung realms might be encountered, for something precious that has been lost for ages. Perhaps Rajakovic is mourning the loss of former TeHOM member Sinisa Ocurscak, who passed away in 1997, and is seeking meaning for his own loss as well.
Rajakovic has been out of the electronic ambient scene for a while, apparently, but he’s been paying close attention. Lacrimae Mundi – translated as ‘tears of the world’ – doesn’t sound like a release over a decade in the making. It’s quite accomplished indeed, with Rajakovic displaying a keen understanding of structure and flow, in addition to a firm grasp of his electronics. It borrows, yes, but it borrows from the masters of the genre. And yet, it shows flashes of uniqueness, buried within the waves of synthetic longing. The result is an album that surprises with its quality and effect.
“Perilous Depth” prepares us for the path ahead, segueing between passing swaths, skittering atmospherics, sampled vocals, and drawn-out melody that is standard dark ambient fare – standard, yet finely tuned and executed. As the track progresses, Rajakovic introduces elements such as sparse tribal percussion and throat-singing to give the sound an aged edge. “Darkness Cosmogony of Myths” contains spoken-word readings and field recordings that bring to mind the grassy field and shadowed trees of the album’s cover. The unmistakably aquatic quality of “Abyss” morphs gracefully into a quiet ode of introspective grief before ominous drums and grandiose synth chords bleed into the edges, and “Amorphous Structure” is clearly cosmic in its orchestral keyboards and marching percussion.
The album slips just a bit with the needlessly repeating voice sample and heavy rhythms of “The World Ended” and the meandering whistles of the title track, before finding its feet again with “The Magnitude of Shaking.” This completely stunning track combines haunting Japanese voices (there’s a feminine gasp of surprise that’s particularly skin-crawling), the sounds of a busy city street, and field recordings from a nocturnal forest to produce an atmosphere so thick and unique, I’m almost speechless at its evocative potency. Rajakovic uses his electronics sparingly here, inserting them just enough to maintain form and mood without burying the track’s truly bizarre nature. An album that kept this level of brilliantly executed strangeness would be incredible to behold. The follow-up, “Atum,” is almost as accomplished, using a deep Kammarheit-style endless chord offset by Rajakovic’s already deft sense of electronic incidentals. This is Lacrimae Mundi at its most serene, but the sense of disquiet is just as powerful. The album closes with “Modality of Cosmic Matter,” in which further spoken-voice can be heard through the shimmering glowing haze of TeHOM’s carefully conjured vision.
TeHOM’s return flirts with greatness. It teeters on the edge of fictional mythology, but reminds us of its mission a bit too strongly, and a bit too often. Rajakovic needs but to increase his obvious creativity and his sense of the subtle in order to produce something truly remarkable, but his ability to make an album of this caliber after such an extended absence speaks volumes about his talent. If Lacrimae Mundi is a prelude of things to come for this reborn project, we have much to look forward to. I had no idea what to expect when I opened this album, but I soon learned that the bird-man on the cover was, among other things, the herald to a magnificent dark ambient experience. Lacrimae Mundi isn’t just the surprise release of the year so far, it’s one of the best releases, period.