Cryo Chamber (CRYO 007), 2014
Sometimes, less is more. There’s a difference between being simplistic and focusing on minimal elements. Stripped down doesn’t necessarily mean basic. However you try to word it, the foundation is the same: there’s something deeply satisfying about getting past the bells and whistles and getting to the core of what makes things work.
Halgrath’s album The Whole Path of War and Acceptance can certainly be perceived as simplistic dark ambient. The tracks are basic in design, without a high level of activity or detail. There’s little evolution or progression in the tracks themselves; what you hear in the first minute is what you can expect for the duration. Beyond the inclusion of Agratha Mirrait’s vocals – more on this in a minute – there’s nothing terribly complex here, nor any amazing technical feats to be heard.
And this is a good thing.
Whole Path is a work of meditation, of the process of losing and finding oneself, of mysticism and ritual. Despite its basic nature, it manages to be deeply personal. Mirrait, a trained opera vocalist from Russia, is Halgrath’s sole member, and here, on her fourth official release, she taps into the nebulous realm between music you hear and music you experience.
Take the Whole Path’s second track, the twelve-minute “Consecreation.” Here, you’ve got a synthetic-string bed – a recurring theme on the album – layered with an ever-so-slightly-unnerving high-pitched loop and a deep passage of sampled throat-singing. And that’s it. It meanders in an organic fashion, flowing easily from one moment to the next, at peace with itself. As the track plays, you feel your mind slipping into a half-lit realm of hypnotism; this is an “om” chant, dark ambient style. If you listen to “Consecreation” with your ears, you’ve missed the point; this is music for the whole being.
Mirrait varies her delivery – sparse tribal percussion, minimal melody, slightly distorted noise – but the base elements of drone foundation accompanied by two or three looped sequences remain throughout Whole Path. This is one of those albums, too, that is ambient before it’s dark; a stirring and immersive palette that never becomes truly black, but also never becomes too airy. The icy grandeur of “Cold Breath of Mountains” is steeped in awe, but carries an ominous edge. Even the nature field recordings of bird and water added to “Deep Immersion and Repose” don’t move the atmosphere into new age territory. Halgrath is too grounded.
Two tracks feature Mirrait’s singular vocal delivery in the form of mostly wordless chants, or if they are words, they’re in a language I do not recognize or understand. Not that it makes much difference. Reminiscent of Lisa Gerrard and Liz Frazer, but sounding ultimately like neither, Mirrait’s voice soars to sunlit heights and dives into fog-blanketed valleys (“The Opposite Mind and Mutality”) and presents a portrait of profound choral devotion (“Afflatus (Amanait Akhat)”). It’s an assured, confident style that makes clear her operatic roots, but she doesn’t allow her obvious talents to overwhelm; rather, it’s a carefully implemented enhancement of her minimal approach.
The Whole Path of War and Acceptance is an album of quiet contemplation and open-minded awareness. Much like the beautiful mountain range that graces its cover, it’s an experience that possesses wondrous depths beyond its initial appearance. Perceived on the surface, or in pieces, the album may seem repetitive and unexciting, but once you let the sublime simplicity of Halgrath’s collection of wordless prayers sink into your skin, you’ll hear many echoes of affecting grace in Mirrait’s clear and basic approach.