Monday, 21 March 2016

Yoga - Megafauna (2009)

Pineal Gland Transmitting At Full Strength

There are countless bands producing excellent albums, and countless more that can pride themselves on having a strong, auctorial character, and it's at the Venn intersection of these sets that a release can fulfill the promise implied in its name by piercing through the veil of musicality and dissolving into pure sonic transcendence. Once tuned in to the frequency of such a band (my prime go-to example will probably always remain The Angelic Process, but the French Murmuüre, in all its polychromatic, ritualistic ecstasy, took a valiant stab at that title in 2010), every first spin of an album becomes subconsciously driven by the hope that, maybe, these guys too have snuck in through that tear, or at least frayed open one adjacent to it.

So when Yoga's Megafauna first cast its spell upon me, I thought I'd struck upon the work of a spiritual acolyte of Murmuüre. Something in the way the wispy, processed-beyond-recognizability surrogate vocals – were they ever even vocals? – on opener “Seventh Mind” are constantly pitch-shifting, or how you can't tell whether they complement the guitar lines or whether it's the other way around is just so incredibly reminiscent of the French project that I was wholly incredulous and a tad peeved when I found out Megafauna preceded it by a year.

Once past the surface of that first song, however, the albums don't really have all that much in common. Half of the songs on the album can be categorized as a chaotic blend of the repetitive industrial noise rock pioneered by Matthew Bower – keep eyes, ears and mind open for Pure, Total and Skullflower – and traditional minimalistic black metal, while the other half consists of short, soundtrack-ish ambient pieces on which the guitars give way to diffuse keyboards and various indeterminate atmospheric artifacts. The synths and the unceasing, uncanny noise pervading the album are the key to Megafauna's eerie charm: without these, the more rock-oriented songs like “Encante” would have been a simple, unoriginal rehash of the mid-paced black metal of the 90's – this in spite of its fantastically hooky main riff, which Bergtatt-era Ulver would have been jealous of. Yoga, however, clearly prioritize atmosphere over song structure and masks it with a tumultuous cloud of blaring chaos.

This atmosphere is intrinsically tied to the release's larger concept which – the absence of any intelligible lyrics notwithstanding – rises to clarity through the song titles and paranormal cover art: Megafauna is an auditive cabinet of curiosities, showcasing both modern and ancient legends; from Icelandic elf-folk to South-American shape-shifting dolphins and the Amerindian thunder bird. Yoga succeed wonderfully in evoking a dense, swampy and always-progressing murk which doesn't so much sound creepy as it does enticing and mysterious, like some long-abandoned tropical shrine in a mosquito-infested mangrove. Just go ahead and try “Fourth Eye” – perhaps the strongest song on the album: as synth loops gurgle upwards like bubbles in an overgrown bog, the triumphant guitars create a spectral bridge to a hazy sun. As the song comes to its end, the discerning listener can just make out flutes amidst a climax of chanting voices and nondescript noise.

The major weakness of Megafauna is how front-loaded it is, even though it barely rounds forty minutes in length: after the appropriately-titled “Treeman” – four trudging, doomy minutes that shamble by in a positively zombie-like manner but make up one of the less compelling and diverse songs on the album – we're left with the weirdly medieval clarion-driven “Warrior”, the non-song that is “Haunted Brain” and the morose “Chupacabra's Rotting Flesh”, none of which can match the intensity of the previous tracks. It is fitting, in a sense, that an album like this should bleed out like it does…

If we're judging Megafauna purely based on its ability to bring urban legends and paranormal events to life, it still loses out to Megaptera's The Curse of the Scarecrow or Alpha Drone's unsung self-titled masterpiece, but looking at the first half of the album by itself Megafauna's excellence is undeniable; it's one of those albums which sound is uncommon and virtuous enough to survive not being wholly consistent – and as long as Murmuüre stay dormant, beggars can't be choosers.


No comments:

Post a Comment