I Feel Like a Bombed Cathedral, "AmOrtH"
This latest project from FaUSt guitarist/Ulan Bator founder Amaury Cambuzat has regrettably been under my radar for the last several months, but AmOrtH recently caught my attention by virtue of its Dirter Promotions imprimatur. Prior to this latest release, Cambuzat had been documenting his amazing solo guitar "cathedral sessions" throughout the year with a series of videos that culminated with April's Rec.Requiem album (released on Italy's Dio Drone). If I had heard Rec.Requiem first, i am sure it would have floored me, as Cambuzat is an almost supernaturally brilliant drone artist. Instead, I encountered this one, which worked out quite well: AmOrtH is somehow even better than its predecessor. I have not heard drone as mesmerizingly heavy and ritualistic as this since I was blindsided by Natural Snow Buildings a decade ago. AmOrtH is an absolute monster of an album.
It is always an extremely good sign when I put on an album and my first thoughts are "where on earth did this come from?" and "how the hell is he doing this?". After a week of listening to AmOrtH, I am still stumped by the first question and I suspect any answer to the second would feel hopelessly inadequate. Simply put, Cambuzat conjures up incredibly rich and heavy dronescapes with just a guitar, the sound of a heartbeat, and a battery of effects. What he does with that simple palette verges on sorcery, however, particularly on the album's title tour de force. At the heart of "AmOrtH" is a sustained drone that feels like it is quaveringly alive‚Äìeven if nothing else happened at all, that sustained note would be compelling solely from the improbable degree of intensity that Cambuzat wrings from it. Thankfully, that is just the start of his wonderfully deepening and irresistible spell. Even from its earliest moments, "AmOrtH" sounds like a barely controlled storm of howling noise over a slow pulse of processed heart beats. The sheer vibrancy and power of the sounds hits me the hardest of the piece's many wonderful attributes, as "AmOrtH" feels like it is slowly twisting and burning even as it steadily accumulates more force and density. Moreover, Cambuzat manipulates dynamics and wields tension beautifully, as there is never a lull or misstep in the piece's 40-minute ascension. Instead, the roiling noise slowly and subtly blossoms into a harmonically rich fantasia of shifting organ-like tones. It does not quite feel like a bombed cathedral, but it feels admirably close: it sounds like hell boiling out up from the earth in the middle of an organ mass. Words like "ecstatic" and "rapturous" spring readily to mind and "AmOrtH" earns them, but religious transcendence rarely (if ever) comes in such blackened and gnarled form.
Unexpectedly, however, that darkness slowly dissipates and the final third of "AmOrtH" is a warmly beautiful swirl of rippling and shimmering heaven. It is quite an impressive sleight-of-hand and all the more so since Cambuzat manages to do it without sacrificing any of the piece's power and majesty. It is far from a toothless bliss, as an undercurrent of rumbling, burning wreckage ensures that the idyll never stops feeling like a precarious and threatened one. The elegant balance of light and dark is particularly beautiful, akin to watching a lovely sunrise ascend over a landscape of smoldering ruins. In the wake of that heaving and scorched transfiguration, the album's shorter second piece ("Psalm 39") emerges as a sublime coda of sorts. It is considerably less ambitious than "AmOrtH," but it makes for a lovely and appropriate come-down, languorously taking shape as a shimmering reverie of slow, elegantly blurred guitar swells. It reminds me a bit of classic Stars of the Lid, as Cambuzat attains a similar degree of radiant, glacially evolving tranquility. By default, it is the weaker of the two pieces, but its most damning shortcoming is merely that it vaguely resembles someone else's great work rather than feeling like a dazzling eruption of iconoclastic brilliance.
When I initially read this album's description, I was a bit surprised to see The Theatre of Eternal Music boldly name-checked as the closest reference point, but that legitimately seems like the only logical antecedent for this project. Times have certainly changed since the '60s, so AmOrtH has zero chance of making the cultural impact of La Monte Young's revolutionary ensemble. The two projects definitely strain heavenward in similar ways though and neither feels like it shares anything in common with the contemporary drone genre beyond the name. When I Feel Like A Bombed Cathedral is at its best, it genuinely feels like a channeling, a trance state, or a religious experience, achieving an immersive and hypnotic majesty that approaches the ecstatic. ¬† In fact, AmOrtH most strongly reminds me of Sufi whirling dervishes, as their ceremonial spinning meditations have a deep and spiritual purpose, yet they have the outward appearance of a unique and beautiful dance to non-participants. Similarly, I Feel Like A Bombed Cathedral appears to be a deeply personal and ritualistic endeavor that doubles as incredibly striking and powerful art. Both of I Feel Like A Bombed Cathedral's albums feel like the transcendently brilliant work of a drone savant, but AmOrtH's extended title piece alone captures that vision at its sustained and slow-burning zenith. This album is a masterpiece.
Samples can be found here.