Here, agony has been achieved. Chains rattle, a dark drone rises, a ritual chant begins. Kali yuga … kali yuga. It’s October, and Cyclic Law has the soundtrack. Having recently celebrated their 10th anniversary, the label continues to rule the dark ambient field, watching over its crop like a scarecrow over a farmer’s seeds: frightening in nature yet benevolent in intention.
This mix has been responsible for much of the label’s success. The basest of definitions is “haunted house music”, but this tells only the beginning of the story. Cyclic Law albums may unsettle their listeners, but they also at times soothe, challenge and even uplift. When Vortex presents the finger chimes and military drums, one thinks of ancient ceremonies in wooded areas, but also high church, and war. And when the thick brass appears on “Dawn of the Iron Age”, the effect is transportive. Vortex calls it “modern aural shamanism”, and the description fits. Kali Yuga is the reflection of religion engaged with the forces of good and evil, not a parroting of empty words and phrases. It’s the religion that many people fear, because of its visceral nature; and yet, it shies from nothing. There’s a fine line between an album that exposes the presence of evil and one that celebrates the presence of evil; to the uninitiated, this music may sound like the latter, but it’s really the former. “Techno Crisis” is the clearest indicator, a track whose very pulse is an indictment of the depersonalized age. It’s easy for humans to be detached, to be entertained, to be uninformed. This is not progress. Kali Yuga looks back for the meaning that was lost, the lesson that was discarded, the solution buried in the garbage heap.
Taphephobia is the fear of being buried alive. Norway’s Ketil Søraker has been making music under this name for as long as Cyclic Law has been active and for even longer as a member of Northaunt. At first, his brand of ambience may sound similar to that of Vortex, but his softer tone lends itself more to self-reflection than to fear. According to Søraker, Escape from the Mundane World is intended to extract one from a daily mundane existence, but the to is not specified. As relaxing as his music might be, it’s doubtful that the artist has aural disengagement in mind. The synthesized oceans of “White Chamber” cross swords with an angry, volatile monologue. It’s possible to be buried alive without the dirt, and when one becomes placid about the world and one’s place in it, all sense of movement is lost. In the same manner that a person caught in a blizzard might be tempted to sleep, to fall asleep is to die. Escape from the Mundane World is both a temptation to rest and a challenge to rise, and the choice is left to the listener. When the alarm sounds at the end of “Leave Their Sinking Ship”, there’s not much time left.
The Floating World‘s The Wood Beyond the World is the brightest of Cyclic Law’s three October releases, apparent from the very first seconds. The chimes of Vortex and the waves of Taphephobia are joined by the flute of Amanda Votta. This convergence of sounds is not the only factor that ties these releases together. As with all of Votta’s work, The Wood Beyond the World is steeped in Buddhist concepts. The band’s name was inspired by the Japanese ukiyo, which can refer to either a pleasure-seeking culture or the ephemeral nature of existence. Votta’s project exists in tension, as do the preceding projects; and while all may possess different timbres, all approach the same subject: the overload of the modern era. The press release even echoes that of Tapephobia: “a journey from the mundane”. Yet Votta and her new bandmates exude no animosity, only holy contemplation. If nothing is permanent, should one turn a blind eye to suffering? Or might one seek the lessons of a higher plane? The protagonist of William Morris’ 1894 adventure novel of the same name leaves home to avoid trouble, only to find it elsewhere. We carry our potentials within us – good and evil, dead and alive – as if each of us were Schrödinger’s cat. The album sounds like the choice before it is made, the promise before it is spoken, the mandala before it is disturbed. The fuller cast of guitar, piano and field recordings enriches the wood like children among the trees.
The world is corrupt (Vortex), mundane (Taphephobia) and illusory (The Floating World). Three artists are saying the same thing, approaching from different angles. In the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life. (Richard Allen)