Asphodel ~ Aokigahara, The Black Sea of Trees

asphodel graphics refined 5.19One of our Top Ten Ambient Releases of 2012 has just been reissued on red vinyl, and given the fact that the initial release had a print run of only 50, this is a perfect opportunity to discover what one has missed.  Below you’ll find a modified version of our initial review to match the modified version of this evocative album.

The changes are threefold.  First, there’s a difference in appearance.  While the initial offering on Wounded Wolf Press was wrapped in beautiful folded prints, the new design is as stark as the subject matter.  The blood red cover implies something darker and altogether more mysterious.  Second, the duo has changed its name from Atay Ilgun & Alper Yildirim to Asphodel.  Third, the material has been tightened with the excision of two tracks (both of which can still be heard here). Looking back on our initial review, it’s gratifying to note that we mentioned neither track.  One is the longer piece that initially closed the album (“Aokigahara IIIB”), while the other is a brief coda found on the bonus disc.  In their place, the duo has wisely substituted the album’s most effective cut, “Reverend Viola Of The Woodland (A Touch Of Treefingers)”, retitled it “IIIB”, and made it the closer.

While the music is sublime, the album’s chief selling point is its sensitivity to a subject that many would be afraid to tackle, and that few could cover with such tender respect.  A horror movie (“The Forest”, ironically opening this weekend) demonstrates the opposite, insensitive approach.

AokigaharaAokigahara, the black sea of trees is a 35-kilometer forest at the foot of Mount Fuji, known for its desolate beauty, its sense of silence, and its suicides. While suicide is not necessarily stigmatized in Japan, neither is it encouraged. Suicide is sometimes seen as a form of protest, a dignified, self-controlled punishment, or a means of restoring honor. Yet it can also be an irreversible effort to regain self-control, a self-crumbling, a depressive exit. In one year alone, 78 bodies were found in the forest; there’s no telling how many more might have chosen to end their lives, but reconsidered after reading the nearby signs. Although the area is marked by savage beauty – icy caverns, dense woods – it remains a popular tourist destination. Any wide-eyed wonder is undercut by haunted desolation, the ghosts swaying in the leaves, whispering curses, regrets, warnings, and perhaps murmurings of hope: it doesn’t have to end this way. You don’t have to become like us.

blood red vinylAsphodel captures the warring emotions of Aokigahara through nipped breezes and fluted cries, stretches of starkness, drones of anguished prayer. The drenching sorrow of the recording honors the memory of the fallen, providing them with a dignity that may never have been afforded them elsewhere. Slight crackles of static and restrained piano reflect the disjointed thoughts of the afflicted. One can hear the creaks of the wood, imagine the footfalls of spirits and empathize with their emptiness. From a long, dark hymn (“IB”) to a study of shunned solitude (“IIB”), the album imagines what it is like to be deserted, weighing a final exit. A sense of beauty offsets the oppression, in the same manner as the inanimate woods scream without sound, endure, endure. Ultimately, the LP is one of respectful reflection, sad but not disillusioning, a statement of artistry intimating that art is a life-affirming force.

The steadily-developing drone of “Reverend Viola Of The Woodland”, walks the listener out of the woods, intact and grateful, humbled by the continuance of life in the presence of death. The forest remains, and others may die there; but even more will enter and find a reason to live. (Richard Allen)

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