(Editions Gravats, 2015)
I’ve looked like a fool before. Consider that everything I’ve written for this site exists in perpetuity on the Internet (unless of course someone hacks it and deletes it forever, or turns it into an engine to sell you fake energy drinks or offer advice on how to date Natalie Dormer with one neat trick), and you can imagine there’s at least something I want to take back. Well, turns out I’ve reviewed Black Zone Myth Chant before (Straight cassette, dawg), and I want to take back my wide-eyed fascination at the “mystery” behind the person behind the project. It sounds silly now that we know BZMC is the slightly-less-but-still-somewhat-mysterious High Wolf, but that’s no excuse for misleading storytelling. Still, if you’re not just here about the music, and you should just be here about the music, you might as well just bite me if you want to start picking that bone.
Mane Thecel Phares is the second release under the Black Zone Myth Chant moniker, and the origins of the title are quite interesting. Watch as I knock your socks off with my Sunday school knowledge (*cracks knuckles*). See, in the Old Testament of the Hebrew Bible, in the book of Daniel to be precise, the Israelites were conquered by the Babylonians because everyone who lived in a time with “BCE” following the date was a b-hole. Also, because all Old Testament stories end in some sort of supernatural horror, this one features a corrupt king named Belshazzar, to whom the hand of god appeared and wrote on the wall, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.” This roughly translates to, “Your days are numbered, you irresponsible jackass,” and it’s where we get the modern idiom, “The writing’s on the wall” (or variations thereof). Needless to say, it was obvious that the Medo-Persians were gonna kick some serious A, and kick some serious A they did, that very friggin night.
So, Mane Thecel Phares is actually a variation of this saying, and it appears, from what I can see, most prominently in Filipino nationalist author José Rizal’s second novel, El Filibusterismo (1891). I won’t spoil the surprise of how “Mane Thecel Phares” relates to the characters or plot of the story in case you want to read it, but I’ll give you this much: the passing of its message, like that written by the hand of Jehovah, portends mega bad news for those on the receiving end of it. All this makes me wonder if Mane Thecel Phares the album isn’t actually a recording of ancient incantations meant to bring disaster upon the listener, or even to humanity itself? I guess we’ll see what this does to me. If I don’t post anything for a while, you’ll know why.
Black Zone Myth Chant is by loose definition the High Wolf hip hop project, and I’d like to think that’s true, if by hip hop you meant the desolate soundscapes made by deities before they laid waste to human existence and then cawed deeply at the remaining cosmos. If you’d rather define it by saying it sounds like High Wolf but less tribal and more 4/4, then sure, that’d work too. But there’s so much more going on with this than to merely peg it with “hip hop” and move on. This is great, astral drone and spectral dance, filled with dread and wonder, and truly not of this world. The idea of god or gods permeates more than just the titles – the feel is titanic and dangerous, and often feels like pagan worship rituals. I guess that’s Babylonian or Persian or some kind of Mesopotamian ritual garb on the cover. I hope it is, rather than an irate bird-demon from another dimension.
And hey, there’s even a song called “Belshazzar”! What do you know – it leads off the album with drones and buzzes, and the High Wolf brand tribal rhythm makes its presence felt by the end. Synthesizers create an out-of-this-world atmosphere, likely evoking quite nicely the feeling of the titular character when he witnessed a giant disembodied hand defiling his wall with a prophecy of his own doom. This is an excellent starting point, and an appropriate one – it only gets weirder from here, but in the world of Black Zone Myth Chant, that’s an excellent move. “In the Arms of the Parcae” squiggles wonderously like scarabs across drum program triggers, but by the end our deity is back and in charge, commanding a throng of worshippers as they head to the altar. Human sacrifice? You be the judge!
The spectacularly named (and executed) “Orbit Slut” boasts a huge rhythm and wild, manic synth/guitar/whatever BZMC’s playing. It truly is like a bacchanalian ordeal – in ancient space! “Two Stars, No Cross” scatters the beat like a footwork hero before “He Evil” squirts into existence, the psychedelic monolith a gargantuan declaration that, well, he (the voice – hey, The Voice!) ain’t safe to be around. I could keep going – “First Contact” is heavy-ass funk buzzing with what sounds like a bathtub full of desert scorpions (do scorpions buzz?) and it gives way to the more ambient “Pass Over Into Nothing,” a sound experiment punctuated by synthetic kick drum. BZMC absolutely shines on closer “If God Is Not Here,” a Persian slow jam with the most soaring use of synthesizer yet on the record. It’s like he got Vangelis in the room or something to bounce ideas off.
Mane Thecel Phares is a definite progression from Straight cassette, but considering High Wolf records under a massive amount of aliases and within other groups, such as Voodoo Mount Sister, Annapurna Illusion, Enfer Boréal, and Saturn Finger, a progression doesn’t quite explain it. He’s always growing as an artist, and one name informs all the others. Mane Thecel Phares is a glorious and terrifying paean to weird gods, all of whom want to kill the crap out of us, but won’t if we worship them right. Black Zone Myth Chant is the soundtrack of our hymns to those deities. Thanks, BZMC/High Wolf, for staving off the darkness for us, just a little bit longer!
RIYL: High Wolf, Heroin in Tahiti, Voodoo Mount Sister, Forest Swords