A Parisian bass/drum duo making their debut on the French label Improvising Beings, Ehécatl recorded their self-titled full-length in Los Angeles and hone in on a sound almost purely in homage thematically to the Aztec god the band (and album) is named after. The record is six atmospheric songs ranging from three to just under eight minutes – the intro aside – and begets an almost immediate sonic comparison to Om. Vocalist/bassist Thomas Bellier and drummer Timothée Gacon are both members of the Scott Reeder-produced outfit Blaak Heat Shujaa, and while there are some points of commonality between the two bands, Ehécatl is expressing a different idea almost entirely than was the other act, despite a shared semi-jam feel and apparent penchant for black and white artwork. Bellier, who plays guitar in Blaak Heat Shujaa, moves to bass for Ehécatl, and his vocal delivery comes right from the Al Cisneros canon. The main distinguishing factor of Ehécatl, then, is the Aztec theme, which works well within the sound. Most songs are titled in Spanish (lyrics in English), and while one could probably ramble on at length about the certain degree of cultural imperialism at work in any such release as this, it doesn’t strike me as being an especially productive method for explaining Ehécatl’s ethic, which is to meld Bellier’s obvious desert fetish with a cultural schematic not as often explored in psychedelia as, say, the vague interpretations of Hinduism one might run across on any number of releases.
The two players make for a crisp rhythm section, and it’s clear that Bellier and Gacon’s time touring with Yawning Man in Blaak Heat Shujaa was not without some measure of conveyed influence. There’s no guitar to ring into infinity à la Gary Arce, but on the three longer pieces that make up the bulk of Ehécatl – “La Canción del Dios Ehécatl,” “The Wrath of Tepeyollotl” and “Tenan” all top seven minutes – there’s a spacious vibe that can’t be ignored, and that works invariably to the album’s favor. Complex rhythms on “La Canción del Dios Ehécatl,” on which Bellier also adds Aztec flute, give an immediate Latin American feel, and it should be telling that the first lines of the song and album are, “Feathered and sacred.” Right away, the thematic construct is laid bare, and with the “El Entierro de Los Nahuas” intro preceding, shamanistic chants set the tone for the spiritual exploration to come. The sound with just the two players is no emptier than it should be for its lack of guitar, and Gacon proves a remarkably creative percussionist, on both his kit and the added drum sounds he soon brings to “The Wrath of Tepeyollotl,” which works well set directly against “La Canción del Dios Ehécatl.” One expects the second track to get heavy, to “kick in” at some point, but though some of their rhythms have a kind of immediacy to them, Ehécatl is more patient sound-wise than to just open up into a heavy part. Nonetheless, “La Canción del Dios Ehécatl” does have its payoff, but there’s no grand tonal change from Bellier and it winds up being Gacon’s cymbal crashes that provide the necessary rush to convey the overall direction of the song. Likewise, he underscores the tension in Bellier’s vocals and bass line in “The Wrath of Tepeyollotl” with starts and stops that add fluidity where otherwise the track might sound awkward.
An included contribution of sitar (played by Michel Kristof) to “The Wrath of Tepeyollotl” would sound out of place were it not so well woven into the mix amid Bellier’s insistent bass line and Gacon’s percussion. Still, it’s not an Aztec instrument and has nothing to do with the pre-Columbian reverence of Ehécatl, however enjoyable it might be to the ear and however well it might add to the jammed sensibility of the latter part of that track. The build in the track isn’t obvious until it’s already over, and though the sitar doesn’t work on a thematic level, it works sonically to break up the album and give a landmark to the listening experience. Bellier and Gacon keep the three-minute “Rih,” which follows, instrumental and based around a relatively simple central idea almost to allow for a breather, and it’s a move that shows both songwriting acumen and maturity on the part of the still-young duo. The piece feels especially transitional as Bellier brings back the flute for the start of “Tenan,” Ehécatl’s longest cut at 7:52 and the high point of the record. Ehécatl deftly move back and forth from heavier to more ambient stretches, smoothly work in the record’s only layered vocals (it’s a subtle change, but it does a lot to lend an air of significance to the part), and take their Om jams to faster, less restrained progressions. After a freakout and spate of low-end feedback just before six minutes in, Gacon sets a wash loose on his cymbals and Bellier works quickly to keep up, adding skillful but not overdone runs on his bass in the process. “Tenan” is the apex of the album and it feels like it, ending suddenly to cut into the calmer finish of “Nanahuatzin y Tecciztecatl.”
“Nanahuatzin y Tecciztecatl” is more satisfying than was the similarly executed “Rih” for the change in percussive method Gacon brings to bear, and in that way, is a fitting closer for Ehécatl’s first outing. Like much of the record, its relative sparseness positions you to appreciate each shift Bellier and Gacon bring to bear, and while the album isn’t without its missteps – the chanting of the intro contributed by Sébastien Bismuth is both mixed too high and ill-fitting what happens musically with the rest of the songs – it’s an impressive debut that can both make you want to pay attention and make you notice what it clearly wants you to notice. For that and the boldness with which it takes on the pre-Columbian mythology as a theme and works it into an established paradigm within American-styled heavy psychedelia, Ehécatl proves a fitting debut. There’s room for Bellier and Gacon to explore the sound and make it more expansive on subsequent outings, and there’s still enough happening here to intrigue a listener and make them want to hear those outings when the time comes.
Tags: Ehécatl, France, Improvising Beings, Paris