It could be posited that Parisian heavy rocking four-piece Abrahma (formerly known as Alcohsonic) take their name either from the notion of something negating the Hindu god Brahma, the creator of humankind. In this instance, they’d be undoing of humankind, presumably more aligned to Shiva, the destroyer – though that may be a gross simplification of the complexities of Hinduism, and if it offends, I apologize – or otherwise atheistic. Fair enough. The word “abrahma” also appears in the work of 19th Century British historian Godfrey Higgins, who put forth the idea of Pandeism, that all modern religions Eastern and Western had a common root. Higgins uses “abrahma” as a bridge between Brahma, in Hinduism, and the Judeo-Christian figure Abraham. Whether or not the members of Abrahma are students of obscure 19th Century religious theorizing, I don’t know – stranger things have certainly happened – but in either case, their moniker is a roundabout way to express a very specific, if abstract and ethereal, idea. One might say the same thing about their Small Stone Records debut, Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives. At just over 70 minutes long and comprised of 15 individual tracks, the album develops from relatively straightforward heavy rock – tonally thick and incorporating some elements of psychedelia, but never at the sacrifice of structure – into a more expansive feel, so that by the time closer “Omega” comes around with its techno-style bass groove and keyboards, it’s hardly out of place at all following the 10-minute ranging exploration of “The Maze.” I don’t know if the cuts between “Omega” and opener “Alpha” (the dichotomy furthering the vague religiosity of their name) follow an overarching narrative or not, but with a slew of guest appearances from the likes of the recently-interviewed Ed Mundell of The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic, Thomas Bellier of fellow Parisians Blaak Heat Shujaa and Ehécatl, and cover artist Alexander Von Wieding, who composed and performs “Oceans of Sand…” a welcome change of pace late into the record.
Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives is almost like two albums put together – or perhaps more appropriately, an album and an EP. It even has two separate introductions. The first 21 minutes, preceded by the ringing tones of “Alpha,” find Abrahma tangling with memorable choruses and heavy, large-sounding riffage. “Neptune of Sorrow” begins a string of four songs – the others being “Tears of the Sun” (guest vocal by Pascal Mascheroni of Marseille trio Rescue Rangers), “Dandelion Dust” and “Honkin’ Water Roof” – that stick largely to the same catchy modus. Vocalist/guitarist Sebastian Bismuth keeps a John Garcia-esque lyrical cadence to “Honkin’ Water Roof,” but it’s more Hermano than Kyuss, and his riffing, complemented by fellow six-stringer Nicolas Heller, leaves little to be desired in tone, “Tears of the Sun” culminating in decidedly modern Eurostoner progressions that feel intricately composed despite their familiarity. The momentum shows its first signs of shifting with “Dandelion Dust.” Drummer Benjamin Colin – the band is rounded out by his brother, Guillaume Colin, on bass – moves to the cowbell for the verse and continues the push on the kick for the chorus, but the mood is darker than “Neptune of Sorrow” or “Tears of the Sun,” and the guitars begin in the second half to show some of the spaciousness they’ll maximize later on, Guillaume taking the fore in holding down the groove. Expectedly given it’s countrified title, “Honkin’ Water Roof” offers some Southern inflection in its guitar figure, made insistent by start-stop bass and drums – a slide also shows up in the chorus – and aligning Abrahma sonically a bit to their labelmates Dwellers, whose Good Morning Harakiri was released earlier this year. A killer solo toward the middle precedes another round of the chorus, and the ending of the track – the longest yet at 6:49 and the longest of the rest of Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives but for “The Maze” – tosses in amp and effects noise against the backdrop of the still maintained central progression, which is a pretty decent example of how the album as a whole works. It keeps itself aligned to the straightforward, accessible ideas it presents even as it adds more and more varied elements on top.
That said, Abrahma change their methods when it comes to track six and everything after. A subtle build on “Loa’s Awakening (Prelude)” begins a widely diverse 48-minute run that incorporates some of the best material that Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives has to offer, but can also confuse first-time listeners because of its shifts from the initial movement of the record. To offset this potentiality, Bismuth, Heller and the brothers Colin put the best song right in what is effectively the beginning of this second movement, “Vodun Pt. 1: Samedi’s Awakening” having both the funkiest verse and the most memorable chorus of the record’s 70-minute entirety. The theme is so strong, in fact, that Abrahma reference it either musically or lyrically in both “Vodun Pt. 2: I, Zombie” and “Vodun Pt. 3: Final Asagwe,” but the trio of “Vodun” tracks is broken up by two in between each part, and two more follow the final installment, so they’re by no means all the band has on offer in the second, lengthier piece of Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives. Still, the thread exists and its prevalence clearly is no accident. And though it’s tactics are different, more spacious and spiritually minded, particularly in a bass-rumbling midpoint break, “Vodun Pt. 1: Samedi’s Awakening” (both Samedi and Loa are references to voodoo, or vodun, mythology, though “Samedi” is also French for “Saturday”), Abrahma hold fast to the verse/chorus framework they’ve built, which helps them as they switch between the “Vodun” pieces and the other tracks. Mundell’s appearance on “Big Black Cloud” – a joy to anyone who appreciates psychedelic heavy rock soloing – helps recovery from the punch of “Vodun Pt. 1: Samedi’s Awakening”’s chorus, the rhythm guitar tone behind recalling the sound of “Neptune of Sorrow” without directly repeating it, and “Headless Horse” delves further into heavy atmospherics, soft guitar lines getting buried under a mass of tone and Guillaume’s increasingly prevalent bass. There’s any number of heavy psych comparisons one could make, but the one foremost in my mind is Arc of Ascent, and Benjamin’s echoing drums only add to the likeness, although the later guitar solo maintains a gloomy feel that’s more reminiscent of mid-period Amorphis (if we’re going to stick with ‘A’ bands) than anything specifically psych. If this is how Abrahma will carve their identity, so be it.
Organ-infused “Vodun Pt. 2: I, Zombie” continues to further the reaches of the band’s sound, a boogie-metal riff kicking in to be topped by Bismuth’s reverb-drenched vocals. If they harken back to Alcohsonic’s ‘70s-infused thrust anywhere on Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives, it’s here, but the song’s upbeat Deep Purple-isms are contrasted by a wash of echo and noise and slow down to less tangible ambience in the second half, either sax or a keyboard filling out the melody. It might also be guitar. Hard to tell. Either way, a big rock finish feels tacked onto the end as culmination for the wanderings, which by their end do indeed seem to lose themselves as compares to the rest of the album’s firmly-directed sensibility, but if there’s a return to earth to be had, “Oceans of Sand…” provides, sounding strikingly akin to Larman Clamor in the swampy acoustics and von Wieding’s effective semi-slurred vocal. As every song since “Honkin’ Water Roof” has been a shift from the one before it – though I’ll say that “Honkin’ Water Roof” could work as a precursor to “Oceans of Sand…” as well – the slide acoustics and humming that close the track aren’t out of place, and neither is it awkward as Abrahma kick back in on the subdued, heavily atmospheric follow-up, “…Here Sleep Ghosts,” which is another highlight for Guillaume on bass as he provides much of the movement for the more languid groove. Abrahma are nearly 50 minutes into Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives, and if you’re not on board by now, you’re probably not going to be. Their leading with the hooks – the first “Vodun” aside – was a solid means for grabbing attention, but if by the end of “…Here Sleep Ghosts” they haven’t managed to keep your interest, they’re probably not going to win it back on the last three tracks, expansive though they are. “Vodun Pt. 3: Final Asagwe” (asagwe being a voodoo dance of divine admiration) picks up with a snare hit right where “…Here Sleep Ghosts” leaves off, but turns immediately to more grounded fare, slide guitar topping Benjamin’s straightforward drum beat and Bismuth’s vocals likewise echoing von Wieding’s megaphone-style vocal for the first verse. The song languishes some after casually nodding at the chorus of “Vodun Pt. 1: Samedi’s Awakening,” but picks up a bit for its own chorus before meandering directly into the appropriately labyrinthine “The Maze.”
And if you’re going to get lost anywhere in the stretch of Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives, it’s in “The Maze,” which devolves from a slow, airy progression into psychedelic ambience, random-seeming guitar notes, keys and a low-mixed vocal from Bellier that’ll be immediately recognizable to anyone who heard the Ehécatl self-titled last year, even as it – like everything else in that part of the track – seems to be bubbling and warped. This is where Abrahma really let go, but just at the seven-minute mark, when it seems like they’ve lost it and are going to spend the remainder of the song indulgently noising out, they stop and pull it back in. Guillaume’s fuzz bass sets the stage for the return of Bismuth and Heller’s guitars, and, with Benjamin renewing the slower progression of the opening, the band effectively gives the song its payoff. The guitar lead is mixed a little low, so the triumph isn’t quite as loudly stated as it might otherwise be, but it’s there on “The Maze”’s long fadeout to single guitar, lightly strummed. It would be a fitting way to cap the album – they could even have split the tracks up, led one into the next and called that guitar part “Omega” – but the actual “Omega” rounds it out nicely as well, presenting one last shift with Guillaume recalling “Headless Horse” in his tone while the aforementioned electronic-style grooving marches “Omega” and the rest of Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives to its finish, hitting a surprisingly brash apex and cutting in and out of the drum room-mics and giving a last-minute bit of chaos in the guitar to what it for the most part a highly structured album. It’s fitting somehow that Abrahma would contradict themselves at the end of the record while still also confirming the creative breadth of their debut’s second part. Aside from showing that they still have avenues to explore, it also seems to indicate an awareness on the part of the band that there’s more to creating than construction and that an essential part of developing as a unit is indulging the spontaneous as well as the blueprint. In any case, there are no shortage of indulgences on Through the Dusty Paths of Our Lives, and though the record certainly takes its time in making its point musically as well as in its circuitous language (something I can get down with, when it comes to it), the point is well made by the time they’re done. With a release so substantial, I have a hard time saying it shows potential for future ground the band might cover because I feel like it might take away from the impression this album has on its own, but among the many things Abrahma have room to do on their first full-length, they have room to do that as well.
Tags: Abrahma, France, Paris, Small Stone