The Glasgow-based foursome recorded the tape (yes, tape, released by Dub Ditch Picnic) in their rehearsal space, and its three tracks — “The Exalted King” (34:07), “Anatta” (15:30) and “Anaphora” (20:40) — are slowly unfolding, molten jams. Their prior cassette, a 2011 self-titled (review here), followed a similar course (there was also the Cozmik Live Aktion Vol. I in between the two studio outings), but The Exalted King vibes even more patiently, the guitar of James T. McKay ringing out space effects on the title-track, topping the manic drum fills of Julian Dicken and Omar Aborida‘s smooth running basslines while Lewish Cook‘s synth adds ethereal melody to the vivid, ultra-psychedelic soundscaping.
It’s the kind of album born and bred for late-night headphone listens. The parts feel and likely are improvised — at least in part, if not entirely — and as it takes up nearly half the runtime, the opener is a focal point, but though it’s a full-length unto itself, “Anatta” and “Anaphora” answer back with progressions of their own, structurally open but not simply wandering either. Cook‘s synth, Dickens‘ samples and the varied vocal contributions of Aborida, Cook and McKay give “Anatta” a building feel, morphing gradually from silence to a blown-out apex, dripping in its lysergic viscosity but still ultimately moving toward something. Even in comparison to “The Exalted King” and “Anaphora,” hearing “Anatta” feels like walking into a temple, its sense of ritual and vague Eastern influence coming through clearer than the production itself.
About that. The Exalted King was recorded in a rehearsal space — presumably The Cosmic Dead‘s — and it plays well off that roughness. The ending of “Anatta” approaches bombast thanks in no small part to its sonically raw presentation, and the echoed voice samples — I don’t even know why I should have to point out that they’re echoed; fucking everything is echoed, and rightly so — that begin “Anaphora” come off all the weirder for the canned sound. That said, as “Anaphora” develops, McKay‘s guitars offer some melodic sensibility in playing off the bass line, and that actually comes through pretty clearly in a kind of jazzy progression, so it’s not like The Cosmic Dead are relying on their production (or lack of production) to convey their aesthetic. More likely they just wanted the tape to sound as natural as possible.
I can’t argue either with the intent or the result. While I might wonder what these players might be able to do in a studio setting, bringing their blend of drone and heavy psych to bear in layer after layer of full-bodied guitar swirl, like a live album from similarly-minded German trio Electric Moon, part of the appeal of The Exalted King is its purported lack of structure and how stable The Cosmic Dead are able to keep the flow in these songs, “Anaphora” reveling in decades of space rock development to hone a mood at once laid back and, thanks in no small part to Aborida‘s repetitive and slowly changing basslines, resoundingly hypnotic. It’s almost like they don’t play music in measures. Like these used to be five-minute instrumentals that broke the cell wall and are leaking out over the course of 70 minutes.
It’s not going to be for everyone. The Cosmic Dead may not be growing or blasting or screaming or pummeling, but make no mistake. This is extreme music. The Exalted King puts the Scottish outfit at the fore of a still-rising movement of heavy psych jammers, and its live feel is frighteningly genuine. As the fourth release from The Cosmic Dead since April 2011, one imagines we’re standing on the launch point of a considerable discography. So long as they can continue to come together to serve an overarching atmosphere rather than give into noodling indulgence (not to say there’s no self-indulgence at work here, I’m speaking relatively), these explorers should find themselves in the hall of the mountain grill in no time. Jam on, gents.Dub Ditch Picnic, Glasgow, Scotland, The Cosmic Dead, UK