Queen Elephantine, Kala: The Ritual Burn (Plus Track Premiere)

queen elephantine kala

Kala is the fifth full-length from Providence, Rhode Island-based experimentalists Queen Elephantine, who continue to dwell far outside of genre confines and on a plane of their own making in psychedelic ritual, drone, doom, jazz and seemingly whatever else might occur to them at any given moment. The follow-up to 2013’s Scarab (review here) brings six new tracks for a 48-minute, single-LP voyage, and finds much of the personnel from the last time out returned. At the center as always is Indrayudh Shome, whose guitar explorations form the basis from which much of the proceedings is fleshed out, and returning from Scarab are drummer/percussionists Ian Sims and Nathanael Totushek, bassist Matt Becker, and guitarist Srinivas Reddy (who played tanpura on the prior record).

In addition to these, Derek Fukumori and Michael Scott Isley contribute percussion, Samer Ghadry plays guitar and synth, Danny Quinn is credited for/as “surgeon pepper” (presumably as opposed to doctor or sergeant), and Elder‘s Nick DiSalvo handles Mellotron on the first three tracks. Someone new to the band might expect based on the amount of people involved that Queen Elephantine specialize in lush textures and construct layer upon layer of wash, but that’s never been their way. Songs like second cut “Quartz” and “Onyx” build to a head, but many of Kala‘s strongest impressions come in its minimalist moments, a few voices chanting quietly as the tension mounts in “Quartz” or filling the open spaces of 10-minute drone-doom finale “Throne of the Void in the Hundred Petal Lotus,” or the subtle movement underscoring the instrumental “Ox,” which offers a lurching apex only after an extended peripatetic wandering that ultimately proves no less integral to the affect of both.

That’s not to say the tradeoffs in volume that play out patiently across the album’s span are ineffective, just that it’s more about the conversation going on between the members of the band — whoever happens to be on a given track at any point — than about the particular moment when it “gets heavy.” Recorded by Sims over the course of two days last April, produced and mixed by Shome with mastering by Billy Anderson, even the most active moments on Kala retain a raw, live feel, and even down to the progression of song titles, from “Quartered” to “Quartz,” from “Ox” to “Onyx” with “Deep Blue” and “Throne in the Void of the Hundred Petal Lotus,” there is a mindfulness of approach that resonates strongly throughout, and that bleeds into the depth of the initial roll in “Quartered” as much as the feedback-soaked dissonance of its later reaches, the songs drawn together by their contemplative spirit as much as the tones and rhythms through which that spirit is conveyed.

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Most of those rhythms, incidentally, are crawlingly slow. Queen Elephantine have never been in much of a rush, and Kala builds on the meditative aspects of its predecessor, so that even a more upbeat stretch like the opening of “Quartz” retains them. “Quartz” might be the most straightforward inclusion here, with something of a hook in its repeated lines, “I say I’m old, I’m losing reality, I didn’t want anymore/Lust in bloom, Doomed is the pharisee, Submit matter and mind,” over a nodding bass progression and its structure that starts at a (relative) rush, drops to a quiet stretch and then builds back up, but “Ox,” which follows, makes a strong case in its midsection bombast and transitions so deftly executed as to be almost hidden despite drastic changes in volume and intensity. At its loudest, “Ox” lumbers and plods, but the current of mellotron in its final crescendo, as well as a healthy dose of guitar noise, keep it from being so easily tagged as doom.

Bass proves to be the element holding “Onyx” together as well, though it’s the drums and a consistent drone line bled over from the end of “Ox” that begin the track. Before the hissing vocals arise, an angular back and forth between the guitar and bass seems to be jabbing one instrument against the other, but as the guitar moves (temporarily) elsewhere, the low end holds steady under verses and a psychedelic lead. Even the drums start to freak out eventually, but that bassline holds until the song itself seems to come apart leaving just another drone to lead into the penultimate “Deep Blue,” the first half of which pushes toward a peak with drawling drone-singing forward in the mix but nonetheless obscure and a blown-out distortion in focus that seems to drown out the crash cymbal. At about three minutes in, the emergent cacophony ends abruptly and “Deep Blue” roots itself in its central figure to play eerie whispers and eerier falsetto off each other before a drone once again provides the shift into “Throne of the Void in the Hundred Petal Lotus,” which in its linear course, patient execution and holding onto that drone provides a fitting summary of Kala‘s accomplishments to that point.

Less harsh than some of the other cuts, its slower beginning turns toward a grander ending after about five and a half minutes and continues to thrust outward from there until finally the pieces seem to rumble apart, bells chime, amps feed back, and that underlying drone that has been present for much (not all) of the album caps it on a long fade. Wherever they’ve gone soncially over the course of their now-decade-long tenure — and they go a few places here that don’t have a name yet — Queen Elephantine‘s work has always been distinguished by its raw-form creativity, by the sheer will for experimentation that drives it. Kala pushes Queen Elephantine deeper into volume as a spiritual or cerebral expression, and proves just as immersive a journey for the listener as one imagines it was for the artist, but even more than that, it reinforces just how woefully underappreciated they continue to be.

Queen Elephantine on Thee Facebooks

Listen to “Quartz”

Queen Elephantine on Bandcamp

Concrete Lo-Fi Records

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One Response to “Queen Elephantine, Kala: The Ritual Burn (Plus Track Premiere)”

  1. […] well introduced by The Obelisk.net, QUEEN ELEPHANTINE “continue to dwell far outside of genre confines and on a plane of their own […]

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