Queen Elephantine, Scarab: Snakes and Ladders

Posted in Reviews on August 9th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Since making their debut on the same 2006 split that marked the first recorded appearance of Elder, Providence-by-way-of-Hong-Kong-and-Brooklyn experimental doomers Queen Elephantine have been consistently hard to pin down — and not just geographically. Their latest full-length, Scarab (on Heart and Crossbone Records/Cosmic Eye Records for CD and vinyl, respectively), finds the amorphous outfit as ever led by guitarist Indrayudh Shome working with two drummers and exploring a drone-based mysticism that seems in partial conversation with Om‘s 2012 outing, Advaitic Songs, but taken to a more exploratory degree. The 50-minute album is comprised of four extended tracks — “Veil” (8:12), “Crone” (18:16), “Snake” (10:44) and “Clear Light of the Unborn” (13:05) — and each one builds its own flow within the overarching progression of Scarab as a whole. Joining Shome on his journey are two drummers, Ian Sims and Nathanael Totushek, bassist Matt Becker, returning tanpura player Srinivas Reddy and Brett Zweiman, who played bass on Queen Elephantine‘s last outing, 2011’s Garland of Skulls, but here contributes slide guitar and other drones, and the songs were recorded in one day (I would suspect entirely or at least mostly live) by Sims with a mix by Shome himself and a mastering job from Billy Anderson. The result of all their work is a varied but ultimately satisfying listen of heavy drone, and Queen Elephantine have done increasingly well over their last couple albums in shirking expectations and definitions of what “heavy” means. That continues on Scarab as well and makes their stylistic sprawl all the more boundless and more importantly, all the more their own. Almost immediately, “Veil” commences with a meditative drone and percussion, sparse guitar and bass that in another context might be akin to Earth metering out slow lines over a subtle build both in tempo and clash. Vocals arrive after the instrumental bombast peaks in spiritually desperate wails, and a lighter swirl plays out buried by heavier guitar strum and gradual return the winding line that delivered Scarab‘s first offering to its point of highest energy. Already we hear the flow is liquid.

It remains so for the duration. At 18-plus minutes, “Crone” is an undertaking unto itself, but it unfolds with hypnotic patience and makes a consuming follow-up to “Veil,” working in a similarly-slow, temple-style atmosphere. An underlying synth-style drone — what might be referred to in the credits as “divine mosquito” and credited to Zweiman — plays out steadily beneath the minimal guitar-led progression, and even when the vocals arrive, the sense of open space is maintained. There’s room between the music overtop and that buzz, and it’s in that room that the listener is most likely to get placed, feeling one overtop and the other underneath, surrounded; especially at louder volumes. After five minutes or so, Queen Elephantine embark on a mild cacophony, and again the double percussion plays a major role. Guitar and bass get louder, and vocals return, the band moving within the sort of undulations of energy that they’re crafting to bring the track forward, then draw it back, all the while the drone underneath stays put. There is an instrumental push as they approach 10 minutes in that provides “Crone” a noisy apex at about 13:00, but they soon drop to quieter spheres as Shome establishes a bouncing sort of guitar nod that leads the way through the remaining time, punctuating pops and the bassline adding dimension as the drone finally comes forward near the end of the song before fading out again. If you’re not on board with Scarab yet, you won’t be. The record’s first half is a challenge that the second half rises to meet, but if you’re immune to the trance they’re working in and bringing their listeners into, the course is set. It’s not like they’re going pop once “Snake” hits, is what I’m saying. Rather, with a current of Reddy‘s tanpura, they resume the droning course, bringing vocals in early as they did on “Crone,” and revel further in the torch-lit contemplations. It is atmospherically gorgeous and a sure sign of Queen Elephantine‘s maturity that they’re able to maintain such a patient sense throughout Scarab, and if it turns some listeners off, it’s hardly the band’s loss. “Snake” never gets quite as rambunctious as did “Crone,” but string-esque drones give a sense of emergency all the same as the metered lurch is mounted.

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Queen Elephantine’s Scarab Due Next Month

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 13th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Amorphous and transient doom experimentalists Queen Elephantine have never been an easy act to nail down, and even as the 26-minute two-track sample of their upcoming fourth album, Scarab, commences an extended, droning and patient build, I can tell immediately that’s still the case. Nonetheless, an uptake in production value over their 2011 third offering, Garland of Skulls (posted here), and the patience with which “Veil” unfolds speaks to some solidification and maturity in the band, ever-shifting their modus and their lineup. One more to look forward to, I guess.

Here’s the cover art, info, links and tracks, sent along the PR wire:

Announcing Queen Elephantine’s fourth album Scarab, to be released in April on CD by Heart & Crossbone Records (Israel) and LP by Cosmic Eye Records (Greece).

“Delirious and psychedelic threnodies, abysmal doom observances and mild invocations, offering deep, heavy sounds straight from the soul-realm woven through the geometries of the cosmos – A funerary procession danced by a mighty double-trio of two axes, two drumsets, and two insectoid drones…”
Longer description beneath links.


Heart & Crossbone Records description:

“Formed in Hong Kong in 2006 and relocated to the United States a few years later, Queen Elephantine has produced some of the finest doom albums and splits (with Sons of Otis, Elder, and Alunah) in recent years, driven by sheer originality and mystical force embodied in resplendent shrines of sound.

Mastered by the omnipotent Billy Anderson (Melvins, Neurosis, Sleep and so many more), Scarab is Queen Elephantine’s 4th album: A work of grandeur which finds the band digging even deeper into delirious and psychedelic threnodies, abysmal doom observances and mild invocations, offering deep, heavy sounds straight from the soul-realm woven through the geometries of the cosmos – A funerary procession danced by a mighty double-trio of two axes, two drumsets, and two insectoid drones.

Opening track “Veil” is the sound of a Mercurial navigator galloping through epochs, a coarse voyage through unspeakable ancient rites. “Crone” is up next, revealing a shadowy affinity between minimalistic tribal-doom and elusive math-psych. Third track “Snake” is an 11-minute squirm of primordial suspension and reproach with sonorous and radiant vocalizations, swallowed by the caliginous doom wreckage of “Clear Light of the Unborn” which takes this masterpiece to its end in a chariot of headless horses heaving a monolithic obsidian temple across the dense, lightless extremes of space.”

Queen Elephantine, “Veil” & “Crone”

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