The inevitability of death fuels the greatest art.
From music, movies, sculptures and whatever else you care to mention, you can be guaranteed that the artist(s) behind some of the works that have moved you the most has had some form of negative feeling about death.
Of course, this is a common observation, but it’s always good to refamiliarise yourself with it. It helps put things in perspective.
And it is this very theme (and it’s aftermath) which Zu tackle on their new, two track LP.
From Rome, Zu have been putting out records for nearly twenty years. Veering from electronic, to math rock, to free jazz, they operate in a terrain where the avant garde and the more experimentally minded metalhead meet.
Hence why they brought out 2015’s ‘Cortar Toto’ on Mike Patton’s Ipecac Recordings. Adding Melvinsesque sludge into their sound, they produced a record that, if it bore the name ‘Melvins’ on it, would have been hailed around the world as the greatest return to form ever.
It did not, however, and fell somewhat under the critical radar.
However, a new home on House of Mythology beckoned.
Founded in 2015, HOM have already given us a classic album in the shape of ‘Create Christ, Sailor Boy’ by Hypnopazūzu (a collaboration between Killing Joke bassist Youth and Current 93 stalwart David Tibet) as well as two albums from Ulver.
So it has the right mix of credentials for both the avant garde and metalheads.
The title of the album is a Tibetan phrase which (roughly) translates as “giving alms to the birds.”
Otherwise known as a sky burial, this is a funeral practise where the body of the deceased is left out in the open (often a mountaintop) for nature to deal with the corpse (which, to the believers, is just an empty vessel at this point).
Zu have stated that they wanted this album to act as a soundtrack for this act. And they do so with aplomb.
Beginning with the sound of gong being banged and then adding a field recording of chirping birds, ‘A Sky Burial’ makes the listener consider the contradiction of mourning a death (the sound of the gong) and nature carrying on as normal (the birds chirping).
Adding some drone to the mix ties the two together (representing the inevitability of death).
This slowly builds and builds, until the music hits a certain point and takes on a more choral feel.
As a song, it’s engrossing. Going through a multitude of emotions from realisation, melancholia and euphoria, it takes the listener on a journey as they envisage monks around a corpse, alternating between chanting and offering up mournful elegies. The end result is quite calming.
‘The Dawning Moon of the Mind’ operates in a similar fashion, but has a medieval sounding acoustic at the heart of the first section. With some drone acting as a background, it conjures up images of a lone minstrel at a rock, playing a simple lament for an old friend.
As the song progresses, the strumming becomes more fragmented and the electronic textures more prominent. Seemingly doing their best to depict vultures pecking away at the corpse, it’s unsettling and, as the electronics progress, the tension racks up. This then gives way to a throbbing ambient section which has to be appreciated with earphones.
Soundtracking a burial is quite a concept, but ‘Jhator’ is a thoughtful and absorbing album which not only does the job of capturing the myriad emotions one normally feels at a funeral, but also has a very sinister vibe going on throughout the pieces (which act as a conduit for the fear of death felt by many).
Although it’s a record that will take a certain frame of mind and an uninterrupted 42 minutes to fully digest the sounds on show, it’s well worth the effort.
Give yourself over to the music, and feel alive.
3.5 / 5 - Christopher Owens ::: 07/04/17