Having lurked on the edges for years as a niche affair best known for including a former Deerhoof member, the ever-revolving black ambient project Common Eider, King Eider are suddenly – paradoxically – becoming a rather prominent concern. It seems the darker their work and processes get, the more prolific they become – like serial killers hitting “beast mode,” the further they plunge into the abyss, the more invested in their macabre act they get and the more disturbing the outcome tends to be. Like Égrégore, which was released by Cold Spring last June, Palimpseste welcomes Yann Arexis on board, this time with his Cober Ord collaborator Yann Hagimont.
Cober Ord are no strangers to the subterranean realms beneath the Pyrenees, having recorded there with Julien Louvet for Et Ils Franchirent le Seuil (which is fantastic, by the way), and I suspect it was Arexis who introduced Common Eider, King Eider to the caverns’ ritual potential for Égrégore. Palimpseste is practically a sequel, having been recorded in the same remote areas and with the same reverence for the elements. Where the former dealt in psychic invocations through the arrangement and embrace of naturally occurring items gathered within the caves, the newest album plays out as a paean to the primal force that carved them and can thus remake, remodel and remove them – water.
If that makes Palimpseste sound pleasantly pastoral, you’re badly mistaken. Since the jittery, Deerhoof-hangover days when the collective seemed unable to settle on a direction, Rob Fisk has fully embraced the ceremonial power of his music and the magickal outcomes its practice might bring about.
From Sugulna and Akerbeltz to Mari and the Lamina, river- and cave-dwelling nymphs, sorginak and demons abound across the Pyrenees largely thanks to the persistence of Paganism in Basque regions until the arrival of Catholicism and the resulting witch trials in the 1600s. Even so, the people there maintain strong ties to their original faith and the strength of their oral tradition has seen interest in the rituals of their forefathers regain traction in recent years. Add to this the relative remoteness of the mountain towns and villages, as well as the unique and mysterious dialects spoken in the regions, and you have all the right ingredients for some high-grade Hellier-style spook hunting.
“Tombs: Earth’s Sacred Womb” opens the album, following the artists’ initial descent into the underworld. With the faint, mineral trickle of cold water somewhere close by, the party issues forth a series of overlapping drones and chants to act as a kind of sentinel – an auditory canary to bounce off the walls and echo into chambers otherwise too ominous to approach. It is not long before a response is roused and its malevolence causes a quick drop in temperature. It speaks in low, guttural whispers as it whips around in the stale cave air like angels of death from the Ark of the Covenant, and it remains nearby throughout the album, reappearing here and there with varying degrees of menace and clarity, sometimes in the air, occasionally so close to the listener’s ear as to practically possess you.
Everywhere, despite the growing cacophony of wails, drones and echoes, water continues to drip and dribble. It seems to increase its pace at times in reaction to the efficacy of the ritual; the splashy “Reclamation of Water” being one example in which it is apparently drawn from the frigid walls by the power of warring forces – the vicious whisperer on one side, a monkish chanter on the other, both going at it amidst a vast, whirling series of drones and tones. Sometimes it is harder to pick out, as in “Calling to the Feral Ones,” where it falls light as dust on the mic and deep cello drones rainbow darkly in its mist. The more it comes down, though, the more it erodes and exposes the caves’ base architecture and the forces that fused the elements, be that billions of years of cosmic creation or epochs-old bestiaries whose spirits abide no more and no less than necessary to maintain command over the civilian imagination.
“The Spirits Watch Over Us, We Reciprocate” permits a brief respite in the fresh air, as birds twitter in the trees and the warmth of the late evening sun heats the leafy earth. Yet somehow we are drawn back to the cave – just a glance behind, you feel, is enough to succumb to its mystic allure. Although the track’s title seems to hint at a symbiotic relationship between the local people and the residents of the underworld, Common Eider, King Eider’s recording experiences would suggest a certain amount of Stockholm Syndrome has set in on the part of those above ground.