Common Eider, King Eider, “Égrégore”

Essentially now a solo project around which various metal, dark ambient, folk and drone artists whirl like spirits, Rob Fisk’s Common Eider, King Eider has spent the decade since the relatively jaunty How To Build A Cabin on a ritual journey striking in its eager acceptance of the darkness. With each release, Fisk and his revolving band of collaborators, from Sutekh Hexen‘s A.C. Way to A Minor Forest‘s Andee Connors, seem to fall deeper into the abyss. Égrégore, recorded in a remote Pyrenean hut with Stille Volk percussionist Yan Arexis, is the project’s most unsettling missive yet.

Deep within Égrégore‘s creaking lethargy stirs a growing violence which, by the end, you pray won’t break the surface. Each track is named for the elements used within the ritual being performed during recording, so there is “Sun .:. Fire,” “Blood .:. Water” and so on. The accompanying notes refer to late nights spent grinding stones, gathering branches, drawing digits and channelling voices, all in the name of evoking an Égrégore; that is, in the parlance of the occult, an autonomous psychic entity with the power to influence those who thought it into being.  As terrifying as this might sound, bear in mind Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny are considered Égrégores, but then so are Satan and the Grim Reaper. It is thought Adolf Hitler’s manipulation of the German people in the run-up to WWII caused the creation of an Égrégore, and that the British occultist Dion Fortune attempted the formation of one in opposition. The components required to get started are fairly simple to come by, being a combination of emotion, secrecy, segregation and ritual, but mighty difficult to embrace effectively. Absolutely everyone involved in the practice must be precisely attuned and completely focused on the objective – the slightest deviation will result in certain failure.

It is not clear what kind of Égrégore B.S.s. (as Fisk is here known) and Arexis were trying to conjure up, but if the resulting album is anything to judge by it cannot have been a particularly benevolent one.  Right from the off, as “Sun .:. Fire” creeps into being, the tension is palpable. The glacial pace – the album was recorded live – and the whispered incantations work to draw the listener in close, straining for details beyond the squelchy echoes which bounce off the shelter’s walls, and the disembodied hisses that flicker viciously in the phosphorous. There are claps, clunks and cackles as things seem to amalgamate, but no solidification yet, just base mirages spied fleetingly in the haze before they slip away.  It is a nervy, tentative embarkation, an early rangefinder to allow the artists the chance to weigh up whatever they’re going to be dealing with.

Kudos for persevering, then, because the path they’re about to take gets increasingly demanding. Instantly more ominous, with a stale, gusty drone creeping in across the cabin floor, “Breath .:. Wind” struggles hard to draw demons from perdition as they in turn snarl and writhe against the light. Just after the thirteen-minute mark the ceremony hits a crescendo of sorts as something tears through whatever frail and grotty gauze enwrapped its realm.  The sudden increase in volume is genuinely disquieting; it does not take long for the liturgy’s practitioners to slam a lid back on the pot.

Common Eider, King Eider’s strength lies in the artists’ patience. All but one of the four tracks here creeps towards the quarter-hour mark and not once do you question the reasoning. Regardless of your personal stance on things like Égrégores or paranormal rituals, B.S.s. and Arexis are damned convincing – the tracks take as long as they take because that’s how long the ceremonies they performed in the Pyrenees took.  For all Égrégore‘s emergent structure and chanted musicality, you could just as easily be eavesdropping from outside the cabin door.

Closer “Bone .:. Soil” sees the horrifying return of the Regan MacNeil-esque growl it appeared its faintly tribal-sounding predecessor had put paid to. Remedially brief but no less stirring, “Blood .:. Water” stands out for its relative clarity. It is the only track whose vocals are fully foregrounded and ol’ Pazuzu seems calmed by their spell, at least to the extent where he’s prepared to prowl it out. Obviously content they’ve quelled the threat, B.S.s. and Arexis try again to make contact on terms, going in a little more gently with some humming and chiming of bells. Unfortunately it sounds as though there might be more than one entity present by now – numerous chewy whispers haunt the musty air as the tension slowly rises and the full gnashing horror of it all spews forth.