When I think of Nottingham, UK’s, Kogumaza I think of a pub garden on the border between England and Wales and the feeling of lukewarm rainwater dripping on my neck through a slit in the gazebo canvas. That I remember this moment at all speaks volumes of the trio, whose set that sodden early summer day was a stand-out moment of the inaugural Sin-Eater Festival – had I wanted to move somewhere drier, I easily could have. This vestige of a recollection forms part of a slightly larger memory, although I apply the word “larger” in the way a particle physicist might when attempting to explain the relationship between a quark and a proton. The reason I remember much of that day at all is largely due to the fact I wrote a feature on the festival in the hungover haze that followed; I was there primarily to interview the Virginian guitarist Daniel Bachman but the point became somewhat lost in the day’s drinking and what began as quite a focused discussion ended up with one of us asleep in a field and the other stuck in a thicket of brambles. And they say rock ‘n’ roll is dead.
There were many fine performers at Sin-Eater, but if you asked me to name many of them without referring to my write-up, I’d struggle to get far past Kogumaza. They were the first band that caused me to glance at the line-up to check what I was watching; the first I looked up afterwards to see who they were and what they’d released. Many hours later, as I watched the festival’s centrepiece wicker man fizzle to the ground, my recollections of the rest apparently fluttered skyward with the ashes
All this talk of memory and the lack thereof is especially relevant to Kogumaza’s latest collection for Low Point. It’s title, Fugues, refers to both the method of musical composition and the psychological loss of one’s identity. The creative process, according to the band, was a nomadic test of endurance, involving numerous locations and a remote final resting place in a studio on the Isle of Lewis; so exhausting was the journey, the collective looked back on close to half a decade of meticulous work from positions so drastically changed they barely recognised the creation as being something they were involved with. Tellingly, Fugues itself follows a similar path, which is not to say it lacks direction. The music, in fact, is supremely focused and painstakingly assembled – as these four long pieces progress, they may meander, loop, repeat and relaunch, but they always retain just enough of a grasp on the underlying theme to undergo a final triumphant crystallisation.
Opening on a desolate vista fit for John Ford, it’s easy to draw comparisons to latter-day Earth in the early phases of “Io/Tohil,” which despite it’s Galilean title is just as likely to draw upon the bloody Mayan deity as inspiration. There’s a frantic, almost tribal close to the track, during which one can imagine silhouettes throwing themselves around a desert fire – all forced on by drummer Katharine Brown, who acts here like a kind of puppeteer, tweaking and tugging proceedings to her will. Another touchstone is undoubtedly Glenn Branca, for whom both Kogumaza’s guitarists once performed as part of a hundred guitar orchestra, and whose sonic footprint is stamped all across the ragged “Bolan/Exploding Head Syndrome” in particular.
As with other Kogumaza records, the movements here all blend neatly into one another, again reinforcing the feeling of lost time (without cues, it’s remarkably easy to get lost inside the band’s sonic sandstorm) and making the analysis of individual tracks almost redundant. At its propulsive best – hear the stunning bookends “Io/Tohil” and “Chrysalism/Live in Time” – Fugues crosses genre boundaries with fantastic ease. At any one moment you can pinpoint elements of post rock, drone metal, stoner rock, sludge, Krautrock, and even dub (their live soundman Mark Spivey is regularly credited as a fourth member of the set-up, bringing his expertise into the studio to add electronic flourishes most noticeably to “Sub-Photic”); the melting pot is hot, heady and hypnotic.
As “Chrysalism/Live in Time” staggers to an uncertain end, the band seemingly still searching for its own being in the barren landscape, it does so on a weakened version of the album’s opening riff, thus locking the cycle and sending the creators – and the listener – back to the start. A neat ruse, it encapsulates the infuriating reality of a fugue state perfectly; for all the releases the album’s many crescendos afford us, for all the woozy, head-nodding passages of repetition in which you can at least imagine the existence of alternative realities, the stark truth is that the journey has, in fact, led you nowhere.
As they say, though, it ain’t about the destination, it’s the getting there that counts. Luckily, Fugues is a trip you’ll want to take again.
Fugues will be released by Low Point on 28 March