Only by realizing the ritualistic initiation that is Totem can one truly come to appreciate what is being offered herein. As the name Wychdoktor implies, the master of ceremonies to the proceedings will be just that–a witch doctor. Well, at least some modern-day music-based approximation. Before passing through the gateway that is offered by this album, one should consider familiarizing themselves with what a witch doctor is. In traditional terms this is a person that is a healer. In modern times the phrases shaman and witch doctor are often used interchangeably to typically derogatorily refer to folk-healers, although the original stories and actualities of these practices can be quite different from one culture to another, albeit broadly similar in their respective natures. As they stem from the same primordial source, it is inevitable that they would share common characteristics.
A witch doctor–in its most literal and original meaning–might be best explained as an African healer that specializes in obtaining information on practitioners of witchcraft and seeks to heal those afflicted by said witchcraft. When referring to witchcraft in this light, it is best to remember how the culture of origin came to assimilate this view and not to use this conception as a coverall when speaking of any modern-day magickal activities. The importance is keeping in mind that the witch doctor is acting on behalf of benevolence by opposing malevolent forces through what, in a way, can be considered some form of witchcraft itself. Totem works with this theme and allows for those who experience its music to engage in concepts of traditional healing methods by divination through a complex orchestration of darkened tribal noise.
From within a dark wood stands tall an intimidating structure with several ominous visage carved ever so carefully into its form. Now the listener is made aware of the vast visual journey that awaits within, if they are willing to venture towards the darkness and expose hidden aspects of their inner being. Hypnotic effect through auditory stimulated visualization has to be the hallmark of Totem and the allusion of this title is carried through well in both album and opening track. A variety of these types of visions were obtained during repeated listens, each having its own unique yet similar set of events and outcomes that tied into an overarching message which was the totality of the experience. The succinct level of story-crafting has no true vocal narration, albeit there are some astounding examples of inventively conceived vocal manipulations for effect. Tribal rhythms take the forefront of structural development throughout the album, and synthesizers weave constantly fluctuating atmospherics through them while giving an occasional glimpse at thoughtfully crafted melodic passages.
After being lured into the witch doctor’s shack does he begin to unveil his ritual and intent. “The Ancients” builds into a dizzying swirl of tribal rhythmic sequences, hinting at the deeper plan of fates. Darkness begins welling up from the deep; subconscious fear is left to bloat in repression. Wychdoktor instructs the listener to journey inward, towards the dispiriting depths of the hidden. With gradually increasing intensity, the trance-induced coma moves towards a nightmarish realm through blackened hallucinations that drag the listener into the underworld, a languishing track of hellish revelations. A manic whirling dervish of razor-sharp noise spreads chaos and opens a rift in which a clear view can be had upon what lies beneath, a bloody and distorted image is sure to be seen.
It is from this lowly revelation that there is an explosion upward, out of these macabre passages into a mystical jungle-like dream landscape. With the track “Epoch”, it is hard to deny the intense sensation of hurdling through the air by way of hyperspace, passing between forests and fields at a blurred pace. A sort of transcendental beauty pervades this track with an awakening pad melody, particularly due to what preceded this rapturous jolt. The next step is taken with renewed purpose and outlook. “Catacombs” offers what is perhaps Totem’s best rhythmic workings, a percussion-filled tribal-industrial grind that leaves the listener feeling motivated in the face of adversity. “Walking the Crooked Path” has an air of elegant confidence, the kind that only comes from experiencing that which cannot be denied and the contentment attained through this truthful realization. Offering the best combination of rhythmic and melodic pairing, a solid climactic effect to the album is provided by emphasizing the sensation of having learned a lesson of great importance through trial and strides into a vacant ancestral burial ground with protective specters abound, swaying approvingly in the distance to the dancing of primitive percussion.
Drawing nearer to the conclusion of Totem is the relieving and nostalgic song, “A Forest”. With this composition arrives a sense of passing through a familiar landscape that was present upon the journey’s beginning and now being able to view the surroundings with a new-found perspective, leaving behind past confusions. This track offers the most relaxed and inspiring atmosphere as well as perhaps the greatest sensation of grandiosity, while also adding to the album’s diversity with tasteful guitar work. Upon conclusion with “Sticks and Stones,” there is the presence of coming fully out of a trance and back into normal consciousness within the healer’s hut, though everything is not the same as it once was and the feeling of a long, intricate dream having ended lingers upon the final clattering echo having slipped away.
It is here that I offer my only critique of an otherwise flawless piece of music: The two remixed tracks at the end of the album by Iszoloscope and APOLLYON’S VISAGE respectively. Although individually these two tracks are by no means poorly crafted, they do not contribute to the story elements of the album itself and thus disrupt the flow of the overall experience. My feeling is that these songs would have been best saved for an album of remixes or an eventual EP. Otherwise, I find Totem to be a stellar album and a masterpiece of atmosphere that is a testament to the potential held within the fertile ground that lies between dark ambient and tribal noise, making me eagerly look forward to Wychdoktor’s next outing.
02) The Ancients
04) Evil Eye
08) Walking the Crooked Path
09) A New Way To Die
10) Bleeding Earth
11) A Forest
12) Sticks and Stones
13) Walking the Crooked Epoch (Iszoloscope Remix)
14) Walking the Path to Damnation (ѦPѺLLYѺN’S ▼ISѦGE Remix)