Even the most casual fan of TenHornedBeast will tell you that Christopher Walton‘s decade-old solo project has never been a creature of brevity, making The High Places something of a musical curiosity, if not an outright anomaly. This is the same TenHornedBeast whose self-released debut CD-R topped out at nearly an hour with an epic three-movement, twenty-plus-minute closer; the same TenHornedBeast whose idea of taking part in a split album is crushing the opposition under the weight of single tracks that approach thirty minutes in duration; the same TenHornedBeast who several years ago teamed up with then-fledgling imprint Handmade Birds in order to unleash a three-disc titan of an album that spanned well over three hours of atmosphere-drenched hypnotic drones and what felt like tongueless conversations with the gods themselves. Surely by now you get the point: It is simply, abundantly clear that Walton neither possesses the capacity for—nor the interest in—being short-spoken, about anything, ever. It’s easy to see, then, that the primary allure of TenHornedBeast has arguably always been its grand scale and its overwhelming, majestic descent into a territory that often borders as much on—but never intentionally crosses over into—the sincere spacious awe of sacred music as it does the tenebrous claustrophobic fragility of ritual ambience. Indeed, Walton has professed that his music is not purposely created for ritual purposes, but is a reflection of his own experience:
“I have been asked before if I feel TenHornedBeast is music for ritual, or whether I record with any magickal purpose, and the answer is that the recording process is a meditation and a realisation of will, but for me that’s where it ends. I do not record with the intention of my music being used in ritual because, practically, I can’t see how that would be possible or even desirable. I feel strongly that magick is something that is best done outdoors—those afraid of the cold and the dirt are best advised to limit themselves to the Judeo-Christian pantomime of ritual magick with its crutch of robes and incense. I do my magick in the heart of the woods where the only electricity is in the sky and where I want all my senses alert and sharp, not baffled and mazed by music. The music I record as TenHornedBeast is a reflection and illustration of these processes, but it should not be confused for the real thing.” —”Ruins Son,” Interview with TenHornedBeast by Drengskap, 2009, Heathen Harvest
Theme aside, this is precisely why I was convinced that I would never see the day come when a TenHornedBeast 7″ would be released in any capacity, by any label. Leave it to Belgium’s Neuropa Records—who have been cranking out the format for a range of artists as of late including Arditi, Die Weisse Rose, Bordel Militaire, and others—to prove me wrong. A painfully small percentage of TenHornedBeast compositions prior to the release of The High Places would have ever stood a chance of even fitting on one side of the format, so it really is beyond me how Walton could have boiled down his own approach to make something that was meaningful enough to meet his standards for quality, which admittedly appear to be ridiculously high as once he found his pace with The Sacred Truth, I can’t recall a single disappointment.
And that near-perfect record will continue with The High Places. While being well-versed in TenHornedBeast’s offerings has made digesting such a short record an uneasy proposition, The High Places neither comes off as rushed nor leaves me wanting. It feels like exactly what these EPs are meant to represent: a short breath between two comparatively colossal works. “Taken by the Sky” literally reflects its title (and cover artwork) with vast expanses of drones that appear on the bottom-end in deep central tones and expand out like gentle, muffled gongs. Paired with a single, frontal high tone and mildly menacing mid-mix feedback (for lack of a better descriptor), it really does evoke the feeling of being caught between earth and storm, of something solid underneath with energy growing and electricity pulsing in the air above. “The Helm” is decidedly more abstract if not slightly psychedelic, pairing a wandering, non-linear melody with a wash of background noise and a barrage of interweaving drones, forming a proverbially complex web of firing synapses. It is less natural than its A-side counterpart and more human-sounding, certainly more cerebral—dancing in chaos and unseen deviations.
Compared to the rest of TenHornedBeast’s output, The High Places is but a paragraph within a page within a chapter. It’s only enough to give you a passing glimpse into Walton’s world, but further research will reveal that he is one of the few artists today capable of making rich dronework that is both complex and considered enough to evoke absurdly lucid visions both natural and subjective.
An old once-close friend, who suffers from severe fibromyalgia and is confined to a chair for much of most days, once told me that he originally found his way into post-industrial music because, on his worst days, when he was bed-ridden and could neither move nor sleep because of the pain, his only escape was music that could pull him from his body and into a world of its own. I have no doubt that if TenHornedBeast was among the artists within that repertoire of imaginative escapes, that the worlds he would have found himself in were every bit as detailed and vivid as the world outside that confined him.
A1) Taken by the Sky
B1) The Helm