As soon as this album started, I was immediately transported back into the dank, familiar attic of alchemical oddities that I know so well, having been a fan of this band for quite some time now. For me, listening to Ak’Chamel, the Giver of Illness is unlike listening to any other band: I’m so intoxicated by the dusty, evocative weirdnesses that I’m barely aware of my usual real-life concerns, like what the instruments are, how many people are making the sounds, what kind of studio set-up they’re using, or how the songs are arranged. All of these technical, rational, analytical questions are suspended, almost from the first note, and I find myself lost in a surreal fog of antique strangeness, lo-fi ritual, and occult chaos-magic, so far outside of the fickle trends of the now that it transcends anachronism and becomes something almost otherworldly.
Ak’Chamel, the Giver of Illness consistently delivers, and this new cassette is no exception. The Man Who Drank God is brimming with shamanistic atmospheres, with pieces that are less like songs and more like blurred sepia photographs of anthropologically mysterious events; the feeling one gets is that these are not songs created for an album, but short documentary recordings of older, stranger rituals, sacred ceremonies that would’ve taken place regardless, and that we’re just lucky some intrepid chap with a pith helmet was allowed to sit in and record it all onto his wax cylinder.
The only time this spell is broken is perhaps ‘Nam Nogaw’, which is obviously just a song played backwards, somewhat ruining the conceit that these are field recordings of actual occultic gatherings and breaking the third wall, in a sense, reminding us that these are just pieces of music after all, and that Ak’Chamel are indeed aware of all the modernist aspects of studio trickery, rather than reclusive cactus-awakened goat herders, isolated and independent. However, as pure sound, it works perfectly—and, as this conceit is entirely in my own head, I’ll let it go without further comment.
We could talk here of ‘cultural appropriation’, if you like. We could discuss how Texans using the Russian balalaika and the Chinese pi pa together is essentially colonially erasing both cultures, or how Americans using Nigerian bells and the Arabian oud without any respect for how either instrument is traditionally used is culturally damaging to both the Nigerians and the Middle East. We could frown witheringly at this whole musical project and talk angrily about division and disrespect—or we could gaze at Ak’Chamel with admiration and joy, and talk about global unification, pan-denominational paganism, lo-fi shamanic nature-worship bringing together all cultures, and musique sans frontières. I know which side of the fence I’m sitting on. Join me: I brought sandwiches!
Having listened to this album many times now, I think I have to say that it is right up there with my favourite Ak’Chamel albums, P’us Chien and Fucking with Spirits. Every single one of the pieces on The Man Who Drank God carries that evocative, otherworldly, anachronistic magick that I love so much, all recorded in their patented Lovecraftian Wax style. It is almost flawless: if I have any complaints at all, it’s that the tracks too often end too quickly (most tracks are only a shade over two minutes long, with quite a few under, and only one hitting the nearly five-minute mark). These sacred spaces fade away into nothingness before I’m quite ready to leave. Given that these ritual states take some time to fully get lost in, I’d have preferred to be treated to longer pieces for maximal hypnogogic immersion. But when your only qualm about a release is that there wasn’t quite enough of it, well, it’s hard to complain.
Ak’Chamel—bring me more of that Illness, because if you keep this up, I don’t want to be well.
01) I Take Nothing
03) He Who Swallowed the Universe
04) Kume Piuke
05) There Is No Cure
06) Nam Nogaw
08) Hungry Ghosts
09) Dogs of Delhi
10) Jaguar and the Basket
11) Tlaloc, Full of Sores
12) Ainuüksi Surma (Alone in Death)
13) Drink This, My Son