Experimentalism is a curious thing. The word itself implies a sort of passionate improvisation—“Aha! let’s see if this works!”—and it can often come about in an explosive manner with sudden and profound inspiration. While I’d never be on to quash anyone’s creativity, I do think that there are different levels of success when it comes to experimental music. Some of it just sounds like random noise that makes no sense on a cohesive level (not that this type of music can’t be enjoyable under the right circumstances). When it “works,” however, its disparate parts complement each other in a natural way, without feeling like the bits are being forced together. Not every experimental piece of music surprises the listener in a way that makes sense.
Sky Burial‘s 2013 release on Obfuscated Records, Pas the Sarvering Gallack Seas and Flaming Nebyul Eye, does, however. Mike Page, formerly of Fire in the Head, started this project to allow himself more creative freedom, and he’s taken strong advantage of it. Pas the Savering Gallack Seas and Flaming Nebyul Eye is a collection of instrumental experimentalism that borrows from ambient, IDM, post-rock, and drone, while also adding elements like bagpipes and piano. The five tracks often change identity without warning, but they never stray into head-scratching territory. That’s not to say that it’s an unsurprising journey.
“Na Fir Ghorm” begins with a strange warbling sample, high-pitched chimes, and shuffling electronic percussion before shifting into a soaring guitar-drone affair that is laced with a breakbeat drum track. The warble and chimes return, this time accompanied by the distinct nasal whines of a bagpipe, while Page’s fuzzed-out guitar wanders about the backdrop—all this in eight-and-a-half minutes. It may sound odd as a straight description, but the returning elements and general feel create a singular mood that’s quite curious indeed. Everything fits, in spite of how the track moves.
The remaining four tracks range from ten to almost twenty-one minutes in length, and while they may not always contain the same level of unexpectedness, Sky Burial’s commitment to unanticipated change and inspired expression remains strong. The title track has a strong narrative thread, winding through some kind of bizarre landscape taken from the imagination of Bosch or Clive Barker, moving from chimes and processed strings to blaring noise and odd field recordings of dripping water, bleating animals, and scattered voices. It’s strange stuff indeed, but it retains a magnetic edge; one can’t help but listen in anticipation of what’s just round the sonic bend. Indeed, upon further investigation, it appears that the album is based off of Russell Hoban‘s dystopian novel, Ridley Walker.
The longer tracks fall within the more standard shadow of free-form dark ambient, and while they’re excellent in their own right, they don’t keep the same unique and bizarre hold on one’s ears and mind. One notable exception is the stretch of off-kilter piano that emerges in the thick of “The Longest Day Heralds the Darkness to Follow,” imparting a grounded familiarity that’s in stark contrast with Page’s swirling clouds of weirdness.
Pas the Sarvering Gallack Seas and Flaming Nebyul Eye is the kind of album that improves with patience. At first, it might seem impenetrable and intentionally dense, but upon closer examination, Page’s skewed talents start to become apparent. This is extreme experimental expression that also succeeds as an involved listening experience. Mike Page is a mad scientist who doesn’t allow his creations to venture too far beyond his control. Sky Burial appears to have garnered quite a cult following, and it’s easy to hear why.
01) Na Fir Ghorm
02) Pas the Sarvering Gallack Seas and Flaming Nebyul Eye
04) The Longest Day Heralds the Darkness to Follow
05) Fuligin Cloak