We recently spoke with Gabriel McCaughry, the man behind Anathema Publishing, on our Twitch channel. In our discussion, Gabriel illuminated how important this genre is to his daily life, as well as Anathema. While he’s listened to dark ambient for years, he has only recently begun distributing choice-selected releases through his Anathema Publishing website/distro. On anathemapublishing.com/store we are able to find some of the best new dark ambient releases from labels such as Cyclic Law, Hypnagoga Press and Zazen Sounds, as well as individual artists” releases like those of Alone in the Hollow Garden.
Gabriel really impressed/surprised me with his depth of knowledge in relation to the current and past dark ambient landscape. He really has an ear-to-the-ground, so to speak, picking up the resonances of everything happening within the genre. So, it is my distinct pleasure to present you with Gabriel’s compiled list of favorite dark ambient albums.
Some of these aren’t necessarily dark ambient. Albums/artists like Sounds of Isha, Ulver, Bohren und der Club of Gore, Ensemble Sarband, and a few others would fall into various different genre categories. However, it is without question that these albums should all resonate well with our community. These are in no particular order, which suits the sensibilities of This Is Darkness perfectly! Enjoy and be sure to stop by Anathema Publishing’s store and various social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram) to show your love! So with all that said, lets see the list!
Arktau Eos – Ai Ma Ra From the album’s booklet:
“Ai Ma Ra was first conceived within a specifically consecrated cell, closed to prying eyes and sealed shortly afterwards. May those daring to breach its peace find the sophic lamps still alight!”
Description of the below track, ‘Stillatory of Umbræ’ from the booklet:
“When profane tongues swagger ungoverned, into vast catacombs retreat; in tenebrous repositories consult those wise in silence instead. – psalmody, mystery instruments, tape decomposition”
Ensemble Sarband – Satie en Orient: A Musical Journey into the Imaginary Orient From the album’s webpage on Sarband.de:
“It may seem strange at first to have oriental instruments play the music of a composer who personified the French genius, albeit in a highly personal way, better than most others.
But these instruments throw a new light on Erik Satie’s fine intuitive approach, when he was in the process of creating his personal and utterly personal language.
His vision was dreamlike, and in a single fleeting and furtive passage, there are evocations of the Middle Ages, Ancient Greece and the Orient.
Satie experienced the end of a century, during which technological and scientific progress, as well as social upheaval have accelerated to a breathtaking tempo. Like many others, he tries to turn back by immersing himself in the past and the far-away and by creating Middle Ages, mysticism, religion and Orient as his personal private psychological landscapes, only to realise – like we ourselves at the end of the millennium – that it was merely love from afar.”
Arcana – Inner Pale Sun From Cyclic Law’s Bandcamp page for the album:
“Very few bands evoke such awe and inspiration than this Swedish act driven by the now legendary talent of Peter Bjärgö. ARCANA have been pillars and always at the forefront of the so called Neo Classical / Heavenly Voices movement with their poignant, ethereal and medieval inspired music since their very first album, Dark Age Of Reason was released in 1996 on Sweden’s Cold Meat Industry label on which they subsequently released 3 other albums, Cantar De Procella (1997) …The Last Embrace (2000) and Inner Pale Sun (2002) making ARCANA one of the most regarded and praised acts on the label. Sorrowful strings, doomsday horns and trumpets, massive percussion and snares, bells, dulcimer all interlaced with exquisite male and female voices create a quite singular atmosphere of grandeur and of melancholy for times long gone… ARCANA’s music leaves hardly no one indifferent, it’s able to touch and move in ways very few acts have been able to achieve, it’s music is timeless and rediscovering these albums years later certainly proves this…”
Alone in the Hollow Garden – Babylonian Bliss From AITHG’s Discogs page:
“Alone In The Hollow Garden was conceived in spring 2013 as a Tanz Ohne Musik side project and represents a stylistic returning point to Dan Serbanescu‘s musical roots, exploring his old school industrial, dark ambient and ritual sides, all wrapped in a fresh skin. The present soundscapes reveal themselves into a mixture of both synthetic and organic sounds, where the analogue synthesizers are merging with the microphone captured textures, coming from a gamma of wind instruments, improvised percussion, metal springs, all diluted and softened into the same pool of sound.” From AITHG’s Bandcamp page for the album:
“Seven ritual musick offerings to the Goddess of Love inspired by Sumerian, Babylonian and Egyptian spiritualities, adorned with ancient hymns and lyrics by Aleister Crowley.”
Bohren und der Club of Gore – Black Earth From Michael’s review of ‘Bohren for Beginners’ on Terra Relicta:
“Bohren & Der Club Of Gore are a uniquely talented band. Bohren take their sounds from some very different musical styles and bring them together into one cohesive whole. Starting out over 20 years ago, Bohren has built up an average sized yet magnificent discography. For fans, looking to find out what Bohren & Der Club Of Gore is all about can be a very daunting task. Where to start? And which tracks do the band think represent them the best? Some changes in line-up over the years have played a role in changing their sound vastly from the ’90s into the early ’00s. Going from sort of a downtempo rock sound into something that is much more akin to their dark jazz or doom jazz label for which they are so easily recognized.”
Gabriel w/ Craig Williams (Entering the Desert, Tantric Physics, etc.), Greg Kaminsky (Occult of Personality podcast, Celestial Intelligences, etc.) and Alexander Eth (Glitch Bottle podcast).
Aindulmedir – The Lunar Lexicon From Michael’s review of the album:
“Aindulmedir is a project by Pär Boström, known to most in the dark ambient community for his work as Kammarheit and Cities Last Broadcast. Following in the aesthetic the label often presents, mixtures of solitude, mysticism, northern landscapes and nostalgia draw the listener once again into the esoteric worlds presented on Hypnagoga Press.
For this release we will quickly notice a new side of Pär Boström being unveiled. While he often focuses on northern and/or dream landscapes and mysticism in his works, Aindulmedir takes these concepts a little bit outside the confines of the dark ambient genre. Aindulmedir adds a healthy dose of dungeon synth vibes to the mix. But this will not be your standard dungeon synth. Comparisons to someone like Mortiis wouldn’t make much sense here. The sounds of Aindulmedir more closely align with something like Grimrik‘s debut Eisreich. The solitary northern vibes outweigh the fantasy elements here, allowing for a subtlety which is often sorely lacking in the vast majority of dungeon synth releases I hear.”
Nam-khar – Sur Chöd From Winter-Light’s Bancamp page for the album:
“Sur Chöd” is composed of 6 long-form pieces, each piece transforming and morphing into a musical entity within its own right. The traditional percussive elements are still there in the music, deployed in full-force alongside more subtle uses of these instruments. It is the use of the drone and bass elements that have changed on this release. The small vacuous pockets, which Nam-Khar use so well, are soon filled with warm, thick drones, synthesised sweeps and enlightening cosmic sounds. It once again creates that space for the listener to move into for contemplation and reflection, to energise and focus through the welcome isolation space created by Nam-Khar’s atmospherics. Pushing the inner-traveller ever further onwards, along different trodden-paths.
Ritual ambient, dark ambient, drone, industrial and subtle tinges of dark-jazz await the listener on this deep and diverse release from Nam-Khar.”
Treha Sektori – Endessiah From Cyclic Law’s album description:
“Dehn Sora is also a member of Sembler Deah (Featuring members of Amenra) and a long time collaborator of the Church Of Ra. Treha Sektori means ‘the place where they fall’, formed in 2005 from a feeling of absence, to express through instinctive language and silent odes a falling towards the Sun. SOLVAH. SEVERAH. SOLEMNH. (Where can we learn how to die, when soil became sky ?). Endessiah is for the end of movement, literally meaning ‘to let go everything’. When the mind ceases to respond to the physical world around him. Endessiah was built in doubt, fear, self-beating, screams, smiles and euphoria. Maybe more to reclaim light, but always face down. The album was composed while searching for a certain state before recording anything, to realise what will be recorded, not as an inspiration, but a recording of the moment. No keyboards were used and a predominance of voices and strings instruments (guitars, esraj, Polynesian mandolin, banjo…) were utilized with a will of fading every source into a distinctive sound mass. Endessiah comes from a surge of feelings, capturing what came to be seen, and trying to determine if it was real or not. A constant will of searching for something ‘alter’, something, somewhere else. ‘To let go of everything’.”
Sádon & Treha Sektori – Symphony of Dying From Cyclic Law’s Bandcamp page for the release:
“This unique collaboration between Sádon (RU) & Treha Sektori (FR) was intended to transpire what could be termed as “the essence of death”. Death is common and a constant, yet always different in context but similar in outcome. It is always a mystery, and questions always abound from it’s unraveling. As darkness unfolds, the desperate soul searches for a resting place as hopes and silent prayers resonate across all lands. Recorded in Russia, Germany and France in 2017, we’re honoured to present this poignant and otherworldly album that touches deep within and again reaffirms the high compositional skills of these 2 artists. Long live death.”
His Divine Grace – Die Schlangenkönigin Nathalie F. for www.heimdallr.ch wrote in 2003:
“His Divine Grace, a mysterious -to say the least- French formation, renews with the Austrian label HauRuck! after their first album Reverse Aleph. The ten titles that compose this new opus Die Shclangenkönigin pay tribute to Ernst Jünger’s novel ‘On the Marble Cliffs’ (‘Auf den Marmorklippen’). From the first moments the spell works, the listener feels immediately transported elsewhere, to a mythical land… The storm rumbles and the mind floats to the slow rhythm of an atmospheric, ambient and melancholic music… close to the Die Weisse Rose of LJDLP & Regard Extrême and to the ambiences of Land. The synthetic waves follow each other, loaded with their burden of melancholy, sadness and poetry.
Combining in a marvelous alchemy; ambient, neoclassical sonorities with natural elements such as birds songs, breezes of wind, storm rumblings, bells and stream sounds… His Divine Grace presents us a magnificent album that deserves particular attention, as the arising emotion grows upon each listening.
Dreams and reality intermix throughout this captivating and oneiric record, revealing the affirmed talent of His Divine Grace to render a strong, moderate and poetic homage to this part of Jünger’s work.”
Gabriel’s book (h)Auroræ [Standard Edition], illustrated by Jose Gabriel Alegría Sabogal.
Sacra Fern – Elementals The Black Mara label wrote on their Bandcamp for the release:
“‘Oh, the immensity in which flows of creatures are lost, constantly reviving! Oh ocean of infinite perfections: the height in the depth of which you are reflecting, and the depth that disappears into the height. Lead us to true life through intelligence and love!’
Elementals: ‘spirits of the elements’. The album Elementals is a result of working with the subtle world, where sounds become the key to the unknown, to the mysteries of alchemy. This is an attempt to find the truth of a certain existence in perceptions and emotions.”
Atrium Carceri – Metropolis Cryo Chamber wrote on their Bandcamp about the album:
“Locked out from the Illusion, this album takes place entirely in our former home. The darkened sky and gargantuan citadels line the horizon as the endless city, we once ruled as gods, stretches as far as the eye can see. Crossing the sea of the dead in search for a Beacon of Light that can lead the expedition to uncover the truth about the factions in control, what happened to the long lost architect and how to open a portal back into the colorful illusion the ignorant call home.
This 11 track Atrium Carceri album is closely connected to The Untold and sheds more light unto what goes on in the Atrium Carceri universe and the Metropolis, in particular. An industrial, dark, distorted and cinematic experience unlike any other with amazing attention to detail and subtle layering, this album begs for repeated listening to take it all in.”
CHVE – RASA Colin H. van Eeckhout (CHVE) is the founder of the Belgian band AMENRA and the art ensemble named Church of Ra (COR). The music of CHVE is a dark, ritualistic experience. A revelation. Hypnotic and sacred. A spiritual energy, born at a sea of pain and suffering. A metamorphosis of light and darkness. Link to album. Below video created by Dehn Sora of Treha Sektori; Sculptures in video by CHVE.
PYRE : NUMEN – Industrial Catharism Perennial Pyrenees says about the release:
“P Y R E : N U M E N returns with an experiment noisy foray into the modern Cathar mythos. Featuring readings from the works of contemporary Cathar luminaries such as Otto Rahn and his mentor Antonin Gadal, this EP attempts to present the atmosphere of sacred Cathar sites in the current climate, via grating synthesisers and marching rhythms. Will you find the Grail? Download here: <<< Industrial Catharism >>>
Sounds of Isha –Vairagya: Bonding with the Beyond Isha.Sadhguru.org says about Sounds of Isha:
“Sounds of Isha is an anomalous group of untrained musicians inspired by their deep yearning to give musical expression to the Grace of Sadhguru. Sadhguru brought this group together and spoke to them about making music. A week later, “Sounds of Isha” opened for one of Sadhgurus discourses. Today, they are an integral aspect of most of his programs and help create an openness and receptivity in people, to the spiritual processes that Sadhguru so freely offers.” Authorized free download available here.
Visions & Phurpa – Monad Michael wrote on This Is Darkness about the album:
“The technical prowess of Visions matched with the cosmic energy of Phurpa takes this particular sort of sacral/ritual ambient to truly impressive heights. I, also, can’t help but feel that their hearts are absolutely behind every second of this.”
Den of Silence – Gabriel’s Ritual Hut in the Woods (at Allhallows).
Ulver – Teachings in Silence From Ulver’s 2014 interview with Heathen Harvest, Arellano said: ““The Silence EP’s were two experiments and/or “studies in sound” made by Ulver (Kristoffer Rygg & Tore Ylvisaker) in 2001. They were later released as one CD under the name Teachings In Silence. The music from these sessions were made up by the boys just fooling around in their studio with an Akai S3000 sampler, synth(s), paper and scissors (literally), glitches, clicks and odd sounds – they even recorded their PC’s hard drive overheating… I have long loved these weird – and creepy – gems from Ulver’s by now very large treasure chest of first class music. In fact excerpts from Silence Teaches You How to Sing were recently used to great effect in the hit horror movie Sinister. No wonder really. It’s perfect dark, dreamy and trippy stuff.”
The CD can still be purchased on Ulver’s Bandcamp page.
Marconi Union – Weightless
From an INC.com article about music’s impact on stress:
“The study was conducted on participants who attempted to solve difficult puzzles as quickly as possible while connected to sensors. The puzzles induced a certain level of stress, and participants listened to different songs while researchers measured brain activity as well as physiological states that included heart rate, blood pressure, and rate of breathing.
Listening to “Weightless” resulted in a striking 65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates.
The song was actually constructed to do so. The group that created “Weightless”, Marconi Union, did so in collaboration with sound therapists. Its carefully arranged harmonies, rhythms, and bass lines help slow a listener’s heart rate, reduce blood pressure and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.”
Atrium Carceri, Cities Last Broadcast & God Body Disconnect – Miles to Midnight From Michael’s review on This Is Darkness:
“There really aren’t many albums out there that could be compared to Miles to Midnight. Of course, many of us will be familiar with dark jazz acts such as Bohren und der Club of Gore or The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble. Miles to Midnight certainly plays off much of this style, but it also manages to keep its dark ambient roots intact along the way. Tracks like the openers “Miles to Midnight” and “A Thousand Empty Rooms” work heavily within the dark jazz framework, creating sounds that are vastly more “song-like” than much of the dark ambient genre’s output. Yet, particularly in the second half, with the exception of the closer “Quiet Days on Earth”, we hear tracks that keep the atmosphere intact while moving into territory more familiar to fans of these artists.”
Beyond Sensory Experience – Modern Day Diabolists
From Cyclic Law’s Bandcamp page for this album:
“Beyond Sensory Experience are back with their seventh full length study – Modern Day Diabolists. BSE have reopened the dossiers and turned page to focus on life in the modern urban world. True to their ten-year pattern of evolution the dark ambience is more captivating than ever; complex soundscapes and consoling melodies combine with provocative rhythm structures and unsettling samples to generate a new profile of BSE. When business has stopped and lights are out what is left is Modern Day Diabolists. The DVD features compelling visual interpretations of two tracks from the album by Swedish video artists The Retardtank and Fetish 23.”
David Chaim Smith, Bill Laswell & John Zorn – The Dream Membrane From the Tzadik label’s website:
“This fabulous collaborative musical project features the legendary magus David Chaim Smith reading selections from his mystical text The Awakening Ground along with the magical creator of Dark Ambient music Bill Laswell on bass and drones, and John Zorn on shofar and alto saxophone. Evocative and meditative, this is a rare and unique project that synthesizes Kabbalah, Mysticism and the hypnotic swirls of Dark Ambient music.”
The album can be purchased here. No versions of this release appear to be available for online listening/preview, so you’ll just have to take Gabriel’s word on this one!
Undirheimar – Heljarrúnar & Angrboda Michael: Undirheimar is the ritual ambient project of Chris Undirheimar. He is known to followers of Anathema Publishing for his illustrating work as Blood and Fire Ritual Art on such Anathema books as Wolfs-Head and The Hanged God. However, he is also quite popular within the ritual/dark ambient scene for his albums Heljarrúnar on Cyclic Law and Angrboda on Zazen Sounds, both of which are sold-out by their respective labels, but available still in Anathema’s music distro section!
Chris Undirheimar, Gabriel McCaughry and Nestor Avalos
Kammarheit – Full Discography! Michael: Gabriel and I both have in common that the various projects by Pär Boström are some of our very favorite music. You’ve already seen several of his works above (Aindulmedir & Cities Last Broadcast), and there will be more to follow below! Pär Boström is everywhere in the dark ambient scene, releasing through various projects on Cryo Chamber, Cyclic Law, Power & Steel / Loki Foundation and is own label Hypnagoga Press, which is run in cooperation with his sister Åsa Boström. While Pär releases music through many different project names, his first and most recognized must be Kammarheit. Cyclic Law has recently released the latest Kammarheit album Thronal, as well as re-releasing the previous three albums as a boxed set entitled Triune. All of these are available through Anathema’s music distro, as well as Cyclic Law’s web-store and Bandcamp.
Teahouse Radio – Her Quiet Garden
From the Hypnagoga Press Bandcamp page:
“Teahouse Radio is a music project by Pär Boström.
Her Quiet Garden is the debut album, consisting of songs pieced together sporadically since 2004, and songs recorded in a creative frenzy during a few late summer days in 2016.
An album about summer houses and winter towers, about the changing of weather. How one feeling changes to another. The loss of a loved cat. A real garden becoming an imaginary garden. Depression as a pond. Years of therapy and music as the main counterpoint. About escapism. Psychoses. A giant who walked in and out of the world, decorating it nicely. An aural tale. Half in water, another half in the northern woods. Childhood through nostalgic binoculars. A wardrobe to another place, a gentle knock on the door in the oak tree.
Acoustic instruments are blended with electronic equipment, forming a sombre ambient music of tinkling tape loops and humming pedal drones.”
Caption: Gabriel’s book (h)Auroræ [Collector’s Edition], illustrated by Jose Gabriel Alegría Sabogal.
O SAALA SAKRAAL – Etmaal
From Cyclic Law’s Bandcamp page:
“A new collective led by former Hadewych member Peter Johan Nÿland, also a recent member of Trepaneringsritualen. Etmaal (“natural day”) is the first in a series of explorations that aim to serve as a channel between the ethereal and chthonic, sacred and profane, the innermost black well and the outermost white sun. The album follows the circadian path as an analogue to the revelation of the actual self, with the sun as the inverted eye that unveils all things in their temporality, opposite the eternal inner black of night. Sudden transitions between coercive percussive hammering and sharp boreal drone pieces seek to mirror cosmic events; from glacial movements to throbbing punctuation and sudden death and with each end resolved arises a new tension and an attempt at cleansing and delving deeper with the intent of finally arriving at the inner clearing. In the recording process for Etmaal, the group effectively alternated between states of extreme focus and hiati in which subconscious impulses were allowed to arise and the result is an album that skillfully wanders an essential pathway between two planes in its own distinctive way.“
Soundtracks Gabriel has also included in the list a few of his favorite soundtracks!
Blade Runner 2049 OST by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch
There Will Be Blood OST by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead
Only God Forgives OST – Cliff Martinez
Blasphemous Video Game OST by Carlos Viola
Be sure to stop by Gabriel’s Anathema Publishing and have a look at the magnificent works he puts his blood, sweat and tears into. I’m quite positive that you’ll be as impressed as I’ve been!
This article will cover the “proper” ways to burn incense and some alternatives methods of using these resins. The end of the article will have an exhaustive list of various resins, particularly available through Apothecary’s Garden, which I’m going to talk about in great detail. While some of this would seem like an advertisement for some of the companies mentioned below, I would like to point out that all products I’m describing were purchased by me, at standard market value, and that I’ve had no prior communication with any of them before conceiving of this article. However, once I wrote 3/4 of this article, I decided to contact Dan Riegler of Apothecary’s Garden, and I had a very pleasant and informative 40 minute interview with him, which you will find below! He also gave me permission to use large chunks of text from his Etsy page, to describe a plethora of different incense resin options. Again, this main seem like advertisment, and I suppose in a way it is, but it was literally all my idea, and I was not paid to say anything in this article!
I’d like to start with a bit of history of my personal use/discovery of incense as a whole, and then my discovery and proper use of fairly sourced incense resins. If you are here for the whole tale, read on. If you’d like to read some specific information, which I think is very useful to incense-users of all levels of expertise, then you can skip through the following individual sections:
Since I was a young teenager, I’ve always been drawn to incense. From the little old box of Shoyeido sandalwood sticks in my grandmother’s cupboard, to the billowing plumes at the local head-shops and magical supply shops, I grew up priding myself on being a connoisseur of incense. I tried all sorts of sticks and cones, a million brands and flavors. I had a few favorites that were consistent for me over the years, Srinivas Sugandhalaya’s Satya Sai Baba Nag Champa at the top of that list.
As I got older and more interested in the religious/spiritual histories of incense use, in places like Catholic cathedrals and Buddhist temples, among many others, I began to suspect that the incense we were burning was not at all what our ancestors had burnt/intended. It seems that, just like so many other things in modern times, we most often get the mass-marketed version.
I really never thought much more on the topic for years, and especially after several more failed attempts at finding something “traditional”, I was resigned to the realization that if I wanted to burn incense it was going to be, basically, synthetic garbage.
Sometime around 2013, I finally ran into incense resins. Once the concept entered my mind, it was like a lightbulb turned on, just buy and burn the raw materials, skip the manufacturing step. Brilliant.
Well, I went online… found a random website that told me I needed some “frankincense resin” and “quick-lite incense charcoals”. They were even kind enough to direct me to the mass-produced resins website and showed me exactly which chemical-laden charcoal briquettes to purchase. Brilliant…
So, of course, I’ve now bought into the unsustainable harvesting and unethical trade agreements that went along with the resins, and my house stinks to hell with the smell of lighter-fluid/sulfur…
Several more years pass, as I continue burning Nag Champa…
Finding Better Methods/Products
So, a few years ago, I started to follow Josephine McCarthy, the internationally renowned magician behind the free Quareia magic course. One of the things I liked about her is that she aligned with me on topics relating to fair-trade considerations, pollution (inside and outside the home), and many other things not relevant here. She recommended in a post one day, the website Apothecary’s Garden for purchasing Frankincense and other ethically and sustainably traded incense resins.
Apothecary’s Garden is a site run by a guy named Dan Riegler out of Hamilton, Canada. That site is a blog of his, which is generally interested in incense/apothecary related things. There, I found a bunch of interesting/useful articles like ‘How to Grind Frankincense, Myrrh, and other Resins’, as well as a link to his Etsy page of the same name.
On Etsy, Dan sells numerous incense resins, as well as the essential oils, salves, etc. which he has crafted/distilled from their raw version, himself. In my experience, each of his resins come with a card indicating its country/region of origin along with a description of its importance in that region, uses, scent profiles, etc. It’s also worth mentioning that he has a 5 star rating with 45k sales…
“A West African Frankincense found in North Eastern Nigeria where the Hausa speaking people refer to it as Hano or Harrabi. This shipment is of the highest quality I have ever come across. It is well sorted and contains a good mix of large pieces including the rarer light and dark green tears with no bark or dust. It is beautiful material that exhibits the trademark fragrance of Boswellia Dalzielii -Orange/Citrus and Mint with earthy undertones. The locals use it as chewing gum and as incense. It can be used as many of the other types of Frankincense for incense, teas, oils, salves, tinctures and cremes.” -Dan Riegler
Read the rest about this resin here.
The thing that is really cool about Dan’s business-model is that he actively searches out the native peoples of a given region and has direct negotiations with them in order to secure enough product for him to sell to us, while still leaving that community and tree in a position to keep doing this 10/30/100 years from now. In several articles I’ve read on his blog, he’s detailed his ventures into these regions where he spoke with tribal elders and secured appropriate pricing, while also giving them tips on how to work with the trees in a more sustainable way, when/where necessary.
Knowing that the places/peoples these materials were being sourced from were not being mistreated really made me feel more positive about my tour-de-incense, and I happily bought a wide variety of incense resins to try out, including most notably multiple varietals and regionals of my favorite incense of all, Frankincense.
I’m sure there are other places to buy fairly traded incense resins, but I haven’t needed to look any farther, myself, since I found Apothecary’s Garden, so I’m just passing on the good fortune to you all!
Interview with Dan Riegler
Here is a 35 minute interview between myself and Dan Riegler of Apothecary’s Garden, discussing many of this article’s topics in much greater detail. It was truly a pleasure to speak with Dan, and I hope you will all enjoy and learn as much from this conversation as I did!
How to Burn Resins
Now that we have an idea of what sort of company to look for to purchase the resins, we need to look at how we are going to burn those resins. Through effortless searching of online forums as well as personal trial and error, I have decided that the Shoyeido brand, from Japan, is the most reliably available option for the charcoal burning method. These briquettes are already quite small, which I consider to be a good thing. But, as I live in an apartment and a little smoke goes a long way, I usually break them in half. Just be careful not to shatter instead of split them if you do this, because that does happen to me occasionally.
Another option, if you prefer not to hold the charcoal over a flame for 5-15 minutes, is to find a safe quick-lite saltpeter brand. Dan has 3 sizes available through his Etsy page, which he’s been using for years and feels confident enough in their quality to sell them himself. If you follow the link to that particular item on his Etsy page, he has given his own instructions there on how best to ignite and use the saltpeter briquettes. Since I’m not as familiar with this method, I will leave the instructions on this part to him! Link to saltpeter charcoal pucks on Apothecary’s Garden Etsy.
BE CAREFUL BURNING INCENSE ANYWHERE!
You can very easily burn yourself, your desk, carpet, curtains, lamp, forest, gerbil, etc. so always use the utmost care and respect when burning incense, especially in this next way!
Once I’ve chosen an appropriately sized briquette for my incense-burning session, I will hold it above a candle flame, using appropriately-crafted metal tongs until I have it lit well enough for my intentions. Keep in mind, the charcoals that I have recommended will take several moments of being held above the flame in order to properly light. It’s not a quick process like sticks, cones, and the quick-lite charcoals, but I promise it’s worth the extra time and effort!
1. You can light one corner for a very slow burn, which may possibly extinguish at some early point. Good for meditation or small rooms/apartments.
2. You can light the boundary of one whole side, which will then burn, more or less, evenly across the briquette at a relatively slow but reliable pace. Good for a steady smoke production for at least 20-40 minutes.
3. You can light the entire briquette, which will burn much more quickly and hotter, making for a more intense burn, best for shorter and/or outdoor sessions. Burn time at least 20 minutes. Note: if using this third option, the briquette will become more fragile as it begins to be fully ignited. So, it is preferable to light it outdoors, and place it safely into your metal bowl, before bringing it back inside. You DO NOT want the charcoal to break in the middle of your carpeted room! That is a recipe for utter disaster!
Place the lit charcoal on a bed of white ash. (literally ashes, not the white ash tree!)
I’ve found that the best/safest way to burn this charcoal is on a bed of white ash. I’ve read about people using rice, salt, or placing the briquettes directly on a metal surface, but none of these seemed sensible to me. Personally, I purchase my white ash from the Shoyeido brand, same as the charcoal, so you could/should get both at the same time, if you are following this recommendation.
Once the charcoal is properly lit, CAREFULLY place it on the bed of white ash. You will want to use a metal incense burner to hold this ash. You want to make sure that it’s big enough to hold enough ash that it won’t overheat, but not so big that you need to buy a ton of ash just to fill the bottom few inches. I consider mine (the one in these images) to be the absolute smallest that is acceptable. Mine is 2.5″ diameter and 1.5″ deep, for reference. Mine has a metal built-in pedestal, which sits atop a wooden coaster, for fire-safety.
Place the incense resin on/near the charcoal.
This part has a few different possibilities:
With any of these options, I recommend flipping/turning/rotating the resin as one side becomes darker, it isn’t necessary, but it will help extract as much of the essential oil as possible before the scent of burning resin begins to take the forefront.
1. Place a layer of ash on top of the hot charcoal. Just enough to slightly bury it. Then place the incense resin on the white ash, directly above the hot charcoal.
2. Place the resin on the white ash, beside the burning charcoal. Depending on how close you place it, it will be more or less intense smoke/burn.
3. Place the resin directly on the hottest part of the charcoal. this will make an instant plume of smoke, which will continue to burn through the resin at a very quick rate. The resin will quickly burn off its essential oils and the remaining resins will blacken and have a much more caramelized and then burnt smell. It’s not totally unpleasant, but most people will rather not do it this way.
4. My favorite option is to only light a smaller section of the charcoal. Place the resin directly on top of the half of the charcoal which is not currently burning. As the charcoal slowly heats, from one side to the other, it will burn the resin at that slow pace as well. This works great with a larger chunk of resin that you want to burn a bit more slowly for a bit longer, but still producing a significant amount of smoke. However, with this option, there is the possibility of the resin soaking into the charcoal and snuffing it out.
Allow the charcoal to fully burn itself out.
Never leave it unattended once lit!
Once the charcoal is burning, it really needs time to burn itself out. For this reason, you will want to be sure you have at least an hour before you need to leave the area. Once the charcoal burns itself out, you can usually just stir the remaining charcoal and resin ash into the white ash, unless you are going to be trying different resins and want to keep the scents individually pure.
Alternatives to Burning Resins
What if I want to use incense resins, but I’m in a place where I cannot produce large quantities of smoke, for whatever reason?
If you are concerned about sprinkler systems in your apartment and/or have strict policies/rules/laws prohibiting your use of burning charcoals, there are still a few options available for you.
Electric Incense Heater/Burner
An electric incense burner is really more of a heater. You can just set this down on a table and plug it in, turn it on, and it will heat up to your specified temperature. Once heated, you can place incense resins or powders in a metal dish on top of its hot-plate, and they will produce a vapor or smoke, depending on the chosen temperature.
Apothecary’s Garden recommended a particular burner in one of their articles. I looked at many different options at the time that I decided to buy mine, but the reviews for all the others were pretty hit-or-miss and I felt the recommendation from Apothecary’s Garden carried a lot of weight for me, personally, by this point. So, the one I purchased is the one I would also recommend, and the only one I’ve personally ever tried. Unfortunately, I see it is currently out-of-stock, but hopefully they will have more soon, I know they are custom-made, so it probably takes some time to get a re-supply, on their part. If you want to buy one NOW, I see that Apothecary’s Garden now carries their own model. While I haven’t tried it myself, I feel safe in recommending it as a best second-option, since the Mermade Magickal Arts ‘Golden Lotus’ burner is currently unavailable.
Tealight-Powered Incense Heater
As I haven’t used this method myself, I’m inserting an excerpt from Dan’s Etsy page, explaining the benefits of this method. You should get a similar effect as you would with the electric burners above, but at a cheaper price, albeit with less control over temperature and burn-time.
Great for enjoying the aroma of resins and Bakhour without the heavy smoke and charred scent that comes with burning incense on coals.
These incense burners open up a whole new dimension of experience when it comes to appreciating resin incense and other aromatic materials.
Where charcoals burn hot, generate a lot of smoke and consume incense quickly, incense heaters can often deliver hours of aromatic experience that is all fragrance and not all smoke. (read more about it on Dan’s Etsy)
Some Popular Varieties of Incense Resins
As I do most highly recommend picking up your resins from Apothecary’s Garden, I will use some images and descriptions of these various types of resins, as described by Dan Riegler on his Etsy page. All italicized text is pulled directly from Dan’s store, where I highly recommend you try as many of these as you can! You can just click on the images below and you will be sent directly to the purchase page for that particular incense! (all links open in new tab, so you can just click the ones you like now, and go look at them all in more detail after finishing the article!)
Frankincense is probably the most popular type of incense resin, and also one of the most ancient in its spiritual use. Many churches as well as magical orders consider Frankincense to be one of the best ways to purify a space. Because of its popularity over the centuries and it’s wide-grow-regions, there are probably more varieties of frankincense than any other incense resin. I will highlight some of the more popular and more interesting varieties here:
Frankincense Occulta-The hidden Frankincense
A new Frankincense! The Hidden or Occult Frankincense was officially discovered in 2019 in the Ceel Ufeyn area of northern Somalia/Somaliland.
Boswellia occulta is a very different tree than its neighbours the B. carterii trees. Historically, Boswellia Occulta resin has always been mixed in with the local Frankincense Carterii and considered by locals to be the same tree. The name “Occulta” comes from the Latin, Occultus which means “Hidden”. Though this species has been present as long as any other Frankincense species and is an important commercial crop locally, it remained hidden from the view of botanists till recently. Hence the name-Occulta.
Not only do its simple leaves look different than most other Frankincense species, but Frankincense Occulta oleoresin has a chemical composition that is very different from that of all other known Frankincense species.
This difference is most evident in its aroma and flavour. Unlike most other Frankincense essential oils that contain a predominance of alpha-Pinene, (or in the case of Boswellia papyrifera octyl acetate). B. Occulta essential oil leads with a high percentage of methyl ethers, in particular, 1-methoxydecane and 1-methoxyoctane which is really unusual and unexpected from a Frankincense type. When these compounds were first noticed in Boswellia carterii essential oil samples, it was assumed that they were not of plant origin. Now the mystery is solved.
Chewed, this resin has an interesting bitterness and flavour that is nothing like B. Sacra or B. carterii. It is almost a candy/mint/gasoline flavour. It lingers on the tongue just like gasoline does after you have done everything in your power to pull that tube out of your mouth just before the gasoline came out. But it is not as intense. Or as unpleasant.
It has a very interesting aroma burned in a censer and similar to its flavour, leads with notes of mint rather than pine with an odd but not unpleasant sweetness to it. Just very odd and unexpected. After the essential oils and resins have offered themselves up on the coal, the typical charred aroma of the water-soluble gum portion is indistinguishable from that of any other type of Frankincense resin.
Frankincense Neglecta, Directly from the women of the Samburu Tribe! A fair-trade and sustainable harvest! Kenya
After 5 years of travelling back and forth to visit the women of the Samburu tribe in Northern Kenya, we have finally established direct trade from the collectors to us in the West!
This is the first shipment of co-op harvested resins from the Samburu women and hopefully the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship.
All we need now are customers to support this project. We have 2 very special wholesalers who have a passion for fair trade and sustainability and are ready to deliver these resins to distillers and retailers in North America and in Europe.
This resin is fresh and fragrant, full of essential oil that can easily be distilled. It is sustainably harvested and fairly traded.
The motivation behind this trip was to facilitate sustainability and fair trade of medicinal/fragrant resins from the Horn of Africa. Early 2016 I spent a week and a half in remote, (hot), Samburu county sourcing native resin bearing Frankincense and Myrrh trees and initiating a fair trade platform for the semi-nomadic, pastoralist women of the Samburu tribe in North Eastern Kenya.
In the Samburu tradition, the men hold most of the wealth which is in the form of cattle, sheep, goats and camels. The women do much of the work with little to no monetary return. Many of the women collect resins and bring them to market every week or two. This gives them their own income which they use to purchase medicine and food. Cutting out the middlemen from the supply chain ensures the women a reliable and fair return for the resins they collect.
Though Frankincense and Myrrh trees are abundant in their area, the women do not tap or injure the trees to increase yield as is often the case in other areas and with other types of resin-bearing trees. Harming nature is frowned upon and contrary to their belief system and their reverence for their Nature Goddess N’gai. The Samburu only collect the resins that form due to incidental injuries from goats and Baboons who find the bark of Boswellia Neglecta delectable, and elephants who casually trample trees like matchsticks as elephants tend to do. In fact it is believed these trees and some other frankincense and Myrrh species cannot be tapped due to their thin bark and different physiology.
The Samburu women collect both a light and a dark B. Neglecta incense. Yes…I had to see this for myself and it is true!! Initial injury generates a clear sap that hardens translucent and light golden.
Subsequent to injury the tree creates “Traumatic Resin Ducts” as does our Northern Spruce. These ducts then generate a special therapeutic sap called “Callus Resin”, that acts as a bandage and promotes the growth of protective tissue that heals the wounds, creates scar tissue and isolates healthy flesh from diseased. In Scandinavia, the Spruce callus resin is used in traditional salves for slow healing wounds, diabetic ulcers and post-surgical wounds.
Very little clear resin is available from the trees compared to the dark resin.
Like all its brothers, Frankincense Neglecta is ruled by the Sun from an astrological point of view. It is calming and strengthening to both mind and heart, aids in meditation and concentration, and helps raise one’s spirits.
When burned as incense, it helps cleanse a space and create a sense of sacredness.
Sometimes called “Dakar”, the aroma of Frankincense Neglecta, though unmistakably that of Frankincense, stands out with clean, crisp, sweet, earthy notes, reminiscent of our northern Balsam Fir trees.
This unusual type of Frankincense has been used locally for generations as a sacred incense and as medicine specific for respiratory complaints. The Samburu burn it when a child is sick, when a woman is in labour and during childbirth from what I could gather.
The infused oil of Frankincense Neglecta oleoresin and its essential oil are valuable ingredients in respiratory rubs, salves and oils. It yields itself readily to oleo-extraction with vegetable oils which makes a most excellent chest rub for congestions, asthma, bronchitis and colds.
This is the resin I use to make my Frankincense neglecta Oleo Extract which I refer to as “Heartsease Oil”, which I find reduces feelings of anxiety, panic and tightness/heaviness of the chest. Apparently, it has the same effect for many others when massaged into the chest.
As all types of Frankincense, this oleoresin makes an exceptional incense for the home and ritual.
Red Hojari Frankincense. Oman. A rare Frankincense for incense, medicine & perfume-Boswellia sacra
The Hajar region of Oman supplies us with all our Hojari Frankincense types. The extensive sorting process gives us our Hojari Supreme, Royal Green Hojari, Hojari silver and a number of other variations that are valued for their distinct colour and scent.
A brother to the Royal Green Hojari, but not as well know, the Royal Red, (also called Amber Hojari), consists of large tears that all share shades of Amber to brown.
In scent, it is similar to the Royal Green Hojari but a little more balsamic and soft. It has less notes of citrus and lemon yet delivers the same sweetness as the Royal green to incense blends, oil extracts, tinctures and other products.
A staple of churches, Mosques and temples around the world, Frankincense Sacra resin is traditionally used as incense and medicine.
Frankincense Sacra from Arabia and Oman is one of the frankincense types that contain Boswellic acids which have been shown in laboratory studies to be anti-inflammatory and cause apoptosis in a variety of cancer types.
Boswellia Sacra is ideal for the preparation of incense blends, therapeutic oils, salves, cremes and tinctures. In many Arabian cultures, it is infused overnight in water, ( a teaspoon to a cup of room temperature water), and sipped throughout the following day for its therapeutic qualities. You can find the tincture and the oleo-extract of this resin in the shop.
Royal Green Hojari Frankincense. Oman. A rare Frankincense for incense, medicine & perfume. Bears a beautiful green hue.
This new shipment of Royal Green Hojari Frankincense from Oman is one of the most delightfully fragrant we have had.
Considered the premier Frankincense of Oman, this shipment of Royal Green Hojari is indeed a particularly beautiful and fragrant resin. Traditionally reserved for medicine, high-end incense and tea, these large succulent pieces share a green cast and a delightful sweet citrus scent.
It takes many Kilograms of regular Omani Frankincense resin to collect a handful of the prized “Royal Hojari. In turn, it takes many Kilograms of Royal Hojari Frankincense to gather a handful of the coveted green Frankincense tears. During the sorting process which involves women of the community for much of the year, each tear of Frankincense is graded by size shape and colour.
The cream of the crop are the large green-tinted tears that show up occasionally in each sorters pile and are considered the best of the best, reserved for medicine, special occasions and royalty. With a delicately sweet, Piney, minty, citrus note, the scent of this resin suits its unique colour.
A staple of churches, Mosques and temples around the world, Frankincense Sacra resin is traditionally used as incense and medicine.
Frankincense Sacra from Arabia and Oman is one of the 5 frankincense types that contain Boswellic acids. These are therapeutically active compounds that have been in the news a lot the past decade and are thought to be behind the plethora of conditions addressed with Frankincense in traditional medicine.
Boswellia Sacra Royal Green Hojari is ideal for the preparation of incense blends, therapeutic oils, salves, cremes and tinctures. In many Arabian cultures, it is infused overnight in water, ( a teaspoon of tears to a cup of room temperature water), and sipped throughout the following day for its therapeutic qualities. You can find the tincture and the oleo-extract of this resin in the shop.
Perhaps the least known Frankincense type in the Western world, but one of the most prized in Arabia and Africa, Boswellia Frereana is Native to the Somali Puntland and the Somaliland highlands, it is their pride and joy. In Somalia and neighbouring countries, it is called Maydi and considered the King of Frankincenses. The fragrance of Boswellia frereana is a warm Amber highlighted by honey, spice and light musk notes.
Though Boswellia frereana has a very different chemical composition than other types of Frankincense and contains no Boswellic acids, it is used traditionally as medicine and has been shown in laboratory studies to be anti-inflammatory and able to kill the H. Pylori bacteria that causes Gastric ulcers. It is traditionally thought to help alleviate Arthritic pain and support healthy joints.
Boswellia Frereana is widely used as a high-end chewing gum for oral care, peptic ulcers, and is considered antiseptic and anti-inflammatory for both the gastrointestinal and the urinary tract. It is believed that the body benefits from these therapeutic actions through chewing the raw resin. Maydi has been used in anti-ageing and rejuvenative cosmetic preparations and is believed to reduce wrinkles and add elasticity to mature skin.
Collected by traditional harvester clans and families in the mountains of the Somali Puntland, from often precarious cliff growing trees. It is brought down to the coastal plain on the backs of donkeys to be sorted, packaged and sold. It is often bought up quickly by the Coptic church as their signature incense, and traders from across the Red Sea who sell most of their product to Saudia Arabia and other Arabian countries where it is in great demand as a high end chewing gum and incense material. Frankincense Frereana is so much in demand in these countries that the harvest is often pre-purchased a year in advance to guarantee supply.
Averaging around 95-99% oleoresin with barely any water-soluble gum content, (as compared to 20% -35% in Boswellia Carterii/Sacra and other types), means Boswellia frereana is perfect for mastication and makes a long-lasting chewing gum.
Frankincense Frereana is an easy to use and a wonderfully fragrant incense on its own or as an ingredient in Bakhoor, and compound incenses. Due to its near complete solubility in alcohol, waxes and vegetable oils, it is perfect for making, cremes, salves, tinctures and many other natural cosmetics, aromatic and therapeutic products. It is an integral ingredient in the traditional Somali Unsii incense.
To use this natural oleoresin of Frankincense Frereana as a chewing gum, take a few lentil sized tears, or one pea-sized piece, let it warm a bit in your mouth to soften, then as it is chewed it will come together to form a wonderfully fragrant and healing gum that will last for a long time. It helps freshen the breath and massage the gums. It is believed to have a calming effect on the mind and stimulate memory and brain function.
Frankincense Papyrifera – Sudan
Frankincense papyrifera grows mainly in the Tigray area of Northern Ethiopia, in Eritrea to the north and Sudan to the West.
Usually, the Frankincense Papyrifera we see here in the West is sourced from Ethiopia. Every once in a while I come across a Sudanese harvest but the quality is on par with the Ethiopian “Export Grade” which is great. However, this time the Sudanese have outdone themselves and raised the bar for Papyrifera quality. I don’t know if this is a quality they can maintain in the long run, so I suggest stocking up while we have it.
Until recently, in our North American market, there was little choice as far as the type of Frankincense resin or essential oil one could buy, and it was almost impossible to acquire the rare types of frankincense such as Frankincense Papyrifera.
Boswellia, or Frankincense Papyrifera is distinguished from other types of Frankincense by the presence of Boswellic acids, Incensole and Incensole Acetate. Studies have shown that Incensole Acetate affects our central nervous system and possesses psychoactive properties. According to studies, Incensole Acetate can generate heightened feelings of well-being and spirituality, reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and improve memory function. Other research has indicated that Incensole Acetate shows neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties and may be of use in cases of stroke and head trauma. It is presumed that Incensole and Incensole Acetate are also absorbed by the body through the smoke released during the burning of Frankincense as an incense. One can see why this has been an ideal incense for spiritual/religious purposes in churches and temples for millennia.
The Boswellic acids that Frankincense Papyrifera contains have been researched extensively and show powerful anti-cancer activity in the lab.
Ruled astrologically by the Sun, all types of Frankincense are anti-inflammatory, calming to the mind and spirit and aid in meditation and spiritual work. Frankincense has been a valuable commodity and a very important part of our global cultures, religions and trade for thousands of years, highly valued for its medicinal, spiritual and aromatic uses, it is only recently that the different types of Frankincense have been examined closely and their unique chemical compositions studied.
Frankincense Rivae – Somali Region-Ethiopia The sweetest of the Frankincense family
Likely my favourite Frankincense type, Boswellia Rivae never stays in the shop for long. It has a haunting, rich fragrance with a soft candy-like sweetness reminiscent of its distant cousin Palo Santo, (Bursera Graveolens). With a deep amber heart and a light, sweet spiciness, it is my go-to Frank in many of my blends and is a beautiful resin on the coal.
Like all others in its family, Frankincense Rivae is ruled Astrologically by the Sun. Thus it is considered warming and strengthening to the heart and mind, grounding, cleansing and spiritually uplifting.
Frankincense Rivae has been used traditionally as an incense to cleanse the home, sanctify ceremonies and sacred spaces. Both the essential oil and oleoresin of Frankincense Rivae are ingredients in traditional Bakhoor incense mixes across the region.
The scent of Frankincense Rivae, though unmistakably that of Frankincense, stands out with a smooth complexity. It is one of the most vibrant Frankincense types I have come across. It lends itself beautifully to natural incense work and can be used in various cremes, salves and oils.
Traditionally it is used to speed the healing of wounds and scar tissue, and as most other types of Frankincense, it is anti-inflammatory, reduces the appearance and the signs of ageing. It is often used in anti-ageing and anti-wrinkle cosmetic products.
Boswellia, or Frankincense Rivae, is an olfactory treat, a rare and unusual Frankincense that should not be missed.
Boswellia or Frankincense Serrata is likely one of the most well-known and most-used types of Frankincense in the world. Also called Indian Olibanum and Salai in India, its traditional medicinal uses are well recorded.
Used extensively for hundreds of years in the Indian healing tradition of Ayurveda, Boswellia Serrata is considered an NSAID (or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), causing little to no side effects or irritation compared to steroidal drugs. It is used traditionally to treat arthritis, osteoarthritis, inflammation of joints, bronchial asthma and recently has shown promise treating ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, tumours and causing apoptosis in cancer cells. Boswellia Serrata is also used in Ayurveda to treat diseases of the mouth, chronic skin lesions and ulcers, wounds, piles, diarrhea, jaundice and other hepatic disorders.
Many of the therapeutic properties are attributed to its Boswellic acid content, compounds it shares with Frankincense Papyrifera from Ethiopia and Frankincense Sacra/Carterii from Oman and Somalia.
Growing from India up through Punjab and into Pakistan, Frankincense Serrata is used extensively as an incense and incense ingredient in local rituals and ceremonies. It’s distilled essential oil has a warm amber-like spicy fragrance that acts as a heart-to-base note in perfume blends.
Frankincense Serrata is also used in traditional Chinese medicine. Extracts and capsules of B. Serrata are widely available on the market and commonly found on health food store shelves.
Like most types of Frankincense, when burned as incense, it helps cleanse a space and create a sense of sacredness. Frankincense is ruled by the Sun from an astrological point of view, is calming to mind and heart, helps raise one’s spirits, and is said to generate heightened feelings of spirituality and well-being. Excellent for preparing tea or powder and other products, it does not lend itself to chewing as pleasantly as Frankincense Sacra, Royal Green Hojari or Frankincense Carterii.
Black Frankincense Sacra – Boswellia sacra-Oman
This unusual type of Boswellia Sacra is quite different from the Oman Frankincense we are familiar with. Though it does not rate high in the traditional Omani grading system, (Likely due to the absence of well-defined tears), it is favoured by distillers, perfumers and incense makers for its unique aromatic characteristics and abundance of essential oil which lends it its stickiness and intense aroma.
It conveys these aromatic qualities readily to incense blends, teas, oils, salves, tinctures and cremes.
Sweeter than the Black Frankincense carterii from Somalia, it has deep notes of amber, wildflower honey, and delicate spices with soft green notes wafting through.
Instead of the lemon top note shared by other types of Omani Frankincense, it has sweet hints of citrus, (Like fresh Tangerines ripening somewhere nearby).
Black Frankincense sacra makes a gorgeous incense on its own or if desired, small pieces can be warmed and rolled between the fingers into balls, blended with essential oils or rolled in fragrant wood powders such as Agarwood and Sandalwood to create unique incense Pastilles.
As many other Frankincense types, it contains Boswellic acids which have been shown to exhibit anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. The Boswellic acids contribute to its traditional use in cosmetic and therapeutic oils, salves cremes and liniments used for mature skin, joint pain, arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
A West African Frankincense found in North Eastern Nigeria where the Hausa speaking people refer to it as Hano or Harrabi. This shipment is of the highest quality I have ever come across. It is well sorted and contains a good mix of large pieces including the rarer light and dark green tears with no bark or dust. It is beautiful material that exhibits the trademark fragrance of Boswellia Dalzielii -Orange/Citrus and Mint with earthy undertones. The locals use it as chewing gum and as incense. It can be used as many of the other types of Frankincense for incense, teas, oils, salves, tinctures and cremes. This is a premium quality Frankincense at a very reasonable price.
Boswellia Dalzielii is the most western Frankincense species on what could be called the “Boswellia Belt”, a latitudinal band of favourable growing conditions that runs from the Ivory Coast in the far west of Africa to the eastern Horn of Africa and continues on through Yemen and Oman all the way to India and Pakistan in the East.
There are about 18 species of Frankincense dispersed along this band. Though not all of them yield resin on a commercial scale, most have been used in traditional folk medicine in the areas they grow. This is the case with Boswellia Dalzielii who’s bark is used locally for many ailments including wound healing, Rheumatoid arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, and venereal diseases. To learn more Google “Boswellia Dalzielii studies”.
A staple of churches, Mosques and temples around the world, Frankincense resin is traditionally used as incense and medicine. Its essential oil is distilled for perfumery and aromatherapy.
Frankincense Dalzielii bears all the features and indications that it belongs in the group of Frankincense types that provide us with Boswellic acids. These include B. Carterii, B. Sacra, B Papyrifera and B. Serrata. Recent studies out of Germany show Nigerian Boswellia Dalzielii resin to have the highest percent of Boswellic acids among all the Frankincense types.
Frankincense Carterii – Somalia
Frankincense Carterii is one of a handful of Frankincense types that contain Boswellic acids. These resin acids are the compounds that have been shown in studies to be anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer. These findings support its use in traditional medicine for inflammation, respiratory, muscle and joint and gastrointestinal issues. Frankincense Carterii has also been shown to add elasticity to skin and has been used in cosmetics formulas. It is important to note that it is the resin part of Frankincense that contains the Boswellic acids, not the essential oils. Adding essential oil of Frankincense Carterii will not deliver its full therapeutic value. For this reason, it is much more advantageous to understand how to use the resin in products.
Frankincense Carterii resin can be used as a base for therapeutic and cosmetic cremes, salves, balms and medicated oils. For instructions on how to make your own Frankincense oil-extracts and other products please visit my blog at www.apothecarysgarden.com
It is lovely burned in a censer alone or ground and blended with other aromatics.
In local folk medicine traditions, Frankincense Carterii is used as a tea/infusion by steeping one teaspoon of tears in 2 cups of cold water overnight and sipping on this tea during the day. This is taken to help with coughs, colds and respiratory complaints.
Frankincense Sacra – Oman-Boswellia Sacra
There is an ongoing debate among botanists whether Boswellia Carterii from Somalia and Boswellia Sacra which grows in Oman are the same species or different. This debate could, and likely will go on for decades.
A staple of churches and temples around the world, Frankincense resin is traditionally used as incense and medicine. Its essential oil is distilled for perfumery and aromatherapy. It is one of 4 frankincense types that is rich in Boswellic acids.
Since Boswellia Sacra contains the Boswellic acids in its resin, (Not the essential oil!), it is ideal for the preparation of therapeutic oils, salves, cremes and tinctures. It is easy to work with and its beautiful fragrance follows it through every product you make. It is traditionally used to make Frankincense tea and the tears are often chewed as a healthy alternative to sweetened artificial gum.
Assorted Resin Varieties
Fresh Myrrh oleoresin. Commiphora Myrrha from Yemen. For perfume, Medicine and Incense. This resin is rare in its quality and difficult to come by given the conflicts in Yemen. It is more expensive than regular Ethiopian Myrrh, but each piece is a worthy specimen, exhibiting lovely colour, translucency and aroma.
Along with Frankincense, Myrrh is probably one of the most well known natural oleoresins in the world. Famous for its use since biblical times as medicine, fragrance and incense, Myrrh has long been valued for its many medicinal applications and has been at times, worth its weight in gold. Literally.
This fresh batch of Myrrh is sourced from Yemen and is rich in essential oils lending it a lovely crisp, warm and bitter fragrance.
One of the most precious commodities in the ancient world, this aromatic oleoresin still keeps its value as a component in perfumes and incense, while medicinally, it is unsurpassed as a “heal-all” for oral care, effectively addressing issues such as inflamed sore or infected gums, post-extraction soreness or denture irritation, spongy gums, canker sores, halitosis, gingivitis, and loose teeth. A simple tincture of the raw oleoresin, or essential oil, in alcohol/water, added to a saline mouth rinse is one of the best treatments for oral issues and sore throats.
Myrrh is a powerful anti-fungal and has been used successfully to treat fungal infections of the skin and nails. Myrrh contains 2 compounds that are analgesic and can help reduce pain. One customer who suffers from allergies to painkillers, shared recently that she places a small lump between cheek and aching tooth. She claims it offers her relief in about 5 minutes.
Internally it is a natural “Bitter”, stimulating digestion, appetite and the production of bile. Topically in a salve or creme, Myrrh has been used for coughs, colds and congestion, cuts and abrasions and hemorrhoids. Myrrh is traditionally used in cosmetic skin-care products for its beneficial effects on the skin.
The name Myrrh is rooted in The Aramaic word for bitter. Mar, Mor. It lives up to its name with a wonderfully rich, sweet, stimulating bitterness. Some associate this with the names Mary, Miriam, Mariam, and believe it to mean the bitter of the sea, the froth of the sea? (Sometimes associated with the Goddess Astarte, Ashtoreth). Either way, Myrrh is considered to be of a feminine nature, which is appropriate since Myrrh is ruled astrologically by the Moon and has an affinity with the fluid systems of our body. ( Frankincense is ruled by the Sun). It is interesting to note that it has also been used to regulate menstrual flow.
Sweet, vibrant and unmistakeable , Commiphora Guidotti is the accepted Commiphora/Myrrh type used in mainstream commerce under the name Opoponax. Though there are other Commiphoras such as C. Erythrea also called Scented Myrrh and Opoponax, it is C. Guidotti that yields the Opoponax essential oil we are accustomed to. . After a long 6 months of setbacks, this shipment from our co-op in the Somali Puntland has finally cleared customs and is physically in the shop! Woohoo!!! Fresh, fragrant and fair trade. What more could one ask for?
Both Commiphora Guidotti, known as “Hadi””, and Commiphora Erythrea, known in Somalia as “Hagar”, are sold as Opoponax in the West. Though they are closely related trees, their scent profiles are very different and each stands out as a unique resin with a signature scent of its own.
While Commiphora Erythrea has great depth, mystique and complexity, Commiphora Guidottti is forthright and bold, lending a bright, crisp and fresh top note to perfume and incense blends with its unmistakable zest.
After 2 years of work, this is our first shipment directly from Somalia to North America, bypassing a chain of middlemen who benefit at the expense of the harvesters. There is a nursery established to plant more trees in the wild and part of the profits from these sales find their way back to the harvester’s communities. This is a young venture, a novel approach to the traditional industry and I have high hopes for its growth and success.
Commiphora Guidotti is ruled Astrologically by the Moon as are its sisters C. Myrrha and C. Erythrea. In traditional Somali folk medicine, Opoponax is used to treat lower back pain and urinary tract issues. This is done by adding some resin the drinking water container and topping it up with fresh water when it gets low. The resin is not refreshed but left in the water for a period of days and untill the water no longer tastes or smells of the resin.. I do not know the dosage or the duration of the treatment and do not counsel anyone to try it.
Gum Arabic – Kenya
Gum Arabic is one of two non-fragrant gums in the shop. Used as a binder in incense production, a stabilizer, emulsifier, adhesive and thickener in food, beverages and cosmetics, Gum Arabic is an extremely useful tree product.
An exudate of a number of Acacia species that are found in Africa and Arabia, Gum Arabic is used extensively in the food and confection industry to lend viscosity to beverages and stability to food products. It is used in icing and confection glazes, to suspend essential oils and create oil/water emulsions. Dissolved Gum Arabic is a standard base for watercolours to which pigments are added.
Gum Arabic creates the gumminess of Marshmallows, Gummy bears and other soft confections and forms natural gummy balls on the trees while it is fresh. It is a favourite food of Baboons in Africa and they are known to wait patiently while the tree produces a fresh flow of gummy yumminess for their pleasure.
Needless to say that it is also a favourite snack of children in the Savanna. Though we miss this delectable stage of Gum Arabic, it is a completely water-soluble product and is easily powdered and reconstituted with water for its many everyday applications. It is eminently edible, odourless, flavourless and transparent when dissolved in water which adds to its popularity and broad use.
Gum arabic is a key ingredient in traditional lithography and is used in printing, paint production, glue, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and various industrial applications.
What will you create with it?
Siam Benzoin – Styrax Tonkinensis
This is the listing for the Premium Grade A+ Benzoin Siam, (Styrax tonkinensis), Almonds. The purest and highest grade of Siam Benzoin available on the market.
Over the decades I have seen many forms of Benzoin resin. Usually, bland nondescript chips, tears and powder or grey, grainy, odourless lumps that yield to no solvent. This resin is a material that is beautiful according to all senses and standards.
It has a rich, sweet, balsamic scent of Vanilla. It is distinguished from its cousin, Sumatra Benzoin by this enchanting Vanilla scent. Though Sumatra Benzoin has a vanilla-ish aroma, it is milder in comparison and uplifted by its own unique signature scent. (See Sumatra benzoin Here-
It dissolves easily in alcohol, DPG and Benzyl Benzoate when preparing tinctures, resinoids and absolutes. truly a pleasure to work with. In Amber accords, Siam Benzoin adds more depth and complexity than Sumatra Benzoin.
There are two species of trees that provide us with most of our Benzoin products. -Styrax Benzoin from Sumatra and Indonesia (called kemanya locally), -and Styrax Tonkinesis from Thailand and Laos which bears the name Siam Benzoin.
The name Benzoin is believed to have developed through centuries of intercultural “Broken Telephone”, much like the children’s game that involves whispering a word or phrase to the person next to you and comparing it with what the last person in the line claims they heard.
When Islam came to Indonesia 700 years ago, it was discovered that the native tribes tapped a tree to for its aromatic resin much like the Frankincense trees back home. This resin was not only fragrant, used for incense and medicine, but it came out of the tree white, just like the Luban or Frankincense of the Arabian cultures back home. Thus, it was awarded the Arabic name of Luban Jawi, or Frankincense of Java. (Luban is the Arabic name of Frankincense, Luban in Arabic and Levonah in Hebrew both share the same root word which means “White”.)
When the French encountered this Balsamic resin its name morphed to something more pleasing to the Francophone ear, La Benjawi and later L’Benjoin or Benjoin. The English did not like the ring of it so they renamed it Gum Benjamin or just Benjamin. In Ethiopia Benzoin is still called Lubanjah and one finds many variations on the theme when travelling such as Benjawi, Lubanji Lubanya etc..
Siam Benzoin is collected by making an incision in the tree and partially peeling back the bark underneath it. This creates a pocket that collects the liquid resin and holds it in place until it solidifies.
Benzoin is traditional medicine in many cultures. It is used as an expectorant and wound healer. Like many other tree resins, Benzoin has an affinity with the skin and is used to address issues of dry, chafed, chapped, cracked and rough skin, nipples and heels. It is one of the ingredients in Friars Balsam which is a compound tincture used internally for coughs and respiratory irritations and used externally for small wounds.
As an incense, Siam benzoin yields a dense Vanilla-sweet smoke when burned and is usually blended with other incense ingredients. It is a component in traditional incense formulas of the Orthodox Church and is often found in the “Rock” type Arabian Bakhour bricks. It is used extensively as a flavour ingredient in food, confection, beverages and tobacco products
It is used in perfumery for its vanilla-like scent and fixative properties and is considered an important ingredient in Oriental style perfumes and Amber accords.
Raw Benzoin resin dissolves completely in Ethanol but not fixed/carrier oils which can be frustrating. It does dissolve however in Benzyl Benzoate, ( a compound found in abundance in Benzoin resin), which can facilitate blending with carrier oils.
Due to its high Benzoic acid content, Benzoin Siam acts as a preservative and is a common addition to infused oils, salves and other products. The presence of Benzoic acid retards oxidization and delays rancidity in these oils, extending their shelf life.
From an aromatherapeutic perspective, Siam Benzoin is calming, grounding, uplifting and helps alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression. In traditional Chinese medicine, the Benzoin resin family is named An Xi Xiang meaning “The peaceful rest fragrance”.
Siam Benzoin trees are traditionally cultivated by families and smallholders, not in large corporate plantations which keeps this resin sustainable.
The main chemical constituents of Siam benzoin are Coniferyl Benzoate, Benzoic Acid, Vanillin, Benzyl Cinnamate, Cinnamyl Cinnamate and Cinnamic Acid.
Though used traditionally for its skin healing properties, Benzoin can cause a reaction in some individuals and can also cause sensitization. Use Benzoin products with care, well-diluted and with moderation.
Dragons Blood-Daemonorops draco – Indonesia
There are approximately 20 different trees around the world that supply a red resin called Dragons Blood.
This is the resin collected from the Rattan palm of Indonesia. Its leaves are used in basketry and the sturdy core is used for furniture making. The berries of Daemonorops Draco are coated with a thin layer of red resin. When the ripe berries are boiled, the lighter resin floats to the top of the water where it is scooped up and suspended in small cloth pouches to cool, dry and set. This gives the exported, fist-sized lumps their distinctive shape, Pointed at one end, round at the other. In some areas, the hard round seeds are used as beads. This method of resin collection is sustainable and causes no harm to the trees or the environment.
Armed with wicked, needle-sharp spines, the Latin name of Daemonorops literally means Evil Spirit shrub. Though the name may be attributed to the nastiness of the spines, some believe that spirits and energetic beings find a haven in the safety of these spines as they do in brambles, thickets, hedgerows and other environments that keep humans at a safe distance.
The fragrance of this type of Dragons Blood resin is a bit different than the Socotra Dragons Blood. It is softer and sweeter than its counterpart and though it too creates an intense smoke on the charcoal, it is not as penetrating or sharp. In common with Socotra Dragons Blood, this resin has no scent until it is heated or burned.
A pure oleoresin, Indonesian Dragons Blood resin contains no water-soluble gum. This means it melts and pools on the hot incense charcoal and emits no charred fragrance as do most types of Frankincense and Myrrh resins. Daemonorops Draco dissolves in alcohol like its Socotran counterpart.
Asafoetida – Ferula Asafoetida – Afghanistan
Premium quality pure and fresh Asafoetida resin. Afghanistan. Also known as “Devil’s Dung” and “Hing” This is the real deal. Fresh, pure and unadulterated. A little bit goes a long long way!
For the past few decades, I have only found processed Asafoetida on the market, usually, blended with gum Arabic or rice flour and other materials.
It is rare to find this quality of fresh, pure unadulterated Asafoetida and to have an opportunity to work with the pure material right from the plant. I don’t know if I can get a consistent supply of this resin, so I suggest you get it while I have it.
The aroma of Asafoetida is extremely pungent and strong and for this reason, it is shipped in airtight tins. It is often compared in aroma to a blend of sulphur and onions, However. Asafoetida has a much more complex and rich fragrance profile. In perfume, incense, medicine and magic, only a very small amount is needed. I have to point out here that the essential oil of Asafoetida is drab and non-descript compared to the fresh resin and does not do the plant justice. I imagine a tincture of the resin could deliver much more to a perfume blend.
“Ferula asafoetida is a herbaceous plant of the Umbelliferae family. It is oleo gum resin obtained from the rhizome and root of the plant. This spice is used as a digestive aid, in food as a condiment and in pickles. It is used in modern herbalism in the treatment of hysteria, some nervous conditions, bronchitis, asthma and whooping cough. It was at one time employed in the treatment of infantile pneumonia and flatulent colic. The gum resin is antispasmodic, carminative, expectorant, laxative, and sedative. The volatile oil in the gum is eliminated through the lungs, making this an excellent treatment for asthma. The odour of asafoetida is imparted to the breath, secretions, flatus, and gastric eructations. Its properties are antispasmodic, expectorant, stimulant, emmenagogue and vermifuge. Asafoetida has also been used as a sedative. It also thins the blood and lowers blood pressure. It is widely used in India in food and as a medicine in Indian systems of medicine like Ayurveda. Asafoetida has been held in great esteem among indigenous medicines, particularly in the Unani system from the earliest times.”
The preceding paragraph is an excerpt from an excellent article about Asafoetida on NCBI. Rather than repeat or rehash what is already presented so well, I suggest you read the full article here-www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3459456/ (You may have to copy and paste the link in your browser.
In Folk Magic traditions, Asafoetida is considered a powerful protective and banishing herb often used in magical incense blends and protective amulets. It is hot in nature and I believe ruled by Mars/Pluto/Scorpio from an Astrological point of view.
It is considered an aphrodisiac in some cultures and used to boost the libido.
Ammoniacum – Dorema Ammoniacum – Afghanistan
Ammoniacum or Gum Ammoniacum is an aromatic resin named for its long association with the Oracle of the Temple of Ammon. Originally located in Siwa Libya, the temple was an important religious center for the Egyptians and the ancient Greeks,
Believed to be the preferred incense to petition the oracle for answers, Ammoniacum is thought to have served the same purpose at the Greek oracle at Delphi. The name has persisted even though the oracles are no longer used as they once were.
Also known as Oshek or Veshek, Ammoniacum is burned to this day in the Moroccan Jewish tradition before the holy scrolls are removed from the temple ark.
Ammoniacum has a lovely “green” fragrance, similar to, but softer and sweeter than that of its cousin Galbanum which is used in perfumery. Where Galbanum has a green and very dry scent, Ammoniacum has a fragrance that could be described as golden green, fresh, penetrating and nourishing. It tastes bitter and pungent though this might be due to its high essential oil content.
Ammoniacum has been used since antiquity to treat respiratory issues, excess phlegm, asthma, chronic coughs and bronchitis and is said to soften hard tumours when applied as a poultice. It is considered a carminative, stimulating appetite and peristalsis which could be useful for the elderly. It may have a stimulating effect on the uterus and likely should not be taken during pregnancy. I found chewing on a small piece of the resin was pleasant and had the effect of stimulating the expectoration of phlegm, easing my breathing and soothing a stubborn cough. Energetically, the Ferula family is ruled by the wind. This is not only indicated by how they address flatulence, but because they all seem to be connected with the function of communication from an oracular and divinatory perspective, opening gateways in perception and traditionally used when working with or petitioning the Djinn. One could classify them under the rule of Mercury.
Ammoniacum is still used as an incense ingredient in the East and in traditional medicine. With its unique fragrance profile, it could provide an interesting addition to the perfumer’s palette as a tincture or essential oil.
Fasoukh, which in some cultures is called Oshek or Veshek, is an ancient incense material that has been used in spiritual, magical and energetic work for hundreds if not thousands of years. Well known in North African, Southern Mediterranean, Arabic and Islamic cultures, Fasoukh is a mainstay of folk magic practices across a broad geographical area regardless of religion, culture and societal differences.
Two types of Fasoukh are most common. White Fasoukh and Black Fasouk. White Fasoukh is reliably the resin of Ferula Communis while the composition of Black Fasoukh varies from tradition to tradition, culture to culture and geographical areas. Black Fasoukh is sometimes found as an incense blend compounded from many ingredients but also commonly found as a single aromatic or resin. I have come across Black Fasoukh from Morocco, Iran, and even Sudanese Black Fasouk in the famous Addis Ababa Mercato open-air market in Ethiopia. Each was vastly different from the other. Conversely, White Fasoukh has most often been the gum resin of Ferula Communis.
In general, it is safe to say that White Fasoukh is usually used to open communication with the energetic/spiritual world and in many cultures used to petition the Djinn for favours. while Black Fasoukh is most often used to cleanse and protect the person and the home, counteract the evil eye and malignant forces whether of human or otherworldly nature. Black Fasoukh is also used for other beneficial purposes such as attracting money, love, good health and prosperity. Though usually burned as an incense, in some cultures a liquid or paste is prepared from Black Fasoukh and used in a floor wash, applied to the soles of one’s shoes or to the door frame of one’s home to attract the desired outcome or for protection.
One may notice the similarities in both plant family and function between White Fasoukh and Ammoniacum which is also used for divinatory and oracular purposes.
The fragrance of White Fasoukh when burned is similar yet different than that of Ammoniacum. White Fasoukh lacks green notes and has an earthier, warmer and dryer fragrance than Ammoniacum. (Let’s call it ochre as opposed to green). It is not as sharp or penetrating as the latter, though I detect some sweet candy notes lingering in the air after burning it.
Ferula Communis, like its cousin Ferula ammoniacum, has been used since antiquity to treat respiratory issues, excess phlegm, asthma, chronic coughs and bronchitis and is said to soften hard tumours when applied as a poultice. (It can be pounded with oil and or water first). It is considered a carminative, stimulating appetite and peristalsis which could be useful for the elderly. It may have a stimulating effect on the uterus and likely should not be taken during pregnancy.
Black Copal – Copal Negro – PeruCopal Negro-Black Copal-Protium Paniculatum-Peru-Sustainable harvest. This Black Copal is collected from the ground and the trees are harmed in no way. It has a lovely sweet, fruity green fragrance when burned on a hot coal or in an electric burner.
A hard to find aromatic resin, Copal Negro is used as a traditional incense in ceremonies/rituals and the home. It is also used in traditional medicine, dissolved in oil for a broad range of skin-related problems. Like most tree resins, Protium Paniculatum has a deep affinity with the skin.
If used in skincare, cosmetics or therapeutic products, the resin can be ground and infused in a warm carrier oil in a water-bath. Once it has given itself to the oi, the infusion can be sedimented and filtered to provide a healing aromatic base for cremes, salves, lotions, ointments and medicated oils. This oil infusion can also be used in the creation of solid perfumes.
As an incense, Protium Paniculatum resin burns with a pleasant caramel, fruity, green fragrance with light floral notes. If you burn it on an electric incense burner, don’t be surprised if you notice an accumulation of fine white needles in the lid. Looking like cotton. This is not mould, but the natural resin acids rising with the heat and reforming themselves upon cooling.
Copal Negro dissolves in alcohol and can be used to impregnate incense papers. The paper is first dipped in a solution of Salpeter and water, left to dry completely, then impregnated with a solution of resin and alcohol. When dry, the paper will burn evenly through due to the Salpeter and it will release the scent of Copal Negro as it burns. Recipes for incense papers can be found online. Many different resins and aromatic materials can be incorporated in incense papers.
I distilled a few kilograms of this unusual resin and was completely blown away by the unexpected Emerald Green colour of its essential oil!! I have distilled resins for over 20 years and have never experienced this intense colour before! The essential oil is not only visually striking, but it has an amazing aroma!
Since Desiderii Marginis is the first interview in La Delaïssádo, let’s have a listen to his latest album while reading!
Early in 2020, a little after the full realization of what Covid-19 had in store for the world, I received a very interesting e-mail from a fellow named Bertrand from France. He explained that he’d been a writer and co-editor at Convivial Hermit Magazine and the Obsküre webzine for nearly 20 years, and was now ready to spread his own wings and delve into a printed fanzine of his own creation. He asked me to be one of the interviewees for the first edition and I gratefully accepted.
So, here’s a bit of an overview of what you can expect in this first issue and how you can get your hands on one of the 199 copies, before they are gone forever. And last but certainly not least, I asked Bertrand some questions, myself, which well help give a bit of extra background on Bertrand and his motivations/ambitions going forward.
Let’s start with the physical aspects of the zine. It’s a soft glossy covered 172 pages in the A5 format. It is presented in black and white only. For a fanzine, which will certainly be making its way all over the planet, I think this was the right choice. The presentation is very clean, and the readability is top-notch. While, the costs of production were likely able to stay relatively low, which is why he’s selling these for a mere €6.50. That low price also helps to negate some of the incredibly high shipping costs that the world has been experiencing of late.
As for the name and content of La Delaïssádo, Delaissado is an Occitan word meaning “abandoned”. The zine covers a number of articles, crossing a swathe of topics. The first being a lengthy conversation with Desiderii Marginis, the renowned dark ambient musician. Followed by an interview of Laurent Clement of the Dead Seed Productions record label. Then, he interviews me, journalist behind a dark ambient zine. Then, he has an article about the very interesting historical location of Montsegur. And so forth. As you can see, La Delaïssádo comes at journalism in a very similar way to This Is Darkness, focusing little on the need for strict adherence to format, and more on introducing readers to a breadth of interesting topics, seemingly compiled only at the whims of the writer(s), but still managing to be of a cohesive whole concept.
I was expecting to only see music related articles in La Delaïssádo. But, upon reaching the fourth article. I found a very interesting historical take on the French site of Montsegur, which I had a basic awareness of, on account of the possible Cathar connection to The Curse of Oak Island, a tv show that follows a treasure-hunter/archaeologist motley crew as they throw all sense of monetary concern to the wind, in search of the fabled lost treasure, which the Knights Templar left somewhere on Earth, or not… What followed in La Delaïssádo was an incredibly well prepared look into the Cathar history of the site, and the story of its ancient seige and destruction. The narrative was presented from the first-person perspective of Bertrand, La Delaïssádo‘s editor, recounting his first trip to the location for some basic hiking and sight-seeing, which turned into a more spiritual experience than he’d expected.
There were four more articles that were interesting divergences from specifically musical topics. Inside the Den of a Dreamer: Gustave Moreau’s Museum takes us on a ‘textual tour’ of the beautiful museum in Paris, which had previously been Gustave Moreau‘s workshop. The interview with Amy Cros explains what brought her to study Occitan languages as well as how and why their preservation is necessary. Laura-Lee Soleman is a French plastic artist. She works in a style that would be considered quite dark to many. She explains how music, film (particularly those of Béla Tarr) and life-experiences can lead one to creating different forms of art for different reasons. And lastly, we are given a very interesting interview with the owners of the Brasserie Ouroboros, a unique craft-beer brewery in the Auvergne region of France. While the beer is the main attraction here, increasingly this brewery, perched in a little mountain village named Freycenet-la-Tour near Le Puy-en-Velay, is becoming a hot-spot for concerts, which often include the likes of black metal and other dark/occult/alternative styles.
Readers will also find, scattered throughout this issue, a number of reviews, most closely resembling the format/length of those we are used to seeing in Noise Receptor. These reviews mainly, but not exclusively, focus on recent dark ambient and black metal releases. Other articles included focus on: Jean-Philippe Jaworski, Forêt Endormie, Cioran Records and Hecate.
For the rest of this article, let’s have a look at what Bertrand had to say to me about the zine’s first-issue-development and what we can expect in future issues.
Michael: France and Occitan language seems to be very important to you, as it plays a prominent position throughout this first issue. What is it that drew you to focus on this region/culture? Have you always been interested in such things relating to (your) heritage, or has this interest increased as time passes?
Bertrand: We French are a self-centered bunch as is common knowledge. Joking apart, you do raise a good point with this: in recent years, I have found that my curiosity toward people and their occupations tends to have me look ever closer to home sweet home, not in a flag-waving “support your local scene” movement, but at some point I just seem to have lost some of the impulse for canvassing the unlikeliest recesses of the globe in search of bands and styles no one has ever talked about – sometimes for a reason. On a personal level, I am very much aware of my heritage as you put it, which is inextricably bound up with the Occitan influence on culture, architecture, landscapes, and people since the Middle Ages. Occitania, more specifically the broad area from Auvergne (where I live) to the South-Western Pyrenees, is where I spend most of my vacation time. I am not a huge traveler but I got around a fair bit across Europe on account of being a compulsive hiker and museum rat, and I easily enjoy myself everywhere, but the sense of belonging is real. It is true that the fanzine partly reflects this. What can I say, if an article can get someone interested enough to look up either Auvergne, Dordogne, Aubrac, Languedoc, Pyrenees, or all at once in a search engine and maybe contemplate a trip, then huzzah I guess.
Michael: It seems fairly evident that you are a huge fan of black metal and dark ambient music. Will these be your major musical focuses going forward with La Delaïssádo, or will you be covering anything/everything that tickles your fancy? If the latter, what other genres are we likely to expect to read about?
Bertrand: I curse myself on a regular basis for the irrepressible urge to flesh out my album collection in a dozen parallel directions, but I think spreading a zine too thin would do it a disservice. As much as mono-themed zines present challenges of their own, I also see a need for limits, at least as long as one hasn’t maxed out their street cred. As it were, extreme metal, dark folk and dark ambient are the genres I feel most comfortable talking about, so even though classical music, 70’s prog/rock and electro/IDM make up a fair share of my time with music, small chance I’ll cover these genres beyond the occasional review, except if nailing a super exciting interview through some chain of circumstances. In fact the Forêt Endormie interview in #1 encroaches on classical music talk to some extent, but I’m certainly not competent or even willing to discuss classical music as a “specialist”.
Michael: You clearly have a great appreciation for art, in its many forms. But, I noticed throughout the issue that you mention not being very good at several different artistic formats. Do you consider your writing to be your main artistic talent, or do you have any other focuses: painting, music, sculpture, etc?
Bertrand: I have never applied myself to practicing music or drawing nearly enough to be able to determine if some calling is asleep inside of me, though I’ve dabbled in creative undertakings a few times and still strum the occasional chord with all the nimbleness of a dead plant. So yes, writing is what I do, though to speak of a talent… I took up to gardening recently, if that counts?
Michael: Do you have any plans for a set release schedule, or will issues release whenever the timing is right?
Bertrand: If I’m being 100% honest here, La Delaïssádo’s first issue was a work of obsessive commitment for the better part of nine months (being my first solo editorial project from A to Z) but I went at it like a blinkered horse chased by a swarm of hornets, not paying much attention to its cohesiveness as a magazine and (mis)using the cracked page design software in ways I certainly wouldn’t replicate now that I’ve learned the ropes. As a result, and to keep it brief, I am both pleased on the whole with it and very much aware of a hundred shortcomings, and also so spent that I’d rather lay the “classic” way of doing fanzines (interviews, reviews, articles, rinse and repeat) to rest for the time being. Right now I have a wholly different book concept in mind, which I’m pretty excited about, but it’s all very early-stage. La Delaïssádo will return with near certainty for a second serving but there is no schedule whatsoever. Might be in two years, might be in five. “Whenever the timing’s right” sounds like a plan. I’m not out to retain a readership, that much is clear.
Michael: Thanks so much for covering This Is Darkness in your first issue! I’m really pleased with how the entire zine turned out, I had no idea what to expect when you first approached me about an interview, last year. I hope we will find some way of collaborating again in the future!
Bertrand: Thank you for having me on your excellent platform in return. It does feel odd to be interviewed as a zine editor, especially just after a debut issue that has sold fewer than 100 copies so far, but nothing is sacred anymore in this time and age. I will be sure to keep a close eye on the developments at This Is Darkness!
Be sure to grab a copy of La Delaïssádo here before they are all sold-out! There were less than 100 copies left at the time of writing this, and I’ve already been told that several friends have purchased copies over the last few days. So no slacking! Support independent journalism and fellow genre-lovers that put in such time, effort, and capital, to make something like this come to be a reality!
We Need To Talk About: David Lynch’s YouTube Channel
David Lynch Theater is a YouTube channel that was created in November of 2018, but only started posting videos four months ago. What started out as a venue for daily weather reports, was quickly revealed to have more impactful plans. A week after his first weather report, Lynch released the short film ‘Fire (PoZar)’. The following month a new feature was added to the channel: ‘What Is David Working on Today?’. The following month they added the first Q&A, which ran 37 minutes. By last month another new feature cropped up, ‘Today’s Number Is…’, which was slowly revealed over previous videos. All the while, there have been weather reports every day. New short films have also been releasing intermittently, now counting 10 in total.
For the first week, we were cast into a time-machine back to the early 2000s when David Lynch was hosting a Weather Report on his website.
Lo and behold, over 10 years later, Lynch has returned! This time on YouTube, Lynch has been releasing daily Weather Reports from his studio in Los Angeles.
These weather reports often last only 30-40 seconds, giving a quick overview of the day’s weather in L.A. But, there are some days which require a bit of added commentary.
Like when he wanted to wish Paul McCartney a happy birthday.
Or when he gave us a quick history of D-Day, which had happened on that day in 1944.
Or when he participated in #BlackoutTuesday.
And then had to explain it the next day.
But, what’s even more fun than these daily videos, are the looks behind the scenes of his little projects. I say little because he doesn’t really tell of any “big” news/activities. It is more a look into things he’s doing in his spare time. Like when he decided to create a “checking stick”.
Or when he lamented, to us, about how long it takes to sign lithos, then proceeded to sit down and sign all the lithos, while we watched!
So… yeah… go follow the David Lynch Theater. I think many of you will enjoy it as much as I have.
Since October of 2018, I’ve been going back and forth about whether to write this article or not. It was certainly one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. But, would it be interesting to This Is Darkness readers? Initially, I decided that it was best to just leave the experience to myself and those I visited. But, as the months (years?!?!) go by there have been various contexts in which I wanted to talk about the trip, but it would be totally puzzling without a proper explanation. So, alas, I’ve decided to share my trip to northern Sweden with our readers. A quick word on the photos included. All photos were shot by myself, unless they were one of the candid shots by Åsa or Pär. I don’t know if it was humbleness or a lack of foresight, but we didn’t take a single proper group photo while I was there, so I’ve included a few of the candids, I hope you’ll see the same friendly and comedic value in them as I have!
Vildmarksvägen running through Stekenjokk, Sweden.
When I started writing about dark ambient music in 2015 for the Terra Relicta Dark Music Webzine, I began contacting anyone and everyone within the dark ambient community that would speak with me. It wasn’t long before I began to slowly build friendships with some of these people, beyond the topic of their musical projects or labels. I have gotten life advice, meditation advice, political advice and more from people from all parts of the globe. Some whose beliefs, languages and upbringings far differ from my own. I’ve always considered myself a “worldly person” and have taken great joy in learning about the lives and cultures of those in the farthest regions of the world, past and present.
Photo taken from ParBostrom.com
But, one friendship for me has stood out ahead of the rest. I pretty rapidly learned that I had damn near everything in common with Pär Boström of Hypnagoga Press, Kammarheit, etc. And the things that we didn’t already have in common, we often recommended to the other, with positive results more often than not. Pär opened me up to a world of music, cinema, writing and photography that I didn’t have access to growing up in the U.S.A., surrounded by suburban Americans. The fact that Kammarheit was one of the first dark ambient projects I really connected with (on a musical level) made the friendship all the more meaningful.
Michael caught unawares by Åsa & Pär.
Three years later, we had spoken for probably hundreds of hours through Facebook Messenger. But had never heard each other’s voices once. In the fall of 2018, Pär Boström and his sister Åsa Boström (of Hypnagoga Press and Hymnambulae) decided to help facilitate my travel to Sweden. They knew that I was just coming out of an incredibly rough patch of my life (and as fate would have it, headed soon back into another…), and we all agreed that it would be beneficial to spend some time together, brainstorming on possible ideas for the future as well as critiquing one another on the paths we were taking with our projects.
Trappstegforsen, literally meaning stairs of waterfalls. The waterfall has several small cascades after each other with an elevation of approximately 10 meter. Trappstegsforsen is located along the road from Vilhemina to Saxnäs on the Kultsjöå River in the Jämtland region.
I partially didn’t want to share this trip publicly, because it was predominately some good friends finally getting to spend some real-life time together. But we did speak about This is Darkness and Hypnagoga Press matters, some in great detail. But I must emphasize that none of this was a quid pro quo sort of thing, where we were attempting to trade in coverage. We just legitimately care greatly about each other’s projects and all wanted to take some time together to see if we could come up with interesting new ideas to push our works forward in fresh ways. I also didn’t want it to appear that I was blowing through money traveling the world. That’s not the case, this was a truly unique experience and not at all the usual for me. My only previous trip outside the U.S. was to Rome in 2011, which was the other great moment of my life, and paid for almost fully in scholarships/grants.
Just beyond Gaustafallet waterfall, hidden along the Vildmarksvägen, not far from Stekenjokk.
I went from BWI (Baltimore) to Reykjavík (Iceland) to Stockholm (Sweden) and then a final one hour flight, on a much smaller plane, to Umeå in the mid-northern region of Sweden. Upon arrival, I finally actually spoke to Pär for the first time ever, in person in actual spoken words! Luckily, we didn’t immediately realize that we expected someone different of each other! That night we went to a wonderful little pub in downtown Umeå and met up with Åsa Boström, Kenneth Hansson of Altarmang and Kenneth’s girlfriend.
Altarmang promo photo from 2017
Åsa proved to be the “sage personality” I had expected. In all my interactions with her, she has always seemed to be an incredibly wise soul. In terms of business sense as well as cultural and esoteric. After meeting Pär and Åsa, any nervous feelings I had about traveling 4,000 miles to visit two people I had never “actually” spoken to before evaporated. They both made me feel at complete ease, right from the start.
Photo from AsaBostrom.com
I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from Pär and Åsa, but Kenneth Hansson was still a total mystery to me. I don’t think I’d ever spoken to him, even online. Anyone that has seen pictures of him in the Altarmang promo images must also be very curious about the man behind the “rolled-back eyes” and perfectly waxed mustache. I would really like to properly interview Kenneth in the future, since it’s clear that his input in Altarmang is a mystery to most people. I think it is appropriate, for now, to leave that mystery in place. Suffice to say, Kenneth is as mysterious and eccentric of a person as one might imagine. He didn’t disappoint!
Pär & Michael caught unawares by Åsa. Photo taken on Swedish coast, near Umeå.
Much of my 10 day trip to Sweden was centered around the city of Umeå, and mainly Pär’s apartment, which was perfectly fine with me. We had plenty of time to get to know each other better. I also had a chance to browse his impressive collection of rare music, zines, books and flyers from the first 20+ years of the post-industrial/dark -ambient scenes which I had missed out on, and which are all but unrecoverable at this point, without access to someone’s collection from that period. I was able to sit down and read through all the old CMI catalogs as well as zines like the currently-active Noise Receptor and the long-retired Spectrum zine, both by the power-house Richard Stevenson. I will likely be sharing my thoughts on the new release of the Spectrum Compendium in the future, which I consider a must-have for anyone interested in a time-capsule into the history of the dark ambient scene of the late 90s – early 2000s.
I was able to browse through the many boxes of Pär’s original artworks as well as a few handfuls of Åsa’s art (literal handfuls, Åsa’s works are often quite large and heavy!), all of which I greatly enjoyed! I found her style of art especially fascinating, how she uses bits and pieces of material from history and crafts it into something new and beautiful, yet still rustic and mystical. I am very much looking forward to the world slowly learning more about how Åsa fits into Hypnagoga Press, as more of her personal works begin coming to light.
We Didn’t Tell Each Other How Wounded We Were by Åsa Boström
Pär sent me home with quite a few original treasures of his creation, some of which are waiting in a box for a proper place to mount them, while others are proudly adorning my bedroom walls now.
A piece of Pär’s art, hanging above my bookshelf.
One unique and spectacular aspect of this visit was my witnessing of Pär’s personal studio space. He saw fit to show me a few of his “tricks of the trade”. I witnessed, up close, his unique and interesting “shipwreck device”. And I had a front row seat to the creation of a few improvised tracks. It was truly magical to be present for this, especially considering that I have been to exactly one proper dark ambient concert, in person!
The pinnacle of this trip was the journey Åsa, Pär and I took, several hundred kilometers north, to the beautifully barren realms of Stekenjokk. Being early October, we were able to visit this place one week before access was closed for the winter, as this section of the country gets so heavily bombarded with snow (which can reach up to 7m/23′ in this region) that it would be financial suicide to attempt to keep the roads cleared. Åsa drove us north along the beautiful Vildmarksvägen, or The Wilderness Road in English, at a leisurely pace. I was able to fully digest the sights, sounds and smells of the far northern reaches of Earth as we crept ever closer to the arctic circle, which was about 60-70 miles further than our northernmost destination on the trip.
Taken from the shore of the Hotel Klimpfjäll about 20 km outside Stekenjokk, in Jämtlands län.
We stayed at a nice little lodge just outside Stekkenjok, in the tiny town of Klimpfjäll, in a cabin which looked out over a beautiful lake, with snow-covered peaks on its far shore. I felt a peace in this place that was more potent than at any point in my life. If I hadn’t already fallen in love with Scandinavia, this place surely would have done the trick. That night we spent a few hours brainstorming on new ideas for our various projects, comparing recommendations and critiques, and generally enjoying the sublime location in which we stopped for our night’s rest. The next morning we traversed the road through Stekenjokk and followed the Wilderness Road slowly back to the south. I took TONS of photos while in Stekenjokk. Pär and Åsa also took a ton of photos themselves. They hadn’t been to this place in many years either. You will find edits of several of our photos from this trip adorning the cover art of the second TiD compilation as well as the inner panels of Aindulmedir – The Lunar Lexicon.
Stekenjokk, Photo by: Micheal Barnett
As we continued down the Wilderness Road, Åsa took a short detour across the Norwegian border, just so I could say that I had entered that country! I took the opportunity to walk down to one of the many many lakes from the road and wash my face in the cool Norwegian waters.
Aindulmedir – cassette inner panels
After dark that night, and several hours before we arrived back in Umeå, while stopping to fill the car with petrol, Åsa pointed to the sky. I was witnessing my first sighting of the Aurora Borealis! We quickly got the hell out of town and pulled over along the highway, where I could stand in the pitch dark of the night and stare up into that beautiful hyperborean sky and bask in the radiating energies that danced across the atmosphere. A place like this makes one realize why Scandinavia has such a rich religious heritage. It seemed that the gods were truly bestowing a gift on me that night, and on my journey to/through Sweden as a whole. As we continued driving back toward Umeå, I tried to never let my eyes leave those magical northern lights until they had all but disappeared. I tried capturing them with my camera once we got back to Pär’s apartment, but my night-time photography skills are shit, and most of the show was over anyway or obscured by the luminescence of Umeå.
TiD Vol.2 – cover art
I came home to my apartment in Laurel, Maryland from this journey with a renewed sense of the wonder and magic of our planet. When Åsa shared a few podcasts about the Quareia magic course with me in November or December, I had already begun to slowly decide that maybe there is a bit (or a lot) of magic in this world, which I had long since forgotten in my rebellious teenage years. Now four months into my Quareia apprentice training (update: well that’s on hold for now) and six months into my return from northern Sweden, the magic of that journey still resides in me. The renewed feelings of wonder that can be found in the nature of our planet were welcome, and have not yet evaporated, and hopefully never will.
If someone had told me 10 years ago that I would fly to northern Sweden, to meet some of my very best friends, people which I had never spoken to once with my voice or in person, and experience such a magically and emotionally enriching journey, I would have laughed in your face. My point is that some of the people who we have the greatest connections with on this planet may be very very far away, in places and speaking languages totally foreign to us. After some of the darkest experiences of my life, I came out of 2018 with a renewed interest in life and the magical energies that flow through it. Never short-change yourselves. Never think that the world has left you behind. The most important experience of your life could be patiently waiting right around the corner.
New Zealander, Abby Helasdottir has been known around the dark ambient and post-industrial scenes for quite some time. She has a well-known dark ambient project, Gydja. But possibly more important to the scene has been her work in visual arts creating cover art for quite a few albums, many of which you’ll find on the Cold Spring label.
I follow Abby on Facebook and I noticed recently that she was doing frequent mini-reviews of releases from the ΠANθEON record label. Having also enjoyed and agreed with her sentiments regarding many of these releases I asked her if I could compile them all in this article, once she was finished. Her answer is now obvious!
I will give you the description of the label direct from their Discogs page:
“ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ (or Pantheophania) is a Russian D.I.Y. label focusing on handmade editions of cassette tapes, CDR’s and CD’s, as well as digital-only and disc-on-request releases.
Founded in 2014 by Tim Six (Creation VI), the label releases all kinds of ambient music: drone, ritual, meditative, new age, dark ambient, etc. Many of the label’s editions are released in bundles with additional inserts.”
While each review is “mini” the collection certainly is not! Most (maybe all?) of these are available for “name your price”, but many also have beautifully crafted physical editions still available, some only 1-2 left on Bandcamp, so think about showing them some support if you dig these albums!
ΠANθEON – Discography Overview
Article compiled from posts by Abby Helasdottir. On the ΠANθEON discography:
I don’t usually buy entire digital discographies from labels on Bandcamp, especially if they’re large, as they tend to overwhelm the carefully curated library page, but how can you say ‘no’ to 107 releases from ΠANθEON. So many great releases. One of my favourites is the Creation VI‘s October Rite – just love how it strays into Aural Hypnox type territory with its otherworldly drones. Listened to that one multiple times already.
Now to gradually download, unzip and listen to 107 albums.
Med Gen – Brittleroots
Been making my way through the recently purchased ΠANθEON discography, and while all of it is good, some of it is spectacularly good. So until I forget to do it, I’ll highlight a few of the, well, highlights.
The unmemorably-named Med Gen are anything but with their album Brittleroots. Responding to the album’s theme of swamps, there’s a lovely, dense and deep murky quality to the sound, especially on the opening “Peat Accumulation” which seems custom-made for my ears: part chthonic, part aquatic, more deep texture than musical. Little bits of field recordings add some relevant details to the drones but what really stands out is that dense, dark, slightly drowny palette.
Sergey Filatov – On the Opposite Bank of the River
Sergey Filatov is not one of the more familiar names on ΠANθEON (just 71 listeners on last.fm) and this two track album is certainly not one of the label’s more jump-out-and-grab-you-by-the-throat releases (if any ambient can do that). Instead of overwhelming you with activity, On the Opposite Bank of the River wins you over with its determination to be indeterminate. Like the river of its title, it just meanders… gloriously. Much like a lot of work by Alio Die, it sort of lingers, hanging in the air, little melodic chimes patiently pulsing pastorally, with no real sense of momentum. Which is all great.
Field recordings are buried in the sound and only sometimes bubble to the surface: a prerequisite stream or brook, some lovely birds clean and clear in the mix. Most of the time, though, the nature it depicts seems to be off in the distance, indeterminate but present.
Mrako-Su – Грани Зимы
One of two releases from Mrako-Su on ΠANθEON, Грани Зимы consists of six tracks, two under seven minutes and the rest over eleven, with the longest, “Ветер в груди”, clocking in at 18:30.
While in my own music I have a tendency to add as many layers into the mix as possible (either to stave off inattention or insert additional esoteric nuance, cross fingers), I have always loved music that strips things back, and that’s what Mrako-Su does here. The tracks principally use a flute sound of some type, presumably slowed and processed in places for lower layers, but otherwise quite up front. It’s not played melodically, more tonally, and that’s something that also appeals; I’m not here for the chunes. There’s a patience here, with things taking their time to come and go, rise and fall, often eschewing any need for too much structure. And that’s one of the important things, because the music with its flutes and occasional drums and mouth harp, plus a slightly tundral vibe, feels very shamanic – but not in that smooth, processed way that needs to turn these aural elements into catchy, conventional songs.
So yeah, it’s slow, it’s subdued, it has lots of flute and feels shamanic without needing to break into a Wardruna floorfiller.
EugeneKha – Three Months
In my summary of Mrako-Su‘s Грани Зимы, I mentioned how much I like simplicity and minimalism, but the converse is true and that’s exactly what you get with Three Months by EugeneKha. In some ways, Evgenij V. Kharitonov uses comparable themes, if not the exact sounds, as Mrako-Su, mining a similar vein of, to use a slightly dreaded nomenclature, ethno-ambient, with hints of shamanism and nods to nature (aesthetics that are somewhat baked into the ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ label). The sound, though, is completely different, with each of these three tracks, representing the months of June, July and August, using prominent, wide-open drones that fill the space, creating a thick, dense, somewhat all-consuming sonic cocoon.
The twelve minute “June (Mantra)” builds its density slowly, beginning with slightly windswept tundral hums to which rattles (or rainsticks), chimes and whistles (all perfectly reverbed for body without muddiness) are gently added, reaching maximum density with the addition of a pulsing didgeridoo tone, followed by a subtle melodic figure and a concluding hand percussion pattern buried in the mix. While “June (Mantra)” revels in its complexity, with each sound continuing to run once it has been gradually added, “July (Just One Evening)” begins with many of its elements in place, and then drops these out to a core element of a brooding tundral drone, waves of wind and a high pitched wash that is, or at least recalls, the metallic chirp of cicadas; whatever it is, its a tone and a frequency I’m very partial to, and I love the way it builds to take up all the sonic space so gradually that you only really notice when it ends and the silence is so deafening. That “July (Just One Evening)” reminds me of my own track “Wolfszahn” may be why it emerges as my favourite on the album.
“August (Three Dreams)” uses its 26-minute length to play with things at a slower pace, using a drifting, ever so gradually evolving drone that feels more Roachian than obviously dark ambient. This suddenly shifts at fifteen minutes into a clearly demarcated second section where percussion takes over to explore the more rhythmic, Byron Metcalf-esque side of the ethno-ambient sub genre. A few other sounds are briefly introduced and farewelled against the persistent beat, until it loses out to one of these, water sounds, which rise to prominence before the song and album end with a vocal coda (the album’s first obvious use of voice).
Сон Чайного Дерева & Sunhiilow – Liquid Silence / A New Beginning
The ambient nature of a label like ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ lends itself to long-form music, with many releases clocking in at over an hour. That’s not that case with Liquid Silence/A New Beginning, a split release from Sunhiilow and Сон Чайного Дерева, with almost all the tracks hovering around the 2-3 minute mark, except for the aberrant 19:44 of “Liquid Silence”, one of the two tracks here by the Сон Чайного Дерева duo of Aloe and Tim Six. “Liquid Silence”, you may be interested to know, is not silent and is instead a lovely slow-moving drone that hints at Angelo Badalamenti‘s “Laura Palmer’s Theme”, while its shorter companion, “Sitar Rain”, sounds like exactly that, sitar and rain; well, more of the former than the latter.
Finland-based Sunhiilow takes up only a little more space than Сон Чайного Дерева on this release, but makes more of an impact due to her contributions consisting of nine tracks. Given their sub-three minute length, all of her pieces have little chance to build or go anywhere, and as a result, feel like snapshots or vignettes of sonic environments. Which isn’t a bad thing. Maybe I’m taking too many cues from the nom-de-musique, but there’s a solar quality to these sounds, a pastoral sunniness, all chimes and light tones. The brevity of each piece means that they’re better considered as parts of a whole, three-minute glimpses of a place that can be made from any angle or time, or in any order; kind of a longer-format version of Eluvium‘s “Shuffle Drones” but with fadeouts.
Astrolabe – Lights Beyond The Mist (cdr-on-request)
Astrolabe has always been on my “that would make a great project name” list, with its combination of nods to the stars and with those, the future, but still tethered to a dusty, archaic past due to the use of the tool since before the common era. So does this Astrolabe sound like an astrolabe, does it sound like it could be “the one that catches the heavenly bodies”? Not really, there’s nothing particularly spacey about the palette used here, and there’s no clanging of equipment in an old astronomy tower. Instead, Lights Beyond The Mist traffics in a refined, linear brand of ambience, its tones light and airy, feeling very much like the photonic haze that adorns the cover.
With two supra-twenty minute tracks twinned with two shorter ones at 10:11 and 8:31, the album acts like a concentrated dose of Astrolabe‘s style. And that style would be drifting. There’s never much sense of urgency, never any interruptions, and what there is in the way of perceptible evolution often sneaks up on you. So while “Hideaway” gives way for half its ten-minute length to an aquatic scape of trickles and streams, or the 23 and a half minute “Fragoline” climaxes in an almost space ambient roar, it’s often just the gorgeously refined light drones that stick in your mind, set against broader rumbling basses that you can feel are there, but are not in your face, erm ears. As such, track titles and times seem largely arbitrary, and its easy to just get deliciously lost between all four.
Sunmoonstar – Картины
ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ owner Tim Six has a professed love for that most maligned of genres, new age music, and this release from Floridian Natasha Home’s Sunmoonstar is perhaps the most new agey release in the label’s body of work. The aural palette should be familiar to anyone who has spent even a little time around that genre, all chiming tinkles, plaintive rhodes-like keys, thin airy pads, and whispy synthetic flutes. There’s almost nothing contemporary about what appears here, with even the production keeping things simple and not making use of any of the tricks that may not have been available to producers of yesteryear but are to anyone today. And that’s a good thing, in fact, the whole thing is lovely.
Like much new age music, which can have an admirably punk-like amateurish quality to it, the music on Картины often just hangs there, with no conventional song structure, no forward momentum, and no repetition of catchy melodies. With seven tracks rendered interchangeable with their titles in, for me, indecipherable Cyrillic, it’s all over too quickly after 30 or so minutes. Plus the cover design by Home herself is gorgeous, if devoid of any of the new ages aesthetics heard in the music.
Mathias Grassow & Closing The Eternity – Untitled
It’s kind of cheating to choose to review an album involving Mathias Grassow as you know, no matter what, it’s probably going to be decent if not great, and there’ll be a certain standard and sound. And yes, that’s what you get with this collaboration with Russia’s Closing The Eternity. The credits don’t say who did what on which track, but the 12 minute opening “(When) There Is None” is very much a typical Grassow piece, all resonant, crystalline drones, whereas the almost 17 minutes of “Schorl Vugh” incorporates various organic elements (squawking discordant flutes and chimes) against a static drone. The brief one minute interlude that is “Forsaken Well” brings the latter part of this approach to the fore with percussive and atonal clangs and bangs that then gives way to the album’s longest piece, the 30 minute and majestic “The Great Elaphe”.
Somewhat bringing elements from the three previous tracks together, “The Great Elaphe” gets going straight out of the gate with a warm rising drone, overlaid with a mouth-harp-like twanging drone, and a sense of momentum created with a drum beat buried down in the mix and a shake of a rattle above. This evolves into several distinct movements, the pace dropping away to open different locations, the warm drone always present, in which various elements are introduced: a pensive moment into which darker drones are introduced, the return of the subtle drum beat and rattles, a foreboding chthonic sequence at 17 minutes with menacing tones like a dungchen trumpet.
Creation VI – October Rite
There are a wealth of titles by Creation VI in the ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ catalogue, which is understandable given that the label is run by the duo’s Tim Six. As such, it might be hard to pick out a highlight, but for me, it’s October Rite. Recorded live in 2013 at Dom Club, Moscow, it contains improvised versions of some previously released and unreleased tracks, all presented and indexed as a single piece. As such, for the first five minutes, the sounds are accompanied by the slightly distracting mutter of audience sounds (unless that’s part of the track), until they are overwhelmed by an unassailable rising organic drone. This drone builds and evolves over the first 39 minutes of the track’s 53-minute length, always with a bassy rumble to it, with additional organic elements, percussion and voice, weaving in and out of the bed of sound. This addition of sound and the relentlessness of the drone creates an hallucinatory sensation and at the 30-minute mark you realise you have entered territory worthy of Aural Hypnox acts such as Zoät-Aon and Halo Manash. It’s here that the drone and its additional layers have that eldritch alien quality that is so evokative of the sounds of Aural Hypnox, giving the impression of slipping between worlds, or of something waiting in those spaces, about to come through. This section ends with a single audience woop and the rest of October Rite takes a slightly more sedate approach, resonating metallic tones and drones bringing things to a reflective end over 13 minutes.
Dronny Darko & Apollonius – The Sea of Potentials
Despite having perhaps one of the cringiest monikers in ambient, Ukrainian Oleg Puzan has made a significant impact as Dronny Darko, most notably with a series of albums on Cryo Chamber. Here he teams up with Eelke van Hoof, AKA Apollonius, of the Netherlands, with four tracks, all neatly coming in between 15 and 20 minutes.
As the cover art implies, there’s a glacial quality to the material here, suggesting that the titular sea of potentials is frozen. Washes of icy wind, rising crystalline tones and rattling chimes interweave on “Drift”, but things do get warmer on “Lost” where, although there’s still a chill in the air, the ice seems to melt, with the mutterings of water rising into the mix and pads becoming rounder and friendlier. Across the two remaining tracks, the feeling of coldness never really abates, but in the final “Realign”, thicker ever so slightly warmer pads emerge against an opening bird-like cooing, alluding, perhaps, to a slow autumnal dawn. With a similar palette across all four similarly paced songs, The Sea of Potentials rewards carefully listening, without which this lovely considered slice of arctic ambience can pass by unjustly unnoticed.
Fellirium – Mermaids
With an instrument list that includes synthesizers, three types of guitars, ebow, digital piano and accordion, in addition to the usual textural sound generators like ocarina, hulusi, wooden flute, shells, rainstick and bells, this album by Andrey Vasilyev’s Fellirium has a different, perhaps more ‘musical,’ sound to many of the releases on ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ. The use of guitar recalls the work of people like Jeff Pearce, Christopher Short from Ma Ja Le, Eric Kesner’s True Colour Of Blood, or Steve Roach’s occasional guitar experiments, with Fellirium using similar techniques to create washes and elongated chords of glistening ambience.
While it may mean I’m just easily led by the album and track titles, there’s a palpable feeling of the sea and ocean in Vasilyev’s aural palette, a hazy sense of light reflecting off vast expanses of water, of swells and ripples and the depth beneath. And that’s without any obvious use of water samples. Sometimes these washes and swells are given a little sparkle with the addition of a rattle of bells or shells, but for the most part, it’s just the beautiful nubilous ambience.
Угасание and Спираль Времени – В Отзвуках Эха
My final mini-review highlight from the ΠANθEON discography; had to end it somewhere or I’d be listening to nothing but for a long while.
In the folder name, this split release is listed as being from Ugasanie and Spiral of Time but the tags give both artists’ names in Cyrillic as Угасание and Спираль Времени, so I’m happy for the folder title otherwise I’d never remember who it’s by.
В Отзвуках Эха by Угасание and Спираль Времени (I’m already confused) consists of five tracks each from both artists, presented in its physical format in what looks to be a lovely cloth digipak with a labyrinth painted or stamped on the front. The tracks from Спираль Времени (Spiral of Time), who I’m not familiar with, are denser and murkier than those of Угасание, although both artists do seem to share a similar theme of isolation, with titles that reference places like Onegaborg in what is now the Republic of Karelia and Murmansk. With the exception of “Онегаборг”, which features a prominent dungeon-synth-style melody for its duration, the Спираль Времени pieces are, for the most part, textured sound paintings that lean towards industrial ambient with their aural choices and treatments. The Угасание quintet of tracks have a more sedate manner, feeling less refined and rarefied than the series of releases on Cryo Chamber, but incorporating the same themes and aural aesthetics, all wind-swept tundra and icy isolation.
We are very pleased to premiere the debut full length The Charged Void by BRUTALISM. Terence Hannum, most notably of Locrian and The Holy Circle, released the Symmetry Death limited 7″ lathe on his Anathemata Editions last year. I was immediately entranced by the bleak apocalyptic atmosphere presented on that track. So, it is with great pleasure that This Is Darkness was approached to present an exclusive early stream of their upcoming full length The Charged Void, which is set for release on Annihilvs Power Electronix on 15 March 2019.
But, Hannum’s true love still seems to be visual art. And this is where BRUTALISM seems to become the perfect project for him. Hannum is able to take all that knowledge of visual art along with his love for brutalist architecture and bring these into his musical world as tools for crafting something unique.
Hannum describes BRUTALISM as:
Intimate Brutality at the very moment
of participation in surrounding nature.
For this article I contacted Gretchen Heinel about her interest in hook suspension. I knew about her recent performance work here in The United States, but I was also aware that she had recently taken a “work” trip with her suspension team to Iceland. I didn’t know how she would confront this topic, but I knew it was incredibly interesting to an outsider, and I knew that Gretchen would be the perfect person to convey this lesser known world to our readership. To my utter delight, Gretchen and Joe Carrotta were able to supply me with 80+ images from their 3 days of suspension in Iceland during the summer of 2018, and Gretchen agreed to write her account of the trip and her personal thoughts on hook suspension. I found the combination of these stories and images incredibly moving and inspiring. I hope the same for you all, enjoy!
Luna’s “resurrection” suspension.
Article text by: Gretchen Heinel
Photos by: Joe Carotta
“Does it hurt?”
My personal experience with hook suspension dates back to May 30th, 2013. My mother blames herself for my interest in suspension, citing a trip during my childhood to the Atlantic City Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum as the moment when the seed was planted in my brain. I distinctly remember sitting in awe of a mannequin replica of a young Mandan man suspending as part of an Okipa ceremony. I think my mother gives herself too much credit, as I likely never would’ve suspended if I hadn’t personally encountered folks through my photography work who themselves were involved with the practice. But who can really say specifically what triggered my interest? All I know is that, going into my first experience with suspension, I felt like I had something to prove to myself. I had to prove my toughness, my ability to conquer pain.
Preparations in Iceland
My first hook suspension, on May 30th, 2013, was facilitated by the New York chapter of Rites of Passage, which is aptly named. Leading my suspension was a man named Cere Coichetti. That day, that trial, was a college graduation gift to myself. I was joined by my friend Dorothy, who herself was also doing this for the first time. The position I’d chosen for myself was a lotus, which involved two hooks in the back and two hooks in each leg, holding me seated cross-legged in the air. Cere rigged my suspension in such a way that I was free to transition from that lotus position to a more upright position where only my back hooks would be holding me up.
I can’t say that my first suspension was a “good” one, I did not achieve enlightenment or feel timeless bliss. It was a struggle, and it was full of sensations I could not comprehend, as there is really no experience quite like it. I did not, that day, “conquer pain”. However, for a brief, fleeting moment, I got a taste, a glimpse of what suspension really is all about. I experienced such an immediacy in my own body, such a level of internal focus on the self stripped of the constraints placed by ego. I later described the experience as “like a puppy being picked up by the scruff of the neck”, because it was the only way I could find to describe the comfort in discomfort, and the childlike openness to every sensation that the experience brought forth.
Preparations in Iceland
I was giddy, even delirious, immediately following the suspension. My body and mind felt unmoored, the bounds of my reality had shifted and I was humbled by the sheer intensity of my experience. My concept of who I was and what I was capable of had become malleable.
Gretchen making preparations.
Five years and almost 20 suspensions later, with a practitioner apprenticeship under my belt, I found myself battling sideways, freezing rain to rig a waterfall in Eastern Iceland for a three-day suspension event that I was hosting. Cere was there alongside me, as he had become a mentor and dear friend to me after a particularly beautiful suspension campout during the summer of 2014. Our trip was already off to an auspicious start, as Iceland was having the wettest and coldest summer weather in over 100 years. Additionally, the local grocery stores and banks were closed for a holiday which none of us travelers had even heard of. I felt a healthy dose of nagging self-doubt, as I feared I’d gotten not only myself, but eight other people, into a drastically different situation from what any of us had signed up for.
I realize that there is a certain amount of hubris involved in the decision to do hook suspension in Iceland. It’s a land of extreme scenery and extreme weather, so why not add an extreme activity to the mix?
Site for suspensions.
Two years prior to this trip, I’d visited Iceland for the first time, and it immediately became my favorite place. I fell in love with it for many of the same reasons that I fell in love with suspension: it’s a humbling place that will quickly destroy best-laid plans and demand that you show up and accept it for what it really is. My initial visit was in late spring, though, and I was assured by both friends and the Internet that our trip in August would yield much more mellow and predictable weather. Clearly, Iceland had other plans for us.
Determined to follow through with what we’d committed to, we began rigging our first suspension of the day. A man named Warren had traveled all the way from Australia to suspend with us, and damned if we wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of that experience. There was a brief respite from the rain and the wind, which was our cue to get started.
Warren was undertaking a chest suspension, a particularly challenging position, and one with little margin for error as it’s extremely prone to “tearing”, which is exactly what you think it is. Warren went up absolutely beautifully, and everyone present was silent in awe. His face had a look of peace and transcendence one rarely sees outside the context of suspension. I felt immense gratitude for having the opportunity to bear witness.
Warren’s chest suspension.
All too soon, though, we had to bring Warren down, due to tearing. Coincidentally, the weather then took a turn for the worse. I can’t remember who made the call, but the decision was made to return to our guest-house and suture Warren indoors, where there was heat and a comfortable bed. No one else wanted to suspend that day in the worsening weather, opting to wait in hope for a better second or third day. Half the party went back with Warren, while myself and the rest stayed behind to pack up our rigging.
Warren after his suspension.
That evening over dinner at a (mercifully open) restaurant, I felt more than a little worried that we might not have enough time or good weather to suspend everyone who wanted to do so. We only had two days left, but there were six more people (myself included) who wanted to go up. I tried to reason with myself that three suspensions per day isn’t particularly unusual or hard to facilitate, but a part of me knew that we wouldn’t be getting better weather, and that everyone else in my party would need to accept, and even embrace, the reality of our situation. I wasn’t sure if this was me asking too much of everyone.
Tim awaiting his suspension.
Day two was even colder and rainier than the first, and only Tim went up on hooks. He opted for the two-point back suspension colloquially known as a suicide, due to the position it puts the body in. While we all huddled under layers and rain-resistant outerwear, Tim was happily jumping and leaping, shirtless, from rock to rock, our rig-line providing enough bounce to give an almost bungee effect. Clearly he was having a positive experience, despite or even because of the weather. Yet, no one else decided to go up that day. Everyone was hoping against all odds that the last day would be the best.
Tim’s 2-point back suspension, known as “the suicide”.
The last day handed us the worst weather of the whole trip. It was also both Cere’s and Luna’s birthday, an extra bit of comedy gifted to us by the old gods. The wind was so strong that we literally could not do the prep and piercings outside, as our supplies would blow away. We were confined to the cars for prep work, which were luckily roomy enough to manage. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to suspend that day, and I typically enjoy suspending in the cold.
Joe’s “suicide” two-point back suspension. Photo by: Luna
Joe was the brave soul who did the first suspension that day. Like Tim on the previous day, Joe opted for a two-point back suspension. He went up smoothly, and almost immediately his face broke into a wide grin. He spun, bounced, lept, and danced in the air and on the ground, playing with every sensation in his body, feeling every moment. I was so proud to watch him in his bliss. He said afterwards that he didn’t even feel the cold once he was up, there was a warmth to his experience that gave him a resilience in the trying weather.
Cere prepping Liz.
Liz was next, with a forearm suspension. She bundled technical gear and warm layers around every part of her body, with the exception of her forearms. There was something almost poetic about the juxtaposition between her insulating, protective clothing and her bare, pierced skin. I was sure she was enjoying herself, even though I could barely see her face under the layers.
Liz’s forearm suspension.
Two suspensions were left: mine and Luna’s. Dorothy, who hadn’t suspended since our first time together in 2013, opted to wait to experience what would have been only her second ever suspension at another time under more controlled circumstances. Luna decided to wait until a little later in the day, in the case that the weather would clear that afternoon. So I went up.
Cere prepping Gretchen.
A two-point resurrection is my absolute favorite position when suspending. It involves two hooks placed side-by-side on the lower part of the ribcage, just above the stomach. It requires pure acceptance, as the more you struggle, the more your breathing gets panicked, the harder the suspension becomes. It’s a feedback loop, not unlike that which a panicked diver experiences, that makes this particular position very challenging. I love it precisely because I cannot fight it. My acceptance of it is not passive or submissive, I’m actively choosing to experience the enormity of the suspension as it is, not as I want to make it.
Tim assisting Gretchen as Ceres lifts her.
My ascent was assisted by Tim, who stood behind me and provided warmth and solidity as I was pulled into the air by Cere. My surrender to the moment was immediate. I rocked slowly side to side, sometimes swung by Cere’s movement of the rope, sometimes by the wind which now felt gentle and guiding. All the stress and worry over this trip, over whether everyone was getting what they wanted out of it, all of that was inconsequential. I existed, I was present, I was oh so very alive.
Gretchen’s “two-point resurrection”.
Eventually, the self-regulating part of my brain started to come back online, which signaled to me that it was, unfortunately, time to come down. I had gotten what I needed, now it was time to return to Earth, a little bit better for having taken that journey with myself.
Gretchen and Tim after her suspension.
I returned to the ground and was filled with an enormous love and gratitude for everyone there. They held me, supported me, and shared this wild experience with me. That overwhelming feeling of love and connectedness stayed with me as I readied for the last suspension of the trip: Luna’s.
Prepping for Luna’s suspension.
Luna is my blood-bonded sister. We met initially back in 2014 with the goal of creating a photo series about the mythology of Lilith entitled Lilith: From Myth to Flesh. In the creation of that project, we uncovered so much about ourselves and the paths we are walking. I could write a lifetime about what I’ve experienced with her and only scratch the surface, but suffice it to say, our lives are now inextricably linked.
Luna’s mentor, Fakir Musafar, had passed away days before our trip to Iceland. Fakir was the man who brought body suspension and piercing outside the context of specific religious ritual, taking a “body-first” approach to spirituality. Those of us in the contemporary body modification community owe Fakir a debt of gratitude.
Luna was carrying the grief of his passing with her throughout the trip, and her suspension was in dedication to him. She also chose to suspend in a two-point resurrection. As she left the ground, the clouds and rain broke and she was bathed in golden sunlight. She gently swayed in the wind and chanted in memoriam. Her words seemed to come from beyond her, with her body acting as conduit. She was beautiful and heartbreaking, wonderful and painful to be in the presence of.
I wept as I witnessed her.
Luna after her suspension.
“So, does it hurt?”
“So, does it hurt?” This is the least interesting question of all, yet it is the most asked. How do I casually distill the enormity of suspension into a simple answer for such a simple question? How do I convey how reductive the concept of “hurt” is? Suspension hurts about as much as being part of something bigger than yourself hurts. Suspension hurts about as much as community hurts. Suspension hurts about as much as personal growth hurts. Suspension hurts about as much as love hurts.
Iceland was a reminder for me not to shy away from discomfort (which, honestly, is a far more accurate one-word description of the physical sensation associated with suspension). That place outside of my comfort zone is where I find, not what I want, but what I need. Beyond that, though, it reminded me to trust in the people around me, who all showed up for an experience that, while never easy, was endlessly rewarding. I am full of love and gratitude to my hook family, and I look forward to a future sharing more absurd, awe-inspiring experiences with them.
Gretchen after her suspension.
Gretchen Heinel is a photographer, filmmaker, performance artist, and hook suspension artist based in Nyack, NY. Her body of work includes collaborations with extreme and underground musical acts such as Theologian, Batillus, Lord Mantis, and Sabbath Assembly.
Iceland Team Lineup (left to right) : Lee, Gretchen, Tim, Luna, Cere, Liz, Dorothy, Warren & Joe
Her hook suspension team, White Flag, has announced the dates for their 2019 campout as July 22-26. The event will take place in rural Pennsylvania, USA. For more information, or to reserve a spot, email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To keep up with Gretchen’s adventures, follow her @gretchenheinel on Instagram.
Check out the links to everyone’s projects and social media below the gallery.
Title: The House That Jack Built
Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Riley Keough, Uma Thurman, Jeremy Davies, Siobhan Fallon Hogan Original Languages: English
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Drama
Running Time: 155
Year: 2018 Available at select theatres and on-demand services now.
Check for your own region.
Matt Dillon as Jack in The House That Jack Built, courtesy of Mongrel Media
“I don’t have a handle on how many processes
take part in the decay of a dead human,
but I know a bit about dessert wines.” Jack
Lars Von Trier has been shocking audiences for over three decades now with his controversial, but often heart wrenching, films. But, with many seeing his best work behind him, in films like Dogville and Dancer in the Dark, Trier has slowly moved into a more shadowy region of the film industry. The fact that only one theatre in the whole Baltimore/DC region appeared to be showing it on opening day (Parkway Theater, home of the Maryland Film Festival), and on top of that I was one of four people in the theatre (this was a 3:30 PM showing, one of several throughout the day/night), seems to drive this point home. As with much of his work, The House That Jack Built seems destined to be misunderstood by many and totally unnoticed by most.
Lars von Trier has always worked with subjects that veer toward the darker sides of human emotion. His first major film, The Element of Crime (1984) was a post-apocalyptic crime noir, which was certainly the darkest work he’s produced to date. Europa (1991) put Trier on the map with its tragically pessimistic conclusion enveloped in a hazy historical piece. Riget (1996) (The Kingdom), along with shows like Twin Peaks (1990), helped to change the face of television, paving the path for future shows with much more intricate plots and content which often pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable for television at the time. But, the films Breaking The Waves (1996), Dancer in the Dark (2000), and Dogville (2003) positioned Lars von Trier as a Cannes favorite for years. These three films were able to harness the subtleties of that darkness from his previous films and blend it with much more personal tales of sorrow.
Director Lars Von Trier – Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
However, it wouldn’t be long before Trier dreamed of returning to the darkness that seemed to be at the source of his original inspirations. This coincided, coincidentally or otherwise, with his mental breakdown which landed him in a mental hospital for a brief stay, due to a major bout of depression. During and on the other side of that, we were presented with The Depression Trilogy. Antichrist (2009), Melancholia (2011), and Nymphomaniac (2013) explored the depths of utter despair and depression, and the depravity that is often spawned from these mind-states. While Melancholia received quite high esteems across the spectrum, Antichrist and Nymphomaniac haven’t been so well received by the film community or the general public. Add to this a very badly timed/executed Nazi joke, and Lars von Trier found himself persona non grata at his old strongholds like Cannes.
Left to right: Siobhan Fallon Hogan as Lady 2 and Matt Dillon as Jack in The House That Jack Built
Lars von Trier did present The House That Jack Built this year at the Cannes Film Festival, but it received a tepid response from crowd and critics, with many walking out of the film during some of the harsher scene. As mentioned at the beginning, the ability to see this one in theatres seems to be almost non-existent, unless you happen to live in a city/town with a film school, or other privately-owned theatre that seeks rarer/smaller films. There was news of the director’s cut being available for a brief period on YouTube the night before release, but it disappeared soon after. Luckily, the film does appear to be available for rent from On Demand services, so it should find a wider audience quickly.
“Sick, Violent and a Total Bore” The New York Times
“Empty, Repugnant Provocations” The New Yorker
“Von Trier can be a filmmaker of great empathy when he wants to be, but it’s exhausting to see him unable to think about the artistic process as anything other than a predator/prey dynamic.” Vulture
The House That Jack Built isn’t going to win back any of those good/neutral critics. It is filled with violent acts against women and children. Jack almost seems to be Trier’s idea of one of these American incels, Jack delivering a speech on the injustices against modern men to drive the point home. I think this perspective will make it much harder for Trier to reconcile this work with his left-leaning critics who have been labeling him a misogynist for years. I have seen the positive traits Trier wants to evoke in so many of his female roles/actresses throughout the years, but if you were in the camp that felt he was already being demeaning toward women, this one will send you quite further down that path. Of course, there will be lunatic loving sadists coming to this film for the wrong reasons, just as there will be social justice warriors giving it attention from the other side, but I try to separate art from reality and see the film as it is supposed to be, incredibly uncomfortable art with many nuances.
Matt Dillon as Jack in The House That Jack Built, courtesy of Mongrel Media
This film certainly follows in the footsteps of The Depression Trilogy in many of its features. Though, there do also seem to be enough differences to say that he has moved on from that trilogy and is not seeking to add this to its ranks. But, as you will see, Lars von Trier has continued to keep a strong connection between the actions of his protagonists and mental diagnoses with, for instance, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder being used to invoke some of the most comical moments of the film.
“A murderer with OCD it’s almost ridiculous. But how unfortunate for you Jack, and to top it off, with cleaning compulsions.”
The best way I could sum up the film is to say that it is a perfect combination of the Hannibal (2013) TV show with American Psycho (2000). These elements are, of course, run through the Lars von Trier filter, meaning there will be the sorts of halts in narrative, tutorials, and multiple time-lines which have been staples of The Depression Trilogy. The film is more-or-less a narrative, Jack tells Virgil (author of The Aeneid) about a few of his most memorable kills/situations as they are traveling together.
*Possible Spoiler*—> While the majority of this film follows the above framework, the epilogue takes us into a vastly different situation. This is the part which makes me wonder if this will end up being my favorite Lars von Trier film of all time. I will not give away the scenes/events, but I will say that we are taken into another place, a place which could hold analogies to David Lynch‘s Red Room. While in this place, there is a sound, a sound which must be heard at great volumes. This sound is a sort of dark-ambient droning I would say, it’s really quite an impressive sound which adds so much emphasis to the scene. So there are dark ambient drones and a sort of alternative Red Room scenario.<— *Possible Spoiler* The final point I’d like to mention on that connection is in the way that new chapters are introduced in the film. Trier has used this style in the past, but I find it to be the most well executed in this film. The animations of these chapter-markers show the handwritten text reverse-dripping. The scenes are very Trier, but they also seem incredibly Lynchian to me, like artwork that could be pulled right out of his studio. This isn’t to say that Trier is ripping off David Lynch, I don’t think he is at all. But, the things that make me like both of these directors so much can come into such harmony at times that it surprises me. I often daydream of what sort of monster would be created if these two directors were ever to work side by side on a project. Alternate directing television episodes? I think there could be gold there!
Matt Dillon plays the serial killer Jack. While he’s a well-enough-known actor in Hollywood, and has been starring in films for decades, he’s never gotten the esteem or top-roles of actors like Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Jake Gyllenhaal and other grounded-sort-of-actors. This role, if you’ve totally separate it from any feelings on Lars von Trier, was played magnificently by Matt Dillon. It is a combination of him being a natural choice for the role and him truly living up to its demands. He is able to successfully convey a range of emotions in this role that will take the viewer from laughing out of their seat, to trembling with unease at his psychopathic, homicidal gaze. Performances by victims Uma Thurman and Riley Keough also stood out for me, along with the epic voice of Bruno Ganz.
Left to right: Riley Keough as Simple and Matt Dillon as Jack in The House That Jack Built
The film is shot, mostly, using the hand-held camcorder format which Lars von Trier has been incorporating for quite a long time. There are also the occasional art stills which have been so beautifully realized in his past works. There are sort of scrapbook-like pieces added throughout as well, along with the aforementioned tutorials. In short, this is typical Trier, atypical Hollywood. There is a point in the film, where we are given a deeper glance into the works of Trier. This moment will be obvious to viewers because he actually uses scenes from throughout his film career to convey the message. I’ll leave that one to you, but it is worth noting that he really seems to be working with something personal here. Maybe, as with depression, Trier sees elements in this film that have been essential to his entire career.
I’d rather not go into too great of detail on the specifics within the film’s narrative. I recommend watching it for past fans of Trier’s work. But, this one should be interesting well outside his usual crowd. There is a massive market these days in the genre of true crime. Books and podcasts are selling off the shelves on the topic, so a new serial killer film should find its own audience easily enough. This one feels a bit less artistic as a whole, in comparison to Antichrist or Melancholia, but it still holds many of those elements which make his past films equally timeless and transgressive. If you have the stomach for a serial killer’s mentality through the no-holds-barred approach of Lars von Trier, this film is sure to delight you.
Annihilvs is beyond honoured and privileged to present the Fruit of the Ash digipak CD-R by Bonedust in 2018.
Bonedust was formed as a performance art project in 2004 by vocalist/composer Chrissy Wolpert (director of The Assembly of Light Choir, frequent contributor to The Body) and interdisciplinary artist Pippi Zornoza (Rectrix, Vvltvre, Worms in Women and Cattle). They are joined on this incredible recording by vocalists Rebecca Mitchell (Whore Paint, House Red), Maralie Armstrong (Humanbeast, Valise), Natalja Kent (Querent) and vocalist/performer Neve Cross.
Fruit of the Ash is based on their 2011 theatrical performance of the same name, and was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Kris Lapke (Alberich) at Machines With Magnets in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the Dirt Palace in Providence, and Dungeon Beach in Brooklyn.
This release will also be available as a Bundle, including a cassette edition, a t-shirt, a one-sided picture disc lathe-cut 7inch single, and a copy of the digipak CD-R.