Review Summary: Tarpedon, son of Zeus, ride on to Illion
Queen Elephantine’s latest EP, Yatra
, takes the plodding desert camel ride aesthetic of their debut full-length, 2007’s ode to Hindu sun goddess Surya
, and pushes it further into the dry barren fringe of narcotic lo-fi stoner drone. It is also their most accomplished work so far, with a line-up overhaul after a base change from Hong Kong to New York City, and featuring some of the best improvisatory modal psychedelia yet to come from the group.
There are many obvious changes in sound here. The first thing is the lack of the auxiliary percussionist who colored Surya
’s plodding beats with additional washes of cymbals and exotic bongo patterns. In place of the dual percussionists of releases past stands only one man behind the kit, New Yorker Chris Dialogue. His rhythms are deceptively layered and nuanced, but more importantly, his switches from gargantuan cymbal-smashing ferocity to placidly propulsive groove add a whole new level of dynamic intensity to the band’s music.
The music still carries the exotic punch of the past, however. The Eastern sensibilities of the band manifest themselves in the meditative drone climaxes that characterize both tunes, and “Chariot in Solemn Procession” brings back the familiar tanpura drone from previous releases. It’s used brilliantly, creating a hypnotic swirl over which the band paints its most imposing doom epic yet. The climax sees a pulsing, bassy groove explode into overdriven chaos and Sleep-esque anthemic chants while the stolid, unflinching tanpura drills its presence into your head.
Opener “Droning Earth” is a two-part epic, beginning with licks of feedback that transmute into a thunderous fuzz riff, laying the seeds for a groove which the band will explore infinitely over the next ten minutes, leaving no sun-drenched stone unturned, no meticulous, consciousness-altering repetition unfulfilled. The vocals in the first section maneuver the riff with an addicting, stoned swagger as if Queens of the Stone Age's most seductive tendencies were married with swathes of mutating feedback. The second section abandons the up-front presence of vocals for a towering instrumental jam that pulses with tribal urgency and marries cosmic Pink Floyd-esque aspirations with endless deserts and a focus on channeling the mysteries of the bold red sun.
The guitar riffs are meandering in an exploratory sense, using simple motifs to establish the world and then going off and exploring from there. The bass work is also far more adept than in the past; and, while lacking the outright monolithic fuzz presence of Surya
, the syrupy groove with which the bassist slinks through these songs locks in with the drums for a rhythm section that grabs you by the throat and propels you to the frontline of these monolithic marches.
Queen Elephantine purveys a new era of doom/drone metal in the tradition of star-gazing doom acts like Ufomammut. But more importantly the group traverses other realms of musical exploration in a way similar to the Six Organs of Admittance ilk, with their merging of Eastern and Western flavors to a bed of psychedelic aspiration.