Review Summary: When atmospheric sludge and tribal music collide!
Wow, it seems like the Belgium proggy post-metal scene has been putting out this year. When I was looking to choose the next album to review, Pothamus popped out right away: an upcoming post-metal band produced by Chiaran Verheyden from Psychonaut, one of my favorite underground releases of the year. However, I quickly learned that even though both bands fall under the same producer, country, and genre, the bands are significantly different.
Pothamus is a band that takes an admittedly unique approach to the genre, combining droning guitar leads with the rhythmic drumming of tribal music, something almost no other band has done in post-metal up until this point. However, through the course of the album they are able to stretch about fifteen minutes worth of post-doom riffs into what seems like an hour’s worth of time for what is a surprisingly 49 minute album.
Now, I’m not one to shy away from more atmospheric sludge albums, but this is very different from basically everything I have listened to up until this point. While most of the mainstream atmospheric sludge bands complement their slow and droning tempo with dense and layered guitars, Pothamus layers their songs very sparingly in the guitar department. For the typical slice of Raya’s soundscape, you will find the lead guitar takes a passive role to the powerful bass lines and sinister and tribal drumming. These two instrumentally really make up the forefront of both the tone and leading rhythm of the album; which makes Raya, compositionally, a very organic and minimalistic album.
The production of Raya is very good, as each note made by each of the instruments are very defined and clear, which is something that is hard to do with more atmospheric metal songs that tend to sound like the instruments blend in with each other too closely.
What could also be admired about Raya is that it creates a kind of atmosphere that has a very European sounding, cult-like personality. In a way, this album at times has vibes from horror films like “The Ritual” or “Hagazussa” where we are taken off to a very desolate, mal-intended place. Specifically, tracks like “Orath”, “Viso”, or “Raya” conjure up hints at this uncanny tone. On the other hand, however, the rest of the album misses the mark. You might could say that the other tracks which are much more thin with their instrumentation serve to contrast the harsher tracks. Truthfully though, they are very forgettable and even unnecessary.
In the past, Pothamus has thematically made songs centered around Mahayana Buddhism, specifically with how our souls are all one with the universe, that there is simultaneously an emptiness and fullness of existence, and that there is a delusion of a pre and post existence of one’s being. What could be the case is that the band makes these tracks that serve to form balance between the denser and darker tracks with sounds that are more light and visceral. Which is something that highlights the dynamic nature of zen Buddhism. Either way, after extended, listens not all the songs stuck with me. However, there are very clear gems in the album.
Raya cannot really be fully compared to anything you may have heard before. It has shades and influences from The Ocean or Neurosis, but its assembly of instruments is actually atmospheric enough to be safely labeled as doom adjacent. In addition, the tribal drumming and cultish atmosphere they convey is something that is done fairly successfully in parts of the album, though in the other half falls flat. For that reason, it is very difficult to determine who would like this album since it is so “in its own place” in the post metal scene. To really know if you would like this album, I would recommend just listening to the recommended tracks below.
(This was originally posted by me on https://theprogressivesubway.wordpress.com/2020/12/12/review-pothamus-raya/)