Picture the scene...
A man lies dying, blindly watching the stars twinkling their detached vigilance as the moon arcs across the frosty sky, lighting up the mountain wilderness, revealing the path he must ultimately follow. The surrounding trees, heavy with freshly snow muffle the wolf's elegiac howl; the mountain air crackles with a cold promise.
Only his breath, drifting in the moonlight, betrays the gradual seeping away of his soul. His candle's flame sputters and gently fades to nothing, its heat, just like the man's life, swept away by time's pitiless flux.
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There is a lot of stuff written about death but no one knows what the precise moment of the soul and body separating is like, or what its purpose is. Yet this coldly enthralling album would make the perfect soundtrack for it.
'Effigy' relates to ancient animal shaped mounds, Effigy Mounds, which can be found dotting the landscape in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Time and progress have reduced them in size yet the largest of them still measure over 400 feet long and the images of forest creatures can still be clearly seen. What they are for is no longer known; those that created them long forgotten. All that is certain is the erection of these structures must have needed a lot of people and taken a very long time.
An album of droning ambient folk Americana, 'Effigy' is a blast of free form hillbilly that incorporates an indigenous chanting raga and the traditional instrumentation of the white man's country folk. Its dense, large scale pieces offer a sort of harmonious cacophony that is about as close music can come to capturing nature's soundtrack and still retain a groove.
Throughout 'Effigy' there is a slightly dissonant Celt-like drone of the sort Afro Celtic Sound System has briefly touched on in the past (their 'Urban Aire' for instance), a deep sadness that is difficult to find this side of a pipes, yet here it has a power that is almost palpable. Surely, Cry Of Love's 'Death Bed' has its roots in this kind of rootsy droning folk?
'Wings Of Dirt' is the track that pegs the album, it throws in a bong rhythm that by rights should jar but doesn't. However, 'Ashes Of A Photograph', a 22-plus-minute essay in drone, has to be the album's pinnacle of achievement.
With its ambient, country, folk and drone Americana wrapped up in the soundscape of the wildness of America's Eastern mountain ranges and like anything that tries to draw out the power of the land, 'Effigy' is not an easy album to listen to. Initially you will think it just pseudo-intellectual gibberish; the CD a mere avant-garde bauble for the coffee tables of the richly pretentious and the dim witted Sloane ranger 'yah yah' brigade; few of who, if any, will get it.
Whilst many will wonder what the fuck it's all about, after giving the album the attention it needs for some everything will click into place. It's like The Washington Post stated, Pelt have 'not become giants; they've become the mountain'; you've just got to be able to see the mountain.
The band's origins can be traced back to Richmond, Virginia in the mid-1990s. Jack Rose (R.I.P.), Patrick Best and Mike Gangloff united to blend a sprawling psychedelia with Appalachian roots, country and folk creating a kind of music dubbed 'the theatre of eternal hillbilly drone.' Over the years the band has been quite prolific, and if you include various self releases, oddities and collaborations, 'Effigy' is roughly the band's twenty second album.
The aural equivalent of impressionist art, it has to be asked; does Pelt and new album 'Effigy' belong here? Well, if it is Metal and only Metal, of any description, you are looking for then no, it does not. Most Metal heads, as well as many others, will hate, even detest, this album.
Yet like a handful of recent acoustic albums I've reviewed, 'Effigy', with its exclusive use of traditional instrumentation is far, far heavier and more imposing, profound even, than anything the heaviest of heavy metal bands could even dream of producing. In fact, for the want of electricity 'Effigy' is probably what a drone metal band would sound like, so if you are not afraid to dip into stuff that is way beyond the boundaries of the norm then this album might just grab your grits.
So, a lesson for any Metal band in power then, but to enjoy it perhaps it is best that you just own up to your inadequacies, admit that you have not a clue what this stuff is all about and just let your mind flow with Pelt's free form Americana.