The ideal occult music (and perhaps ideal music in general) totally immerses its audience. Its ultimate goal is the trance state, a headspace of deep suggestibility where the calcified forms of thought can melt and reshape. This new goal carries with it a new set of values; instead of asking “What do I like about this?” or “What makes this interesting?” (or any other aesthetic/critical questions), we may simply ask, “Does this work?” Of course, we can analyze how and why it works (and maybe that’s part of what makes it interesting), and we might not find immersion if we hate what we hear, but this is all in service of the specific goal of the trance. At its most powerful, Charlemagne Palestine and Janek Schaefer’s Day of the Demons works, though certain moments on the album disrupt this focused state.
Palestine and Schaefer accomplish the album’s most immersive passages by way of tonal instabilities. Here, the drones threaten never to resolve, and the initial discomfort that these pure oscillations provoke gives way to a powerful but alien emotional state. On “Raga de L’apres midi pour Aude,” the duo tempers that state by subtly shifting chords and introducing chilling bell tones and vocal glossolalia to keep attention. The reference to afternoon ragas in the title is apt; there is a similar drowsiness present here, as if evoking a space at the edge of dream consciousness. The raga will evoke many resonances with La Monte Young, particularly his work with the rest of the Theatre of Eternal Music.
It’s at the beginning of “Fables From a Far Away Future” when the meditative state dissolves, though the unhinging atmosphere remains as they layer children’s bedtime prayers in loops. It’s a strange incantation, but perhaps it serves to protect participants from demonic influences waiting in the wings. Samples return later in the piece, but they seem to have less sense there and largely arrest the mood the duo has taken so long to develop. Perhaps then we arrive back in waking consciousness (apparently the samples come from field recordings of a nearby festival), but it feels as if Palestine and Schaefer were just getting started down the rabbit hole.
The most crucial contribution to this album’s affects are the purity of its production and the fullness of its frequency range. Listen to it loudly on a system with good bass response, and you will feel your chest vibrate. The bells sound so full that you’d almost believe you were in a temple. This purity enables the tonal instabilities to manifest in full force, which deepens the wrenching sensation of the drones. For all of Palestine and Schaefer’s past conceptual work, Day of the Demons strikes an almost purely visceral layer. It’s not a comfortable feeling, but it’s a powerful tool for whatever magic you’re working.