“The meaning of Transcendental Black Metal is Affirmation, and its new technique is the Burst Beat.” –Hunter Hunt-Hendrix in Transcendental Black Metal: A Vision Of Apocalyptic Humanism
It is unfortunate for Guardian Alien drummer Greg Fox that, as I have perpetuated above, his involvement in transcendental-aspiring black metal band Liturgy is bound to follow the critical evaluation of his work since. But regardless of whether Liturgy’s praxis fulfills or falls short of the maverick pretensions set forth by their front man’s corresponding theory, the emphasis it places on the band’s rhythmic backbone makes a discussion of their manifesto relevant here.
For Hunt-Hendrix, “the burst beat expresses an arc of intensity. It responds to and supplements the melodic flow rather than providing a rhythmic container or backdrop. The rate of change of the tempo, whether positive or negative, corresponds to a level of intensity. Any static tempo is a zero degree.” He is obsessed with resisting the atrophy of “Hyperborean Black Metal” and replacing it with a hypertrophic percussion that ebbs and flows with scintillating breath. Although a putrid immersion in rotting decay probably accounts for the appeal of black metal for many fans, Hunt-Hendrix’s is a noble aspiration and one that Guardian Alien continue, albeit through different means.
Free from the pedantic rei(g)ns of Hunt-Hendrix’s double nihilism, See the World Given to a One Love Entity is a 37-minute psychedelic monolith that replaces the track-contained expansions and contractions of Liturgy’s microcosmic burst beat with a more macrocosmic approach. After the obligatory opening of walk-in-the-woods footsteps and birdsong, the listener is presented with two minutes of Liturgical assault before the band gets to their real business: the pursuit of a wholly transcendent JAM. We are taken through a virtual panorama of psychedelic tropes — droning guitars and synth, iridescent mantras, Indian zither, backwards cymbals, ocean sounds — all grounded in the rising and falling syncopations of Fox’s frenetic drumming. The sudden ruptures purported to be central in Liturgy’s cluttered burst beat here take on a more penetrative quality, signaling transitions from propulsive rock freakout to spacious meditation and back again. Yet the arc of the jam’s intensity remains too predictably parabolic to sustain the interest of a critical listen; the lull that greets us exactly halfway through the record suggests a bending of the band’s creative will to the LP format, a conscious submission that has little place in a truly righteous jam.
Unlike Liturgy’s grounding in theory, Guardian Alien’s is a poetic approach. The few lyrics that can be discerned amid the album’s chanting — the titular “See the world given to a one love entity,” “All things one thing,” “You/universe/one thing/see Qi/I ching” — are supplemented by an accompanying poem’s cosmic elaboration, intimating an affinity with orthodox American Transcendentalism relatively absent in Liturgy. The “alien energy” and “eternal ONE” of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Oversoul” essay are especially pertinent here, but the record’s occasional respite of elemental field recordings also points toward a rapport with Henry David Thoreau’s environmentalism. Just check out that album cover; you’ve got your lush and verdant landscape filled with vibrant flora and fauna, a sun/moon hybrid, and to top it all off a Rastafaralien holding an infinitely regressing copy of the album itself.
A comparison with Thoreau also illuminates the album’s shortcomings. Just as the cabin of his Walden was but two miles away from his family home, not in the wilderness proper but rather at the edge of town, See the World Given to a One Love Entity feels tossed-off; a spectator’s psychedelia lacking in ambition. The album cover, lyrical content, and music fit so blatantly into psychedelic paradigms that it can be hard to take seriously. If I’ve unduly focused on Fox’s role, it is because his drumming is the only element that really stands out. And it really is impressive; there is no denying that he is an incredibly competent drummer. But unlike antecedents Can, Magma, and Neu!, all three of which feature virtuoso percussionists whose talents and creativity are matched by their respective ensembles, Fox’s bandmates (including Bernard Gann, also of Liturgy) seem content to merely jam on monotonously, relegated to background status.
Hunt-Hendrix writes that “the burst beat never arrives anywhere, eternally ‘not yet’ at its destination, eternally ‘almost’ at the target tempo. Like a nomad, the burst beat knows it will never arrive.” But if See the World Given to a One Love Entity is a rhizome, it is one that is struggling to affirm itself, atrophic in its aimlessness. I’m a sucker for a good psych jam, and Guardian Alien’s effort can be a pleasant listen, but it is far from transcendental.