It’s midnight and you are on a deserted beach, an island somewhere off the west coast of Cambodia. In the distance, a bright light repeatedly pulsates. It twinkles and swells, a conspicuous gleam radiating below the stars and above the water’s surface, an uncertain measure from where you perch on the sand. They shut the generator down hours ago, allowing the black cloak of evening to smother the bamboo huts behind you. For a while, that palpitating glare is the only assurance that you are not alone, that something has been synchronized to illuminate at specific intervals — a calming sign in the otherwise unknowable canyon of the witching hour. Someone calls your name from an uncharted direction. The illusion is almost shattered.
When darkness is all that surrounds, even the faintest emanation can provide a sense of optimism. But even when that darkness morphs into alternate forms — a stagnant wall of bleak and irrepressible audio, for example — the level of discomfort is by no means diminished. Instead, it allows faith to emerge in the most unexpected places. Listening to Som Sakrifis is akin to finding one’s way in the blackest of pitch — it embodies sensory deprivation at its most unnerving, where sound becomes remarkably important in providing indicators as to where one might actually be — the crashing of waves on an Indochina shoreline in one instance, or the the distinct vibration of cello string fibers in another.
Mohammad consists of Nikos Veliotis, Costantino Kiriakos, and ILIOS, three artists from Greece who demonstrate their mawkish grit on cello, contrabass, and oscillators respectively. Som Sakrifis is their first release on PAN, and it holds the potential to literally drench its audience in uncompromising free-fall drone of the most miserable temperament. Whereas the term “drone” may have been given questionable press of late, particularly in conjunction with misguided EBow experiments and ambient mediocrity, Mohammad pump it full of scorched engine oil and set the whole downhearted business ablaze. What prevails is the aftermath: a foul-tasting gust of smoke that pins one to the spot before forcing participation in some kind of hypnotic procession.
Cards on the table: what we are dealing with here are three excruciatingly slow pieces of music that suggest the aforementioned instruments are being painstakingly abused. Som Sakrifis resides in a stygian realm between the flickering stars and the bioluminescent plankton that outline faraway ocean activity. However, on the album’s second side, a high-pitched bleep emerges from the gloom: slightly off kilter, its presence hangs throughout 17 minutes of murkiness. Although it comes surrounded by the low-end moan of protracted strings, the bleeping operates as a focal point that engraves its way into the desperate effects that surround it. After repeat listens, those moments encompass a degree of familiarity, a signpost, the incarnation of an outlying lighthouse or some moving entity on a pulse doppler. Despite its prominent aura, that glimmer of aspiration remains a mere fragment of the overwhelming sensations that are channeled here.
Suspense exists in a cradle of fades and breaks that are nurtured through Veliotis’ delicate strokes. The cellist is responsible for any given central body of sound, which is complemented by hollow rumblings of contrabass before ILIOS embarks on his distorted frequency shifts. The effect is so alienating that one’s immediate reaction is to step back and look for pattern recognition, a shade of hope or a sparkling beam on the horizon, which partly explains my lingering on the dominance of “Liberig Min.” Nevertheless, such suspense resides within the unquestionably addictive qualities that are carved out of each track, deep along the crevice of layered reverberation and crystalline largo. This adds immensely to the album’s twisted charm, whether it comes in the form of mournful vocals on “Sakrifis” or the rise and fall of modulation tweaks on “Lapli Tero,” the interplay between those convoluted sections are every bit as tempting as the trauma they instigate.
Several minutes pass and you wait, motionless. The waves continue to beat on the sand in front of you and the pulsating light persists in its steady rhythm. But whereas once it felt solicitous, a focal point that resembled consolation at a time of abandon, now it encroaches as a seminal distraction beating mercilessly into every contemplative thought. Embracing the darkness is the only feasible option, regardless of how it makes you feel. You breathe it in like vaporized anesthetic and pray that it will never end.