Lüüp – Canticles of the Holy Scythe

[I, Voidhanger, 2017]

 

Intro: Kostas Barbas
Translation: V. Christodoulou, D. Kaltsas
14 / 11 / 2017

Stelios Romaliadis has given us two very special releases, under Lüüp’s hat. Distress Signal Code (2008) and Meadow Rituals (2011) are two albums with different intentions, but with their composer’s signature. The trend towards chamber music, the extensive use of wind and string instruments, as well as the participation of many different musicians, including David Jackson of Van Der Graaf Generator, are some of the features of Lüüp (especially in Meadow Rituals). After six years, their return to discography is still different. The cover and the music in Canticles of the Holy Scythe reveal Romaliadis’s intentions for a darker approach. The participation of Sakis Tolis (Rotting Christ) and Aldrahn (Dødheimsgard, Thorns, The Deathtrip) helps in this direction.


 

The Mysteries of Death

The first time I stumbled upon Lüüp was when a friend familiarized me with a Pleq / Lüüp EP that was just released. So that must have been 2012. Or 2013. Anyway I was intrigued to find out they already had two albums out on Musea so I knew I had to give them a proper listen. Not sure what the circumstances were but I was not impressed, while I do remember I liked 2011’s Meadow Rituals more than 2008’s Distress Signal Code. I kept them on my radar and even labeled them a respected, promising outfit in my head so naturally, when word was out that they were about to release a new album I got excited. Canticles of the Holy Scythe it is then.

I am pressing the play button. Six new cuts are waiting for me and Γιατί είναι Μαύρα τα Βουνά (Why are the Mountains Black) is opening up. This is a traditional greek lament, a song of Death that is not exclusive to a certain geographical area and as such is sung throughout Greece, boasting many versions and editions. A cheerful opener that depicts the inevitability of Death and the mere reminder that humans are defenceless against that inevitability, so what’s better than singing a canticle for Him? It only takes a piano, a santoor and three grievers in Anna Linardou, Sofia Sarri and Xenia Rodotheatou. Musically this has more to do with Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata or the Mysteries of the Macabre than any traditional greek form, although it showcases a multitude of folk references that are slowly progressing away and into what Stelios Romaliadis (the brainbox behind Lüüp) had in mind. The careful use of dissonances, polyphony and the melody changes are setting the tone for the rest of the album. This is haunting, relentless, unforgiving, unsettling. Like Death Himself.

We are descending. The album becomes more ominous as we proceed and assumes a turn into mysticism and the occult.  9°=2° (Κόγξ ὀμ Πὰξ) is a direct remark on the Eleusinian mysteries as this was likely attributed to by Johannes Merseus’ controversial interpretation of the phrase Κόγξ ὀμ Πὰξ. The song is dominated by cellos and bassoon that provide an ambient undertone before it unleashes itself in full effect. This is not far from Univers Zero or Art Zoyd’s early works and it’s the ideal ground for the hierophant Sofia Sarri’s frenzied, blackened Galas-like prayers. Coming up next, The Greater Holy Assembly (Ha Idra Rabba Qadisha) moves our apocryphal interest to the Judaic mystic worlds of Kabbalah and the invocations are resumed, this time by none other than Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ. By far the most disturbing track on the record, this is essentially a dark ambient song that reminded me a bit of the fellow Greeks Mohammad and their chamber doom as well as Giacinto Scelsi’s Konx om Pax (that again…). Four cellos, percussion, microtonality, or even different intonation systems applied simultaneously to create tense and more tense and a hectic, manic, threatening Tolis get as harrowing as harrowing can be.

At this point I’d welcome a break and that comes with Noctivagus (Apparition of Death). More an eerie, uneasy calm before the storm than a break, Noctivagus foretells the coming of Death and rearranges the mood into that of anticipation. How would that sound? you may ask. I believe the influence here may come from works such as Tartini’s Sonata del Diavolo or Huybrechts’ Chant Funèbre, that is if I am allowed the analogy. Performed by the “Ghost Woodwinds” I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s all Stelios Romaliadis himself and my best guess is that the instruments include oboe or cor anglais, bassoon, flute, possibly bass clarinet and maybe euphonium. This, to welcome Death in Stibium (Triumph of Death), played by Bjørn “Aldrahn” Dencker of Dødheimsgard. The ensemble is reorganized to include contrabass, two violas, two cellos, bassoon and the flute, all conducted to reflect the agony that Death brings. …that Aldrahn brings. The end is cathartic, ultimate and majestic as well as minimalistic and tense, pretty much resembling the whole album until now. The record ends after 35 short minutes with Зона (Mors Consolatrix), possibly signalling the mourning phase for the dead. An ideal epilogue that really takes me back to the beginning of the death cycle, using processed piano and Anna Linardou’s phonetics. 

One can figure from the get go that this is a difficult and inaccessible album. The concept of the all-encompassing, inescapable and yet individualistic Death is by no means an easy pill to swallow and this is exactly what Lüüp achieve with Canticles…: a lyrical, musical demonstration of what Death resembles, stripped of any romanticism. The leap that Stelios Romailidis took in creating this is enormous and I have to say, unexpected. I mentioned the individualistic essence of death – in the way we will all unavoidably experience it alone and for that, I’d recommend that anyone should initially listen to this through headphones. I actually played it quite loud with the speakers growling, and I’ll just say it created a terrifying effect (for my neighbors). As a last note, I think that Canticles of the Holy Scythe is an extremely important album for experimental greek music and music in general and I’d warmly suggest it to every music lover out there.

9 / 10

Vangelis Christodoulou

 

2nd opinion

 

Canticles of the Holy Scythe is a very special and dark chamber music album, quite diverse, despite the similar character of the compositions. The album opens up impressively with the avant-prog melody of the traditional Why It’s Black Mountains. It is followed by 9°=2° with the sophisticated vocals of Sofia Sarri, a chamber black metal elegy and the very best moment here. The Greater Holy Assembly could be an interesting chamber drone piece, if it was not overshadowed by Sakis Tolis’ out-of-place and time vocals, which lower the high aesthetic level of the album. Noctivagus and Stibium are a very well cared and stylish tribute to Devil Doll, with Aldrahn making clear the influence of Mr. Doctor in his career so far. The sweet ambient of Зона brings the listener from the tense climate of the rest of the album to regularity. Lovers of dark and sophisticated music of whatever kind have to give an opportunity to this record.

7.5 / 10

Kostas Barbas