Ethereal Riffian - Aeonian - (9.5/10)
Published on January 20, 2014
How high would you like to fly?
If ambition can bring you places, then the Ukraine’s Ethereal Riffian are floating about in the ether. After releasing the wonderful Shaman’s Visions EP in 2011, and then a nigh 20-minute single in 2012 entitled Dkyil Khor, this psychedelic doom metal quartet have returned with not only a wondrous full-length debut in tow with Aeonian, but they’ve composed an eponymous novella to serve as a textual extension of the album’s concepts and soundscapes.
After having enjoyed the book, it should be said that, so much like the band’s unconventional brand of often brooding and beautifully heavy music, Aeonian, the story, is not exactly light reading, nor is it entirely difficult either. Perhaps a better word would be ‘challenging’ in that the book asks you to focus, to understand and to think and to embrace peering outside of the box. Many bands are content in allowing the music to do the talking, but the passion that flows from Ethereal Riffian, namely the brothers Alexander Kornev (bass) and Valeriy Kornev (guitar, vocals) who penned this work, manage to double the impact with a profound globe-trotting tale of science, reincarnation, leaving the mundane behind, and so much more.
Just as the book is separated into four chapters, so is the album into four songs, each track embodying the path of the story and its characters. The first track and chapter is “Thugdam (Sensation),” an introduction to Hans, the Nameless Monk, and the state of Thugdam, a meditative state “entered at death achieved by highly actualized persons. In this state the body remains warm and the cells of the body do not dissolve” (Kornev 153-54). The music in the opening track immediately welcomes a drastic change from the eerily patient effect of Shaman’s Visions. “Thugdam (Sensation)” welcomes the listener with smart sludgy riffing before weaving itself into a more subdued and hypnotic passage that, not without its share of soloing and haunting vocals, extends the rest of the way, soon transporting the listener into the second chapter and song, “March of Spiritu (Rise of Sheol).”
Named after a mass of conjoined spirits found in Sheol, “the abode of the dead in early Hebrew thought,” “March of Spiritu (Rise of Sheol)” is perhaps the most correlative of the four songs with its textual brother (153). The track is a meandering journey of wearied guitars amid a hopeless backdrop, the rhythm section playing fittingly smooth and sluggish before all of the unrest escalates into a tribal fervor and a slick stoner riff that erupts with Aeonian’s lone instance of harsh singing. As the chapter concludes with questions, the song is punctuated with some sterling solo-work and more of Valeriy’s monastic vocal style moments before the album’s masterpiece, “Wakan Tanka (Awareness),” melts into existence.
Titled after “the Great Spirit which is present in all (the) beings,” the chapter “Wakan Tanka (Awareness) follows the path of the character Maxim from a giant child to that of a tireless truth-seeker (83). This story progression is ably matched by the musicians, a band of players who mesh some trippy didgeridoo (Yaroslaw Kaminskiy) and djembe (Sergey (aka Bookvarique)) drum patterns during the track’s first two minutes, and then drop the hammer with a collision of Nikita Shipovskoi’s skin-beating and the delirious strums of Valeriy and Max Yuhimenko. Midway through the track and this building of momentum reoccurs, again with the didgeridoo and Alexander’s fulsome bass, eventually shifting to a stunning southern rock inspired solo that bleeds into the closing crush, a sequence of about four minutes of the heaviest and most cosmically awesome stoner-doom jamming you’ll hear this year or any other.
The final song and chapter to Aeonian is “Anatman (Oneness),” in which Maxim, having spent his life searching for enlightenment, becomes liberated and, then, something much more than himself. In a sense, the chapter is the book coming full circle, and the song, while a definite furtherance of Ethereal Riffian’s style-bridge of Sleep and Om, portrays this feeling with its elemental moods and, of course, Valeriy’s attached lyrics. From the chilling siren call of a flute, to the driving, punishing rhythm section that ramparts all of Max’s sublime soloing, “Anatman (Oneness)” breathes as an ideal conclusion with its leveling of the cool and the clatter, rounding out a record, a journey, that continually blooms with ideas and spirit.
As an album, Aeonian is unique; gentle and thunderous, each song beats with the heart of the very best of the stoner-doom pedigree. As a book, Aeonian is a labor of love. While Ethereal Riffian have the upper-hand with their musical expertise, the story, with its characters and its profound message, results in a truly magical tale, and one that should appeal to fans of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. As an entire work of art, I sincerely doubt that I’ll find another composition that’s even remotely as ambitious or as rewarding. An experience that beckons you to open your eyes – all three of them.
Me(n)tal Note – If the book and the record weren’t enough, check out the sick package Ethereal Riffian are putting together for Aeonian.