Septicflesh Alumnus Christos Antoniou is back after a five year hiatus with his ‘other’ project, Chaostar, and I have to say what a delight it is to have him back in this guise.
Harnessing the astonishing vocals of Androniki Skoula – she’s part Diamanda Galas, part Ofra Haza – Antoniou leaves no musical stone unturned to flesh out his sonic vision on The Undivided Light.
Hence the album veers stylistically from Massive Attack-styled trip-hop through occasional bouts of extreme metal to the refined classical style of somebody like Zoltan Kodaly and back again, all the while engaging the listener and challenging them to stay with the record despite the labyrinthine twists and turns it is constantly making. If you manage to do so you’ll find The Undivided Light an utterly satisfying listening experience.
It’s not all wilfully difficult – opening track Tazama Jua, despite the Swahili pretensions of it’s title, sounds very much like the work of Ofra Haza circa Yemenite Songs at it’s outset before hitting it’s stride as a straightforward, percussion-driven banger. It’s the ‘simplest’ of the songs on offer but none the worse for that; Blutbad is more unsettling and features auxiliary vocals (in German) from Margarita Stadler. Morose and sombre, it acts as an immediate counterpoint to the urgency of the opener.
Stones and Dust features another commanding vocal and some more impressive drumwork from Nikolaos Velentzas (who, clever chap that he is, also contributes guitar to Blutbad), these two bulwarks being augmented by a beautifully scored string part that raises the hairs on the back of the neck. Title track The Undivided Light is quite superb, pushed on by a brooding, electronic pulse over which Skoula builds the tension up backed again by strings until the whole thing reaches an ecstatic breaking point. It’s exhilarating to listen to, and you’ll struggle not to be consumed by the dramatic triumph of the piece as a whole.
Mémnizo is dusky and middle-eastern at it’s outset, cinematic yet avoiding the obvious cliches that this sort of music can invoke, moving through a jagged classical section before Skoula takes over with an absolute tour de force of a vocal to take the song home. Thoroughly spine-tingling.
The album’s set piece is the near-eleven minute Silent Yard. Here Antoniou – and I don’t want to downplay the planet-sized talent at work here by indulging in tired cliché when the piece deserves more, but I’m going to – throws the kitchen sink at the listener. Wave after weave of delirious noise envelopes the ears, from a sparsely-accompanied Skoula croon to full-bodied orchestral sturm und drang, every element from the rest of the album gets at least a brief reprise as the composer unleashes his full arsenal on the listener. It’s astounding stuff, tiring to listen to even, yet ultimately incredibly fulfilling.
The album closes with Ying & Yang, perhaps the most conventional track on offer; Velentzas again provides the ballast with some bewitching drum patterns before the strings again ramp up the intensity; all the while Skoula sails atop the maelstrom, delivering with ethereal power and dolorous regality. The song fades to a mournful conclusion, leaving silence to fill the void so adeptly combusted only seconds before by the festival of sound created by Antoniou and his Chaostar co-conspiritors. The only answer to this sad state of affairs is to go back to the beginning and experience the whole wonderful shebang all over again. Marvellous stuff.
Chaostar will release The Undivided Light on March 23rd through Season of Mist