‘How often do you think about the Roman Empire?’ When Gaius Flavius, a TikTok creator who recreates scenes from the Roman Empire, asked this question in a post, social media jumped on it and his question went viral. Many TikTokkers asked their companion this question and many of them – if I am to believe the reports – regularly, sometimes even daily, thought about the Roman empire. For myself, the answer would be ‘actually never’ and I think it is the same for German Ch’Ahom. But if you would ask them the question ‘How often do you think about the Mayan culture?‘, their answer might be very different.
Textually, the foursome from Essen, Germany, find their inspiration in prestigious Native American cultures from Mesoamerica and South America. Think of civilizations such as the Aztecs, Incas, Mayas, Toltecs and Zapotecs. What should you expect about in terms of lyrical content? Besides the fact that, for example, the Aztecs are known for their advanced calendar, agriculture (the construction of floating gardens) and writing through drawings and hieroglyphics, the Incas for their architecture (building bridges and temples, the construction of paths, Macchu Picchu) and agriculture (constructing irrigation systems, cultivation of potatoes, cocoa, corn, tomatoes and tobacco; crops not known in Europe at the time) and the Maya for their knowledge of astronomy and mathematics, architecture (Chichén Itzá), and developing their own writing, they are also characterized by numerous stories of bloodshed, violence, and human sacrifice. Just read the stories about the Aztecs and their beastly rituals in honor of the sun and war god Huitzilopochtli.
It is therefore not very surprising to encounter Xibalba, the name of the underworld from Mayan mythology, on the German quartet’s debut album Knots of Abhorrence. And what about Ixtab? She was the indigenous Mayan goddess of suicide-by-hanging and accompanied the newly deceased to the afterlife. Chavín de Huántar refers to an extinct, pre-Columbian civilization that developed in the northern Andean highlands of Peru (where you can still find an archaeological site of the same name today).
These are moments of brief respite, of being able to catch your breath amidst the excess of unrelenting, all-consuming fury. You could not have expected anything else musically, could you? The history of these peoples consists partly of stories of priests cutting out the hearts out of living victims, after which the dead body was thrown down the 114 steps of the Templo Mayor, or of sacrificing children by drugging them with coca leaves and lots of alcohol, to take them to freeze to death on a mountain top. Surely this can only be depicted by a chaotic, cruel, ruthless and all-destroying performance?
Rigid, death-soaked black metal (or should I call it blackened technical death?), avant-garde structures, complex rhythms, distorted riffs, thick blast beats and unpredictable, ominous guitars form the core of Knots of Abhorrence. Slowing tempos, fierce accelerations, atmospheric layers, technical details culminate in complex, unpredictable compositions. Seemingly indiscriminate randomness and harmonious synchrony culminate in weighty compactness, dazzling ferocity, high density, heaviness, speed and complex rhythms. Moreover, the fusion of various styles brings a relentless, gruesome character to the compositions. The dissonance that is draped around everything creates an extremely menacing, mystical atmosphere. How appropriate do you want these dealings with a history full of violence, murder and mayhem and rituals to be? The malevolent guttural roar of the vocals give the album an extra dark, oppressive character. Despite the atypical coloring, the music is not devoid of emotion. The lyrics, which cover various pre-Hispanic cultures and their rituals, offer a bit more complexity and are more thought-provoking than the average goat-worshipping band.
Out of the unrestrained violence emerges a lavish, menacing and claustrophobic album. An album that almost hypnotizes me and I cannot seem to let go of the band’s evocative musical narratives and I remain curious even after many listens – because there is so much to discover. If you have kept reading this extensive story, it will be obvious to you that I am wildly enthusiastic about Knots of Abhorrence and therefore consider this to be compulsory for anyone who has even a shred of self-respect. Who said ‘guaranteed year list material’?
In the cultures of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans, celebrations were frequent. In the case of the Maya, people put feathers in their hair, put on jewelry and put on special clothing colored with berry juice. Should you see me dancing down the street with feathers in my hair anytime soon, you know that I am completely under the spell of Ch’Ahom and the Mayan gods. Such bliss!
Sentient Ruin Laboratories, 2023
- Chavín de Huántar
- Path to Ixtab
- Knots of Abhorrence I
- Knots of Abhorrence II
- A.G.A. – Vocalen, gitaar
- C.G. – Bas en achtergrondzang
- G.P. – Drums
- S.P.S. – Gitaar