BREATH – Primeval Transmissions (2021)REVIEW

Not finding one who knows his sound. / He sighs in sorrow. / Yet his laughter pierces the void!” Valuable as the handful of years spent in studious silent meditation within a certain popular sect of Zen Buddhist practicum might’ve been in my early twenties, in hindsight the leftover sensation was often that of vapid complacency. Stillness sustained far beyond any truly effective realization under the guise of a minor ascetic gesture; An anti-philosophical practice offering a magick’d pill of “shutting up and sitting uncomfortably” for the sake of the lowest common denominator reaching nirvana after inhaling ten days worth of their neighbor’s discomfort-induced flatulence. The path forward, for me, meant circling back to the original efficacy of sutras and their interpretation or, the guidance of kōan as a vital part of eye-to-eye practical study. Silence amongst the dead feet and asleep legs of skinbags is yet a meaningful alternative to the weirdly competitive world of teachers spreading dully westernized Buddhism via busted translations and culturally deaf misinterpretation of ancient Chinese literati-charged allegory. Could you possibly lay a tendril upon enlightenment in silence, though? Amidst vexation from a confusing phrase? The answer from my own perspective is essentially none of the above as the Buddhist concept of “doubt” offers the best choice, better translated as “maintaining skepticism” via an apt, receptive, and questioning mind. From this point of view the dabbler finding quick and personal meaning in surface-deep plunge of vaguely explained Asian religion and/or philosophy is perhaps most righteous in remaining flexible, learning without committing to any certain dogmatic declaration. It is better to admire and infuse suggested depth from a windowed distance rather than take to heart the interpretation(s) of a foolish teacher. Mulling, conversing and divining some personal exploration from the ancient thoughts of old masters seems to be what drives Portland, Oregon-based meditative doom metal duo Breath in pursuit of the unknown, students seeking meaning from the exploration we witness on ‘Primeval Transmissions‘, a minimalistic yet miraculously well-rounded psychedelic birth from seeming nothing.

Sitting with this album just once the average listener could certainly be mildly reductive: A slow and droning psychedelic doom metal album featuring fairly minimal atmospheric accoutrement beyond their use of Sabbath-tinged bass guitar tones and intuitive, jammed-together drum patterning. More or less the sort of Sabbathian groove you’d find in the middle of an 90’s stoner metal rehearsal tape when the guitarist had left to take a piss or, the equally rare sort of stoner/doom metal free-form informed by what Om did with tone (and minimized progression) on ‘Pilgrimage’ or, alternately Ufomammut‘s ‘Idolum’ a year later. It isn’t as musically nuanced and layered as, say, Zaum or as spiritually defined as Saturnalia Temple‘s more recent records but Breath‘s use of effects-bolstered deadpan vocals and tantric-jammed rhythmic movements will see some related structural and aesthetic eventualities expressed. If we only see this music from the context of stoner/doom metal of the spiritual sort we’re missing out on Breath‘s clearly stated interest in crossing auld psychedelic rock experimentation with mantra-based narration, simple and often trailing musical phrases that meet slightly out of sync with spoke-sung lyrics. If you’ve not any interest in a jam that explores old but freshly heady “far eastern” and ancient western proto-existentialism, there may be no water in this well for your taste. On the other hand any serious-faced explanation of theme on my part will feel unnecessarily complex when faced with the simple appeal of the music here — The major gist of ‘Primeval Transmissions’ holds just as much affinity for the ancient works of Geezer Butler in the late 60’s/early 70’s as it does any specific dharma, mystery or druidic saga.

As much as I’d love to explore the history of “East meets West” themes in heavy music and what it means for practical use of certain scales and rhythmic theorem it will suffice to say that the angle that Breath presents is informed by a musical spirituality seemingly borne from both old (read: late 60’s) and new psychedelia. What does this mean for any prospect of a track-by-track review here? Well, first and foremost you’d do just as well getting high and getting lost in it rather than trying to analyze the fineries of ‘Primeval Transmissions’. In fact their ducking in and out of lucidity by way of the improvised off-kilter movements that characterize the albums longer ~12-13 minute pieces (“Dwarka” and “Battle for Harmonic Balance / Halls of Amenti”) is entertaining and readable enough as the major spectacle of the full listen, a meditation if you’re willing and perhaps just a killer bass guitar riff-off for the passerby. The appeal might be limited by virtue of the simple sound presented and to be fair on a few occasions certain musical statements felt incomplete when calling for a few extra layers of emphasis which Breath don’t reach for the sake of continuity of theme; The most notable anti-climax being the “Halls of Amenti” portion of the fourth piece. Though it might seem like I’d rather collapse under the “challenge” of divining Breath‘s debut into slivered details, truth is that simple ideas amplified to the gigantic resonance of doom metal do not become more complex for the sake of their loudness.

Primitive ritualistic spiritual ascendance via hallucinogenic imbibe, Lovecraftian madness conquered via witness of otherworldly phenom, Yogic trance, unfathomable Egyptian mysteries envisioned aligned, and a return to the start of this slow-dancing trip sums the thematic array of events which warrant some closer inspection with lyric sheet in hand, and perhaps an interview‘s worth of explanation in mind. A trip at any rate, the five tracks of ‘Primeval Transmissions’ bookend with a climb and ascent in two parts as “Evocation” with the two previously mentioned major mountains of the full listen following the first part and preceding the last part; Structuring the running order in this fashion means “Observer” and its implication of the more physically strenuous side of yoga makes for a somewhat flat peak in the middle of the album. The bassline is yet a satisfying growler and I appreciate that this is essentially the one place where guitars factor into their jam, though I didn’t find it gelled with the rest of the tracklist for my own taste. So, you might have to love the vibe and the niche to really fall into ‘Primeval Transmission’ but I’d suggest there is some greater depth to suss once you are there witnessing its beige and green twilight glow. Reveal it for yourself or bask in the simple, untouched resonance of it… the freedom one can glean from this sort of meditation is entirely up to the student. A considerably earnest starting point with myriad potential for expansion. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Primeval Transmissions
LABEL(S):Desert Records [CD]
RELEASE DATE:February 5th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Ritualistic Doom Metal,
Psychedelic Doom Metal

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