French trio Aluk Todolo create magickal dreams with double record ‘Occult Rock’

Falling into a trance of getting spaced out is something you can do without the aid of drugs or alcohol. And I don’t mean you’re tired and fall into daydreams because of your exhaustion. No, I’m talking about falling into a state of zoned-out comfort where you can relax, think, explore, whatever.

Sure, a lot of people take  yoga or do meditation to achieve this state, and that’s all good. But what if you aren’t interested in those activities but still would like a way to reach beyond and achieve a spiritual or intellectual branching out that stimulates your mind and body? Might I suggest a run in with Aluk Todolo, the French power trio that can help you slip away just by visiting their new, third album “Occult Rock”? It’s an expansive double album that’s infectious and mesmerizing, never losing an ounce of steam over its 85-minute running time.

The three guys who make up Aluk Todolo – Antoine Hadjioannou, Matthieu Canaguier, Shantidas Riedacker — are members of underground black metal bands Diamatregon and Vediog Svaor, but they don’t entirely pour all of that influence into what’s on this record. It’s there for sure, especially the opening track, where it sounds like a boiling cauldron of hell and chaos, but they do so much more than that. You have a heaping dose of doom, the Krautrock and space rock thing, some psychedelics, and just plain bubbling rock. They have an excellent grasp of how to make all of these things work together, and their compositions are expertly constructed and played. That’s a major reason why these eight long songs, all that range around the 10-minute mark, are so effective and never feel long or overstretched.

Another thing these songs do so well is, as mentioned, set up that state of trance. It’s recommended you listen to these songs front to back and devote the time necessary to do so. It’s appointment listening, where you set up camp somewhere comfortable, put on a quality set of headphones, and let these songs establish themselves in your mind and soul. The music swirls and infects, enraptures you, and takes you on an adventure. The songs draw you in with the surging melodies and sense of invention, and they keep you going by layering in repetition, stunning sections of molten doom and drone, and dreamscapes that go along with the mangling and thrashing that do the physical damage.

The songs are called “Occult Rock” 1-8 so you can keep them apart. While there are no words, there still are themes at play that deal with alchemy and primordial vibrations being turned into matter, and the sonic manifestation of all the forces of the universe into an octagonal prism that is this album. OK, that’s pretty abstract as a thought and gives you a lot of weird things to think about, but if you keep those cosmic, magickal thoughts in mind while absorbing this record, it’ll all make sense eventually.

The first half begins after sticks crack together with a fluid, black assault that also would sound fine with wild growls and shrieks over top. Then again, the music is interesting and expressive enough on its own that it doesn’t need them. The music bores a tunnel through the middle of you, and it soars nicely into the second track, that opens a bit like an early Rush song and has some great bass work attached. The climax builds early on, or so it seems, but they manage to take the song even higher with added aggression and some strong lead guitar work. The third track begins in a drone fog, with doom-like feedback, eerie rumbling, and a prog melody. The Kraut influence really sinks in heavily here, and madness erupts to its conclusion. The fourth cut, the last of the first set, is hypnotic and also has a prog feel, and eventually it settles back to a spacey, watery landscape.

The second half opens ominously, with a great doom melody, thick bass work, guitars simmering, and an edgy classic rock-style melody. Psychedelic guitars burst and swirl, and the song’s pace eventually grinds into a fog. The sixth cut has a pushy, guttural opening, but then it heads into an off-kilter pattern, some crazy drumming, and a completely trance-inducing cloud. It’s, by far, the weirdest song on the record, and that’s a really good thing. It’s the pace changer. Song seven keeps with that new personality and bizarre path  with a surfy opening that sticks around for a while and shows the band willing to be a bit more playful. The bass just goes off, rumbling and churning throughout, as the rest of the song settles into the mist. The final and eighth song brings back the tumult, with whirring keys, a sinister, downright mean guitar line, a crush of feedback, and a finish that’s like the band waking you from your dreams by beating you into the ground. It’s a rude awakening, but a needed one.

Aluk Todolo’s “Occult Rock” is wonderfully thought provoking, always enthralling, and trance inducing, so they achieve exactly what they set out to create. You can read, work, relax, or run to this music, and it really would fit the scene just fine. But again, set yourself a nice 90-minute window to appreciate this record, because you owe it to the band and yourself. It might help you sort the scattered thoughts and feelings in your mind and reach beyond your own reality.

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