Review of "There I Saw The Grey Wolf Gaping" from Heathen Harvest

Our age of modernization presents a very complicated environment for the atavistically inclined. Often, we will see primal and heathen-minded folk, recorded all acoustically, and sung in a dead language, but they will update you every day via Facebook and Twitter. It is unavoidable, so why bother trying to? We are thoroughly entrenched in a technologically saturated time, and if we want to consume any media, be it music or otherwise, we have to engage with the machine. Despair not, for this particular landscape presents all manner of opportunities to explore the tension within this grim reality. It is for this exact reason that post-industrial music is proliferating at a rapid rate; the term itself is more strongly apt than ever. After thoroughly wallowing in the mire of visceral industrial murk, mastermind Michael Page explores what comes beyond the nihilism of the modernized age with his current incarnation. Just as the ritual after which the project is named, Sky Burial sheds the skin and trappings of the expected, and There I Saw the Grey Wolf Gaping presents a formless meditation blending together all manner of ethereal ambience and unique atmospheres. The aforementioned tension exists between delineated electronics that dance and sway amongst a backdrop of spiritual intent and moving, tangible instrumentation. There is a fearlessness within this study of opposing forces, specifically found through a multitude of unexpected elements not usually associated with this variety of ambient music or particular subject matter. With a collective of familiar personalities lending their auras and talents, Page manages to create an ambitious array of sound that blurs any imposed boundaries of expectation, and says more with aural dynamics, juxtaposition, and subtlety than words ever could. 

From the onset, long soothing passages lull the listener into a state of thoughtlessness. The opening “Incantare” greets with the recognizable wails of the one and only Jarboe over a slow crescendo. Held in this trance we are confronted with abrupt rhythms, percussion, and strange effects. The initially off-putting, but strangely enjoyable, “Carne[val]” illustrates the more severe moments of experiment and defiant freedom. With what sounds like a demented player piano programmed by an extra-human intelligence, the tension of opposites is glaringly clear. Even the recognizable is presented in a new light, forcing one to reconsider their preconceived thought-forms numerous times over. The intermingling of randomized sound, drone, and thought-out instrumentation expands the power of the material and actually allows for the more experimental weirdness to pervade without too much head scratching. Amongst these moments are found truly beautiful female voices and piano arrangements that tastefully never dominate. Never does one thing take primacy for too long; a constant evolution is underway. Even here and there does Page’s noise and power electronics background trickle in and provide a much-needed foil to the airy all-enveloping wall. Every song has some kind of counterpoint that adds a layer of enrichment, and at the same time preserves a level of mystery and anticipation: be in tribal rhythms and strange human voices; snarling wolves, bagpipes, and harsh noise; or clattering bones, metal, and melodic guitar. 

How fitting it is to include the image of the colour grey in the title, as the album as a whole exists in a grey-zone on numerous levels. The overall impression is rarely that of pure darkness or pure light at any given moment. Sky Burial’s music shifts back and forth between abrasive and beautiful, methodical and obscure, and There I Saw… finds itself at the median of extremes. At what point does dark become light and white become black? Ultimately, there is no polarity — simply just one continuum. Just as earlier elusions implied, Sky Burial is not just a musical blend of opposites but also presents a meeting of atavistic subject matter with clearly electronic music – another example of our modern conundrum. Primal spirituality and nature veneration somehow atypically find a place amongst the walls of sound. How strikingly beyond expectation. Often, something that is markedly not-one-thing-or-the-other falls short of everything, but in this case inhabiting this space further enforces the post-industrial tension and adds another dimension to the subliminal strength of the record. 

Admittedly, There I Saw the Grey Wolf Gaping took many listens to fully disseminate and appreciate. It is a challenging record and certainly occupies an interesting space. It may be lost on many looking for a quick fix, but the more astute and patient among us will find value in the unique nature. There is reward in any courage, and Page has taken the risk. Despite the glaring dissimilarity of it all, we must observe it from a distinct perspective. In order to transmit knowledge effectively it must come via the medium of the age, and in our post-everything world, perhaps the experimental and the obscure is the most applicable voice. Sky Burial’s unique world of beauty, strangeness, and jarring anachronism might just be that much ahead of its time. 

An Addendum:  Uniquely packaged, the physical album arrived in a homemade case with the CD wrapped in a fold out poster. The extra mile reveals a heightened awareness and care that so many labels have virtually given up on. With ambient music the CD is still rather important and it is nice to see the extra care taken. It does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. May this trend continue and may music once again become pieces of art to behold beyond a sea of mp3s! 

Track List: 

01) Incantare 
02) Shedding the Husk 
03) Carne[val] 
04) Silence Moves 
05) Beyond the Veldt 
06) Fools Circel 9wys 
07) Bone to Beak (The Vultures Speak) 
08) There I Saw the Grey Wolf Gaping 
09) Equine Nox 

Rating: 3.75/5 
Written by: S. Hache 
Label: Small Doses (US) / Dose115 / Digi-CD 
Ethereal Ambient / Experimental / Drone