Tunnels of Āh - Thus AviciThus Avici follows on and builds upon the Tunnels of Āh debut Lost Corridors. The album title references 'the sutra of bodhisattva Ksitigarbha's fundamental vows' from which Stephen Āh Burroughs recites daily but it seems it is The Gospel of Judas, an ancient text that provides a "secret account" of the relationship between Jesus and Judas, that informs much of Thus Avici, an album that entwines to superb effect Burroughs personal cosmology of Buddhism, Christian mysticism and magick. The title and some of the lyrics of the opening track 'At The Error Of The Stars' are excerpted from The Gospel of Judas, its swirling threshing intro taken from a live Tunnels of Āh performance recorded at Glastonbury at the Beltane celebrations. Audience noise subsides into distant chanting as Burroughs solemnly intones his take on the Gospel. The backing here is a heady concoction of insect chatter, ringing singing bowls, spartan ritual beats and chants its sinister atmosphere heightened by the repeated whispered taunt of "murderer". The Judas references continue on the churning electronics of 'Akeldama'. Burroughs continually repeats the title in almost accusatory tones "Akeldama", referencing "the field of blood", as blurred electronics whir creating hallucinatory arcs of billowing pipe drone. Elsewhere Burroughs intones "Judas, Judas, Judas" over background chants strewn with harsh keening flourishes.
The influence of Buddhism that surrounds Tunnels of Āh seeps into 'Locusts Have Broken' with a recording of the striking of the Dawn Drum, signalling the end of morning meditation, at the Throssel Holl Zen Monastery, Northumberland. Yet this isn't soft meditative music, the ritual infused drums are set against ambient electronics and a swarm of locust sound clicks to create a sense of unease and disquiet as Burroughs expounds upon, I think, John the Baptist "dressed in a camel hair coat eating wild locust and honey" backed by an accompanying chorus of haunting "aaahs". Everything seems to churn on Thus Avici, and none more so than 'Saint Peter Ha-Satana' where the drones, once again, take on a pipe feel, as the treated voice of Ana Cordeiro Reis (long running improvised sound explorer and artist, both solo and in collaboration, who currently records as Hyaena Fierling) is echoed and looped, with intonations, pitched somewhere between the runic chants of Freya Aswynn's and the enunciations of Current 93's David Tibet. The whole thing inhabits a sacred space. Evocative and moving, creating an unsettling serenity, it is a great track.
On 'The Perpetual Holocaust' Tunnels of Ah move into cavernous churning, amidst passages of tolling church bells. Threshing electronics are wielded like a scythe cutting down the afflicted as "we return to dust" in the field of clay as Burroughs intones in a spoken whisper about the treacherous and the deceivers before his words are subject to turbulent loops and treatments. Dark droning and metallic bowl ring dominate on 'We Are His Burning Ones' with Burroughs' voice heavily processed delivering the chilling reprise of "peck, peck, peck" as desert hawks feast upon the dead.
Emotive and moving, Thus Avici is a powerful recording and a strong follow-up to Lost Corridors. The industrial experiments of Z'ev and Lustmord may offer a reference point to the sound but the overall thematic thrust carries shades of the anarchic spirit of early Current 93. Tunnels of Āh come fully formed though, with Burroughs spiritual explorations entwining Christian mysticism with Buddhist and esoteric thought about Judas and those forced to languish and suffer in the torturous realms of avici hell. For more information go to www.coldspring.co.uk