CD, Klanggalerie, 2009
Formed by John Zewizz early in the 1980s, Sleep Chamber like many other underground bands of the time featured an ever-changing cast of members. They also have a long list of single and album releases on many labels to their name over the years covering such genres as experimental, ritual ambient, EBM through to rock in the 1990s. Zewizz, of Massachusetts in the USA, stopped recording as Sleep Chamber in 2000 but has now returned with a new album under the slightly altered name of Sleepchamber.
As with all Klangalerie releases, “Sorcery, Spells and Serpent Charms” is limited to just 500 copies. Initially covering the dark ambient side of their music with odd processed and slowed down spoken vocals that sound drug-induced and unintelligible, the feeling is demonic and disorientating. Things change however with “Thundernail” which maintains an element of swirling psychedelic tendencies and weird possessed voices but this time lightens the mood somewhat with a simple looped beat. Continuing the theme of looped electronics but adding an Indian or Eastern influence is the appropriately titled “Cobra Charm”, a track with a certain hypnotic quality brought through the use of Eastern chanting, flutes and simple looped rhythms. “Beyond the Exterior” is again quite simple in structure but instead has a rock feel with repetitive drumming matched with a discrete dark ambient backdrop and whispered vocals that would benefit from a toning down of the rhythms to reveal the tense eerie ambience lurking beneath. Confusing things further is “23 Steps”, a track which is basically a slightly off tune piano loop with very quiet whispered vocals deep in the mix.
What becomes evident as “Sorcery, Spells and Serpent Charms” progresses is that Zewizz prefers simple looped motifs. That would be fine but more often than not they become monotonous quite quickly and distract from the other elements of his music that they effectively obscure. There may be some deep explanation or statement in the use of this technique but it is not clear what that might be. Where these repetitive loops are dispensed with “Sorcery, Spells and Serpent Charms” takes on added depth and curiosity. “Raven’s Eye” and “Datura Dream” for example focus more on the underlying dark ambient textures, the latter being particularly evocative of dark ritualistic practices. Where the music is left to find its own way, to focus on the disorientating swirl of layered sounds that radiate and evolve out of each other, Zewizz’s weird but intriguing music style comes into its own. Where he insists on making simple overly repetitive loops the sole focus of a track distracts from what can be entirely more interesting qualities beneath. Remove the loops and his music is as dark, ritualistic and unnerving as it comes.
— Paul Lloyd