CD, Ant-Zen, 2008
It has been four years since the Tzolk’in collaboration’s self-titled debut, and like its predecessor, “Haab” draws inspiration from the calendric systems of the Maya civilization that thrived in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. This second (superb) effort sees the members of Empusae and Flint Glass again combining their experimental electronic powers to forge an idiosyncratic, ritualistic vision of post-industrial divination. Closely following the theme set by “Tzolk’in” (2004), “Haab” also chooses eight periods from its own calendar with which to generate hypnotic tribal masterpieces.
Eschewing the raucous chaos so prevalent among their peers, Tzolk’in submits to its listener an obvious logic of interdependent biotic patterns constructed from underpinnings of resolute hand drums and restless mythological spasms. Melancholy opener “Muwan” (owl) sets the tone, weaving a viscous and tactile ambience that proclaims the mysteries of a complex nation effaced by time and turmoil. Discontent to wander the shadows, the instruments on “Haab” soon gain conviction, and in grand and unbridled fashion, burst forth in a plangent and timeless hymn. The chattering drums of “Kumk’u” (granary) and squelching acid midrange of “Uayeb” (five unlucky days – the unnamed days at the solar year’s end were an unpredictable time, when portals between the realms of mortal and dead dissolved) solidify the album’s momentum, with Tzolk’in ever mindful of the underlying organic structure and meditative atmosphere. “K’ank’in” (yellow sun) sees crooning, warbling horns scaling up and down arpeggios, joined by fey chimes, yet everything flits above a seething undercurrent of void and darkness. “Sotz” (bat) is unmatched in its nervous agenda, while “Xul” (dog), laced with aggressive drums, speaks of creeping and haunted things. Trance-inducing “K’ayab” (turtle) deals out a fantastic low end of grooves galore, conjuring the menacing tropics, and “Yaxk’in” (new sun) appropriately follows with the thumping twangs and distant howls of upbeat ritual dance.
On “Haab” nothing seems overly digitized, and it is this aspect that lends the album’s particular morphology its absolute potency. Like an epiphytic outgrowth from formalistic cues, Tzolk’in achieves musical, technical and spiritual success without sacrificing its critical artistic engagement with apocalyptic motifs. Expect music both thrumming and viscid, bathed in swathes of chimeric color and decorated with refined and subtle gestures; prepare to be immersed and transported.