Various Artists – Phra Rahu (gterma)

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Body in Sweden and soul soaring over the Himalayas, the gterma label is a lotus of ambient electronica, blossoming regularly ever since 2011, each album released in a format that does the otherwise tired old jewel case format proud – there´s always a booklet swollen with the breathtaking (mostly landscape) photography of its “tertön“, mr_rehn. As individual as the particular peaky-ness of every mountain peak, each is its own gateway into the mandala of a personal but shareable universe.

Phra Rahu is a sprawling, double disc overview of the label´s feel. There are some stunning exceptions to the usual expectations, perhaps in light (or rather, “in shadow”?) of its dedication to a dark deity and the legendary tale woven about its most devious act. The twelve pieces are almost all previously unreleased, except a trio from other labels; another three were specially created for this anthology.

Rahu is a demigod from Hindu mythology, whose might is such that he once devoured the sun. Each disc is a chapter dedicated to his story, the first entitled “Eclipse Event,” opening the volume with the suitably mood-setting gothic sweep and distant banshee howls of “Premonitions”, the first of two contributions by Last Industrial Estate bookending “The Black Hand Reaches Out” by Parikrama & The Newschubert, in which light bristles and flares against the darkness. That “hand” is otherwise the only human touch to this opus; Phra Rahu is a cosmic event, witnessed only by the windowless monads drifting in space. Space is said to abhor a vacuum, yet especially as we drift toward the close of the first chapter, this music creates an absolutely luscious one.

Due to the monolithic time signature (a full eighty minutes per disc) it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish where one artist leaves off and the next is ushered in, so one can only take an educated guess when “The Devouring of the Sun” by LiST has drawn to a close and “Tormented Lands” by Seetyca & Etheocles Stevens commences. The rise of a dharma trumpet would seem to signal the beginning of “The Intervention of Lord Vishnu Part I & II” and ceremonial drumming seems to be telegraphing its approaching end, before the breathy, twinkling ambience of Mathias Grassow, credited with the last section, “Mohini the Enchantress”, becomes distinguishable against blackened heavens. Ultimately, attribution is irrelevant and what´s more, a credit to the seamless arrangement of the compiler.

The second chapter, “Rahu Mantras” rolls out like one long, numinous but multivalent drone joining five pieces contributed in turn by A.P. (Anders Peterson, who also masters most gterma productions and appears earlier in the guise of Last Industrial Estate), eco-ambient veteran Mathias Grassow and Jiří Mazánek, Grassow solo, Earth Vibration and New Zealand´s David Parsons. Long airy and beatless, it shimmers like a mirage and pit-a-pats on tiptoe in the middle, after which it opens slowly and magnificently, like the maw of Rahu gaping, sun reemerging, pushed by tablas and solar winds.

Phra Rahu is an awesome, perfectly paced astral journey, anything but meditation music, an instar struggling toward surface and light.

gterma´s discography is an utter pantheon of thoughtfully executed, Subcontinental-inflected ambient, divulged lucidly in word and sound here. A personal favourite is the superior and mystic dub ambient of Urenga (Andras Kiss, who contributes to Phra Rahu as Indo), whose only physical releases among a shoal of digital albums have appeared with the gterma imprint. Mu (The Lost Continent) is pure Shangri-La, while After Rain is humid and kir-coloured.

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About Author

Born and raised in Toronto, Stephen Fruitman has been living in northern Sweden lo these past thirty years. Writing and lecturing about art and culture as an historian of ideas since the early nineties, his articles have appeared in an number of international publications. He is also a contributing editor at Igloo Magazine.

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