Demdike Stare Demdike StareElemental
Terror continues to be the fuel that fires the sound of Demdike Stare, but as the year go by (moreover, as the projects go by), it has become less earthly and more cosmic, vast and impossible to escape from, because it's not fixed at one point. It extends like an infinite mist. It's an intangible and ubiquitous fear, that “sacred horror” Julio Cortázar described in his prologue for his translation to Spanish of Edgar A. Poe's “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” - when the main character, in that polar landscape inhabited by beasts unknown to man, decides to embark on a descent by boat to the heart of the mystery and the novel is suddenly interrupted. It’s a terror that could also be described as the constant and unbearable presence of evil, in an infinite dimension, like in the universe of Lovecraft. Especially on “Symbiosis” (Modern Love, 2009), the first record on which Miles Whittaker (in his episode of transition from post-Pendle Coven techno to the edge of the abyss) and über-collector Sean Canty worked together as Demdike Stare, the intentions were clearer than the actual result. The intention was to develop their particular vision of that thing called hauntology, from a very English viewpoint (the viewpoint of fans of horror films like “The Wicker Man” and “Don’t Look Now”, styling a pagan and pop idea of sixties pulp culture, influenced by their compulsive buying of old library music vinyls), all under a sinister name, evocative of an obscure past. Demdike, a.k.a. the witch Elizabeth Southern, was the leader of the Pendle Witches, sentenced to death in what could be seen as the British equivalent of the American Salem witch trials.
But “Elemental” is something else. “Elemental” isn't a representation of evil, the occult or the mysterious, it's evil itself - unleashed, infiltrated in the atmosphere as a spiritual presence. It's the same difference as between a witchcraft manual by Grillot de Givry and an ancestral rite with a cauldron and fly elytra, or between the concept of The Great Work (the alchemist search of the quintessence) and the feeble attempts of alchemists to achieve it in its material form. It should also be said that this is music that should be taken symbolically: don't think that by playing this double CD you create the conditions for the opening of the Ninth Gate and the entrance of the Evil One, not even if played backwards like an old Judas Priest vinyl. But the feeling of lack of oxygen, the tense fear, is palpable throughout the terrifying two hours. Technically, i.e., composition and production-wise, “Elemental” isn't more complex or developed than the “ Tryptich” (Modern Love, 2011) trilogy. It's equally ambitious, extensive and profound in its search for the roots of physical and psychological terror. However, it is darker in its forms, with fewer style changes, and denser in its evolution. “Tryptich” was a dark cave branching out, becoming a labyrinth in which you could get desperately lost; “Elemental”, on the other hand, is that same cave, but without the branches, a linear cove that gets increasingly narrow, deeper, a death trap. After entering the album, every manoeuvre is a storm, another irreversible step towards a terrifying darkness. You can, of course, stop the music. After all, it's a CD, an illusion, not a torture. But if you do that, you don't get the full experience. You have to concentrate on the maelstrom towards the unknown, let yourself go with it and pray for an unharmed exit.
Demdike Stare conceived “Elemental” as an extensive project, but ended up locked in a great work that offers the grand and noble conclusion such an effort deserved. First, the two vinyls of the series, “Chrysanthe” and “Violetta” – which appeared late 2011, in luxury packaging that annoyed part of their fan base, forced to pay over 40 quid for it. The cycle was completed in January with the third and fourth parts, “Rose” and “Iris”. The artwork by Andy Votel shows symbols like the pen (lightness and order), the crow (indicator of bad omens) and ink (on the “Iris” vinyl), as well as the white rose (symbol of death), the bee (stands for the volatility of the soul in baroque symbolism) and the black veil, and on the album sleeve there are scissors and runic symbols. The artwork not only offer clues as to the maturity of Demdike Stare as a project with the occult as a starting point, but also about the sound - which should be interpreted symbolically, not literally. Each 12” is part of the work, and the CD compilation version isn't the complete piece; you need to have them all in order to capture the musical density Whittaker and Canty have created. Specifically, some of the tracks on the vinyls ( “Kommunion”, “Unction”, “In The Wake Of Chronos”, “Falling Off The Edge”) appear in modified versions, like lines from a poem that was corrected, and on the CD there are tracks that aren't on the vinyls - such as “New Use For Old Circuits”, “All This Is Ours (Sunrise)” and “Shade”. They add completion and significance to material that had previously been delivered fragmented. It’s as if someone creating a puzzle from a fractured map or a manuscript seems to want to leave it partially unsolved - unless it’s by the right person, someone with great knowledge of the mysteries.
If Demdike Stare want their music to sound hermetic, hard to understand and with increasingly complex twists and turns, then “Elemental” is a success. It represents a conceptual high point, which will be hard to overcome by the duo; sonically, it's as good as “Tryptich”. What comes next is a mystery, but, given their obsession with the hermetic (not as a pass-time, but as a developing idea), it seems their only option is to literally follow the great alchemist phrase: “Obscurum per obscurius, ignotum per ignotius” [“the obscure by means of the more obscure, the unknown by the more unknown”]. We can only wait and see how deep the abyss really is.