Behold the coming of the Probocene era—a post-human existence wherein Earth’s landscape is ruled by hyper-intelligent elephant life and homo sapiens have finally brought about their own, long anticipated undoing. This is the future that Belgian experimental music collective Neptunian Maximalism envisions on Éons, a primarily instrumental triple-album that beckons some grand apocalyptic event with ceremonial fanfare and an open invitation to plunge headfirst into the molten crater below. It’s entrancing, more than a little terrifying, and above all overwhelming—a collective that calls itself Neptunian Maximalism should by all accounts deliver an experience that resembles having your soul penetrated by distant cosmic rays, and Éons feels like nothing less than having your molecules scattered and absorbed into the expanse of the known universe.
Precedent for the kind of music that Neptunian Maximalism makes is hard to come by in terms of simple comparison. With one foot in the realm of metal and drone, another in the joyous and chaotic freedom of avant-garde jazz, and another alien tentacle stretching into some other unknown space, the group’s sound is less a fixed hybrid than a continuous swirl. Metal artists often incorporated elements of jazz throughout the past 40 years, whether in the form of Cynic’s aventurous progressive-death, Shining’s intricate technicality or some of the more beautiful moments in Sunn O)))’s catalog, like Monoliths & Dimensions closer and Alice Coltrane tribute “Alice”. Éons is less a descendant of those artists’ unique approaches and more accurately a dramatic reinterpretation of a similar concept. This isn’t jazz-metal, even less so doomjazz, but rather a uniquely mystical, volcanic drone noir.
The short bursts of saxophone on disc one opener “Daiitoku-Myōō no ŌDAIKO” open the marathon ceremonies with immediacy and intensity, its pulsing baritone offering a stark stillness at the center of the fiery vortex that swirls around it. It’s a representation in miniature of the expansive and unpredictable sounds that unfold over the album’s two-hour, 18-track run. There are moments of impenetrability, moments of relative serenity and accessibility, though not one of these 128 minutes is tedious or even uninteresting. “NGANGA – Grand Guérisseur Magique de l’ère Probocène” embraces groove and rhythm against a series of chilling sweat-lodge chants. The horns of “PTAH SOKAR OSIRIS – Rituel de l’Ouverture de la Bouche dans l’Éon Archéen” provide a bright counterpoint to the track’s minimalist doom-metal roar, whereas on “ENŪMA ELIŠ – La Mondialisation ou la Création du Monde: Éon Protérozoïque,” Neptunian Maximalist reconfigure their cult sacrifice into a hypnotic funk raga. At their simplest, they sound like heralds of the Earth being split in two; at their most powerful, they sound like they could very well be the cause of that fissure.
The world imagined on Éons is a vision dark enough to have been imagined by essentially any metal band that engages in bleak enough fantasy. But the torture-porn violence of death metal’s most cartoonish this is not. Neptunian Maximalism’s apocalypse is a spiritual and moving one, it’s beautiful and strange. It’s hard to imagine listening to music like this in a laid-back casual setting—its demands of the musicians involved are great, and it asks a hearty investment from the listener as well. As its demonic low-end evokes skies of billowing smoke and its saxophones and trumpets the majestic sounds of the pachyderms who shall inherit the terrain, Éons opens up a world unto itself. As group leader Guillaume Cazalet says of the opening “To the Earth” suite: “It’s a balance between sacred and profane, and resumes lots of human feelings or their consequences, such as love, war, hate, ritual dance, transmutation, strength, etc.” Step inside and experience the totality.
Label: I, Voidhanger
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.