Few artists, save for maybe Ryan Adams, have had as busy a decade as Ben Chasny. In addition to being a full-time member of Comets on Fire, he’s since joined Current 93’s revolving door lineup and released a record under the name August Born, a collaboration with Fushitsusha’s Hiroyuki Usui. And that doesn’t even touch upon his solo work as Six Organs of Admittance. Since 2000, Chasny recorded and released seven proper albums, thus making the back catalogue a daunting search for an entry point for first time listeners. Each album contains similar variations on a theme—John Fahey influenced guitar work, Eastern spirituality, subdued and Zen-like vocals—each one to varyingly interesting results, last year’s School of the Flower being a particularly noteworthy release. Its follow-up, The Sun Awakens, finds Chasny making an even bolder step, creating a new sonic density where simplicity had previously been.
Chasny’s playing on The Sun Awakens is similarly influenced by Fahey, at times almost resembling a raga, as on the simple, instrumental “Torn by Wolves.” The pair of vocal tracks, “Bless Your Blood” and “Black Wall,” are standouts, being the most fully-developed songs on the album, aside from the 20-plus-minute second half of the record which consists of one track. “Blood” similarly builds on a raga-like series of riffs, gently and spaciously traversing across an open landscape, Chasny’s effects laden vocals introducing a newly dense layer into the serene melody. “Black Wall” is a faster and more furious psychedelic rock song, droning electric guitar juxtaposed against acoustic, and Chasny’s vocal work sounding its most dynamic and prominent. “The Desert is a Circle,” though featuring wordless vocals, is a mostly instrumental highlight, with an almost Morricone-like sound.
Throwing the album slightly out of balance, but creating an ominous and majestic impact like the sun rising behind the mountain on the album’s cover is track seven, “River of Transfiguration.” Tone generators, organ, waves of ambient drone and gongs set the stage for what becomes a sprawling, 23 minute journey down the river, flowing from unsettlingly calm to gushing and spilling over. Atonality is abandoned around minute eight, as drums, guitar and voice begin to make their presence known in a psychedelic mish-mash of chants and Eastern riffs. It’s a portentous and giant sound, and concludes the album in an unconventional manner, itself being an entire half, which is a counter-balanced separate to side one.
Though one song making for half the album would be considered difficult for some, it’s standard practice for Chasny, who frequently adds at least one lengthy passenger in each vessel. Here, the sequencing seems just right, each song traveling in a cyclical pattern, finding Zen within simple repetitions and slight variations. Though volume shifts and keys change, every shift fits well within the scheme of the album, and even in its most chaotic moments, finds a harmonic center.
Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice – The Flood
Liars – Drum’s Not Dead
Sunburned Hand of the Man – The Trickle Down Theory of Lord Knows What
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.