The Finnish trio Arktau Eos have been making what they describe as “ritual ambient and archaic elemental music” since 2005; in keeping with their general occult-ness (and I mean occult in the sense of “secret,” not necessarily in the sense of having to do with black magic or Satan or what have you), their faces are never revealed and they go by mysterious names—the two main dudes, Antti Haapapuro and Antti Litmanen, prefer to be known simply as AIH and AIL, and their longtime live percussionist, only recently inducted into the group as a full member, goes by Iwowi.
Until now, they’ve been putting out material on their own Aural Hypnox label. These two releases are their first for Svart Records, a small Finnish label that’s been licensing a lot of stuff for limited-edition vinyl, as well as signing some bands, mostly in the retro psychedelic hard rock vein. Arktau Eos would stand out on any label’s roster, but their association with Svart is more surprising than were they to have hooked up with, say, Southern Lord or Crucial Blast.
Ioh-Maera is a CD-only release, offering five tracks in just over 45 minutes. It’s primarily built around drones which could be played on anything from a vintage analog synth to a laptop. On “Noxfaros,” there’s a steady tribal drumming as guitar-feedback-esque drones surge and recede; a gong or perhaps a clapperless bell rings repeatedly throughout the title track. Vocals appear on the first track, “Unbinding Kaamos,” and on “Ioh-Maera”; in the former case, they are high-pitched and shamanic, while in the latter case they’re guttural rumbles not unlike the Gyuto monks of Tibet. The last track, “Otherstone Refraction,” is completely different from everything that’s come before—it sounds like field recordings made in a cave (lots of crackle and echo), with a single almost subsonically low synth drone persisting throughout. The sound is extremely full at all times, with a lot of tape hiss but no real room ambience; it doesn’t come across like a document of a performance, but rather something which has been layered with great precision attention to detail. It also definitely gives the impression of having been created for the purpose of accompanying some sort of ritual, albeit one which the group members have chosen to leave undefined.
Arktau Eos‘ other new release, Unworeldes, seems destined to reach even fewer people than Ioh-Maera, simply because it’s an LP-only release. From the start of the first of its four tracks, “The Cypress Watcher,” it’s immediately a more primitive and stripped-down effort. Two keyboards create parallel layers of drone that weave in and out of each other, with a gentle hiss in the background like they’re in a house with the wind blowing, the rain falling all around, and the windows open just enough to feel the humidity on your skin. No percussion, no vocals, just throbbing and shimmering sound. The second piece, “Cove of the Seven-Winged,” builds on a sound reminiscent of a very closely miked, very slowly and forcefully bowed cello, with some bowed cymbals or gongs (not unlike the work of Thomas Köner) in the back. The last two pieces, “Black Leaf Gaze” and “Geometry of Emptiness,” follow similar patterns. Only in the final third of “Geometry” does any kind of rhythm emerge, something that sounds like a gently struck hand drum.
Unworeldes is a much more minimalist effort than Ioh-Maera, resolutely refusing to communicate—or even suggest—anything to the listener. Instead, it is sound that exists purely to provoke…meditation? Introspection? It’s hard to say what the men of Arktau Eos hope to inspire in those who encounter their work. It’s obviously intended to be more than just beautiful (though it is that, quite often); the masks and the symbology of the album art indicate grave seriousness of intent. But they have no dogma to impart. They are soundtracking the ceremonies of a liturgy they have not shared. So it’s up to the listener to make these records mean something—a risky proposition. Art that arrives unexplained is ripe for misinterpretation. But I guess that’s their problem, not mine. As someone utterly lacking in spiritual belief, I can listen to this purely as music. And taken on those terms, both these records are excellent. Unworeldes is more likely to earn repeat plays, as it appeals to the same part of me that loves early ’70s Klaus Schulze. Ioh-Maera, with its creepy vocals and gongs and whatnot, is more likely to stay on the shelf until Halloween rolls back around.
Here’s a video for “Sunken Luminaries,” the third and longest track on Ioh-Maera: