After a four-year absence since their debut, the Portuguese group HHY and the Macumbas returns on September 28 with their sophomore record Beheaded Totem courtesy of House of Mythology records. (Pre-order it from the label.) A mysterious group with a shifting lineup, the ensemble is masterminded by Jonathan Uliel Saldanha and on this record he conducts a group comprised of Joâo Pais, Filipe Silva, Frankâo and Brendan Hemsworth on percussion and Àlvaro Almeida, Andrè Rocha and Rui Fernandes on horns.
Much like its predecessor, 2014’s Throat Permission Cut, Beheaded Totem is driven by an obsession with the disparate sounds of trance-inducing dub and ecstatic trance. Each track is built up from layers of percussion which slide in and out of the mix, with the horns alternating between thematic statements and more drone-like qualities. HHY and the Macumbas often work with circular rhythms, beats that will make one’s head nod but are not so easy to count along with.
Album opener “Wilderness of Glass” is an excellent illustration of this. The opening brass motif hints at the mystical dub reggae of African Head Charge, but quickly descends into a nearly ten-minute bout of percussive ecstasy. The horns move from the front to the back of the mix, the drums shift and various sounds roll around the sonic field. Despite the static trance-like nature of the music, everything remains amorphous.
The album tends to focus on these sort of long-form drum workouts, with tracks like “Danbala Propaganda,” “Deep Sleep Routine,” and the opener given prominence. They hint at some sort of paradoxical acoustic techno, an orgy of drums recorded deep beneath the streets of a nighttime metropolis. The sound is both pummeling and intoxicating.
These longer pieces are broken up by shorter, more ambient tracks. “A Scar in the Skull” sounds like a treated horn doing its best to interpret a John Carpenter soundtrack. Towards the end of the album, its spiritual sibling “A Scar in the Bone” appears. Here the sound hints more toward the ecstatic reckoning of Hermann Nitsch’s Orgies Mysterien Theater, performances of music and ritual which at times have included the use of blood and animal carcasses.
The album closes with “Swisid Mekazine Rejiman.” This track starts by picking up the ambiance of “A Scar in the Bone” but shifts quickly to clattering percussion. While the hand drums set a frantic pace, other drums and metallic percussion hammer out a slower, more dub-like underpinning. While this track is a bit shorter than the other drumming pieces, it’s everything-at-once approach makes up for the brevity with density.
HHY and the Macumbas are genre-less outliers, but this is surely their strength. Perhaps the closest analogue to their sound is the legendary cult drum troupe Crash Worship but HHY and the Macumbas possess their own unique identity. It is no surprise that the album appears on the mighty House of Mythology label, home to many unique and trailblazing acts; Beheaded Totem is a great fit in such exalted company. Despite its relative surface simplicity, there is much to unpack, so many reasons to keep coming back. It is both a meditation and a psychedelic freakout—and an unforgettable experience either way.
Watch a preview for the album: