There are a lot of different ways you can combine jazz and metal (and avant-garde noise) to create something more powerful than any one of those elements on its own. Kevin Martin, best known these days as The Bug, led the late ’80s/early ’90s band God, whose albums pummeled and roared with help from Godflesh guitarist Justin Broadrick and various other folks, including John Zorn and Bill Laswell. Those two, of course, were 2/3 of Painkiller, along with ex-Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris; their early grindcore-skronk experiments will part your hair nicely, but the expansive soundscapes on Execution Ground are the real meat. On 2009’s Monoliths & Dimensions, Sunn O))) expanded their drone-metal soundscapes into the realm of spacy jazz, with strings, horns and even harp. Minnesota’s Combat Astronomy, while not as well known as these other acts, pack just as much of a punch.
Neptunian Maximalism is a Belgian ensemble, formed in 2018, that takes these same ideas and runs with them. They acknowledge influences that include Sunn O))), Earth, Aluk Todolo, Motorpsycho, Sun Ra and John Coltrane, and I’d add Miles Davis‘s 1970s work, Paul Schütze, some Peter Brötzmann projects, and even Magma to that list. Their music combines jazz, metal, tribal rhythms, and other sounds/concepts into a swirling, roaring whole that works best at epic length. Which is good, since their debut release, Éons, is a three-CD set running just over two hours.
The group is led by Guillaume Cazalet, who plays electric bass and baritone guitar, bow, sitar, flute, and trumpet, and performs some of the vocals. On Éons, he’s joined by saxophonist Jean-Jacques Duerinckx, who plays baritone and sopranino through amplification, and drummers/percussionists Sebastien Schmit and Pierre Arese. Since the recording of the album, a number of other musicians have joined the troupe, presumably for live performances and hopefully future recordings. Despite having only four people doing almost everything (there are some female vocals here and there), this is a tremendously loud and dense record. It means to overpower you, and it succeeds.
The three discs are individual works — “To the Earth,” “To the Moon,” and “To the Sun” — which cohere into a single massive whole. There are long passages of galloping metallic throb, with Cazalet’s bass absolutely huge in the mix, and Duerinckx’s saxophones fed through echo and reverb as Schmit and Arese jackhammer the rhythm into the floor. But there are also moments of great subtlety; “MAGICKÁ DŽUNGL’A – Carboniferous” sounds like sparse free improv, with multiple reeds and flutes emitting squawks and flutters like one might hear on an Anthony Braxton record from the 1970s, as the bass rumbles tectonically beneath.
The album’s centerpiece is actually the first track on Disc 3, “EÔS – Avènement de l’Éon Evaísthitozoïque Probocène Flamboyant.” Nearly 19 minutes long, it feels like Sunn O))) arranging a medley of the two epics from Miles Davis‘s Get Up With It (“He Loved Him Madly” and “Calypso Frelimo”), with Peter and Caspar Brötzmann guesting. The guitars shift gradually from landscape-nuking doom riffs to postpunk clang to wah-wah space funk, as the various saxes emit low saurian cries. Somewhere around two-thirds of the way through the piece, there’s a brief incantation, delivered in a Laibach-esque baritone. It’s really like nothing else you’ll ever hear, which is true of the album as a whole. Éons is a mind-roasting creative achievement, an entire world in sound, and one anybody who reads this site on a regular basis should jump at the chance to explore.