Photo: Maaike Ronhaar
Belgian collective Neptunian Maximalism proves that you don’t have to be metal to be heavy, as their blend of free jazz, drone, and relentless, lumbering beats creates an atmosphere like no other. Their latest, Finis Gloriae Mundi, a live recording out this week on Utech Records, captures the nearly religious experience they conjure on stage.
Everything Neptunian Maximalism does is in service of their psychedelic vision. The brief opener “Sustain” is a more atavistic take on Gyorgy Ligeti‘s “Requiem,” best known for its use in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Here the voices are less controlled and are accompanied by low grunts, occasional saxophone, and other harder-to-place sounds.
From here, we are treated to a beat-driven psychedelic drone journey. “ZÂR: Empowering the Phurba: Èon Phanèrozoïque” employs dub methodologies but with the reggae references stripped away. The layered percussion brings to mind the short-lived and underrated Illbient scene where groups like SubDub, Techno Animal, and We® created alien landscapes by combining hip-hop, industrial, and world music influences. Various horns solo over the top of the track while disembodied voices haunt the different layers of music. This is followed by “Vajrabhairava,” a composition that sprawls across three tracks: “The Summoning (Nasatanada Zara’s!),” “The Rising,” and “The Great Wars of Quaternary Era Against Ego.” The piece is reminiscent of the side-long prog rock epics of the Seventies, if not in sound then at least in scope. The first segment lays throat singing over a hypnotic beat and sounds like it could be a lost track from the Apocalypse Now soundtrack.
“The Rising” is just a short piece of psychedelic guitar work, a moody solo over strange drones. The guitar is still soloing when “The Great Wars of Quaternary Era Against Ego” kicks in, but it is much quieter than the aggressive drumming. Befitting this section’s title, the drums are more martial in character, but the accompanying soundscape is no less freaked than what has come before.
The performance continues in a fever dream haze. “Oi Sonuf Vaoresaji! La Sixieme Extinction de Masse: Le Génocide Anthropocene” mines an apocalyptic lounge jazz-vibe, simultaneously smooth and skronky. This then transitions to the free jazz-meets-post-rock of “Neptune’s Rising.”
The two-part epic “The Conference of the Stars” feels like the true culmination of the performance. Neptunian Maximalism often is considered metal-adjacent due to their previous releases being on the incredible I, Voidhanger label, and nowhere is this more explicit than here. In the first half of the piece, a saxophone solos on top of an Earth-style doom riff. It is both heavy and otherworldly. The second half of the piece is pure Krautrock psychedelia. A driving motorik beat provides the fuel for the band to ascend to incredible heights, saxophone and guitar reaching for new levels of abstract bliss. One can only imagine the altered states reached by the audience who witnessed this in person.
The album closes with the meditative “Neptunian’d Raga Marwa,” more of a slow comedown from the hallucinogenic, rarefied heights than a complete piece on its own. It’s as if an audience member would need this descent at the end of the show in order to interact with the outside world.
Finis Gloriae Mundi is a fantastic album, idiosyncratic and immersive. Despite its hour-long runtime, one should be encouraged to listen to it at least once with headphones, uninterrupted and completely focused. Even this concentrated listening might fall short compared to experiencing Neptunian Maximalism live, but one won’t regret the effort.