Graded on a Curve: Neptunian Maximalism, Éons

What the hell is happening in Belgium? Have they gone stark raving mad? Did someone slip some kind of drug into the waffles? We should be demanding answers, because a cosmic caterwaul has been emanating from the good city of Brussels, and the people who know about such things are giving us two options. The first is to flee the planet. The second is to greet Neptunian Maximalism and give a listen to their 2020 LP Éons to determine if they come in peace.

Éons is a sprawling, two and a half hour exercise in genre-blending, and proof that free jazz saxophone, drone music, massive walls of percussive noise metal, psychedelic guitar jams, and Sun Ra space explorations can indeed co-exist on the same astral plane. Éons is what you might get if you shoved the Arkestra, Albert Ayler, Swans, Sunn O))), the electric guitar whiz kid of your choice, Laibach, and Rammstein into a recording studio and let them have at it. The results, you’d think, would be mayhem and chaos. But Éon is a monumental and coherent work of avant garde music, and essential listening for anyone interested in any of the above named genres.

You don’t build an Éons with a sledgehammer and railroad spike the way, say, Sunn O))) and Swans do. The complexities of Éons demanded that Neptunian Maximalism use a broader instrumental palette. These include saxophones, trumpet, flute, vocals, synthesizer, and bow harp. Even a sitar shows up, presumably having escaped an ashram somewhere. And Neptunian Maximalism do it with just four members.

Éons is a three-disc, three-part affair, which to people like me who can only count in chocolate is one less than a Kit Kat Bar. The three sections (“To the Ease,” “To the Moon,” and “To the Sun”) constitute generally discrete moods, but there’s plenty of seepage–while the songs on “To the Sun,” to cite just one example, lean towards the spacy and meditative, they get plenty loud in parts.

The thing that makes Éons so extraordinary is not its sheer ambition; it’s the quality of the players. The band has a flexible membership but on Éons the band is a four-piece. Jean-Jacques Duerinckx, who plays baritone and sopranino through amplification, is not the run-of-the-mill horn player you’d expect on what is in effect a very odd fusion LP. The moans, blurts, squalls, and sheets of noise he produces with his sax bring to mind top-notch free jazz players, while his more melodic playing brings mid-career John Coltrane to mind (see esp.“Ladanamada”).

Band leader Guillaume Cazalet contributes on a wide variety of instruments; that’s his electric bass that produces dinosaur-sized throbbing pulse that keeps “Nganga” alive. Oh, and that’s his flute that lends the song its Middle Eastern flavoring. And let’s not forget his baritone guitar that gives songs like “Vajrabhairava–The Rising” their chewable LSD flavor.

But it’s drummer/percussionists Sebastien Schmit and Pierre Arese who provide Éons with its mammoth sound and many of its subtle touches. I hear Elvin Jones in the opening of“Lamasthu,” which reminds me of the pile driver throughout the time I spent at a hardware foundry, But they’ve also mastered the lighter touches, such as the ones that make songs like “Heka Hou Sia.”

My only caveat with the LP–and it’s not a small one–are the vocals, which go from the heavy duty (think Soviet Union Men’s Choir by way of Laibach) to the ho-hum satanic. The former are somewhat less noxious than the latter, which bring to mind the Dark One outraged by the loss of his beloved autographed Boog Powell baseball (the Devil’s a Baltimore Orioles fan) down a sewer grate. That said, the satanic slop isn’t completely useless–plant your speakers out your window with this baby playing and presto, those pesky kids looking for free Halloween candy are gone.

Like all free jazz, Éons works in accordance with an internal logic that leaves plenty of room for improvisation, and it’s the mastery of improvisation that makes Éons so extraordinary for a band whose members are familiar only to a privileged few. How best to sum up the LP? Any band can make your average car crash din. Éons is the sound of a chunk of space junk crushing your new SUV.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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