Cristal – Apostate (FSS, 2012)

Cristal from Richmond, Virginia, released their third album on the Chicago-based record label Flingco Sound System.

Apostate  is built from three long-form compositions each with several distinct sections. Throughout the movements, a suffocating density is looming overhead, obscuring any trace of high frequencies.  Interestingly, the band succeeds in shaping a truly variable atmosphere underneath this heavy curtain; like the cover implies, the album unfolds like a journey through a Romanic temple of dark ambient.

Purely instrumental (except for a stray field recording), each section leaves its mark as a barely-lit fresco.  Sonically, every space here is burdened by heavy, low-hanging arches, though Cristal’s sanctuary does not merely imitate a physical one. Make your way through an aisles, alcoves, and an inner sanctum describing all sorts of spiritual elements, from islamic prayer recordings over buddhist singing bowls to inquisitional paranoia. But the album’s allure does not come from physical power only. It’s a truly imaginative work exploring the more uneasy aspects of religion and spirituality.

Part I. On opener Without Water, black fluids rinse and resonate in singing bowls. April, Sutta  and Dormition speed through melancholy, tension and ominous revelation,  sketching prehistoric days of famine, nature’s supremacy and the ultimate resignation to invisible forces. Thus is paved the way for Muezzin and the  frightening coda Manse, the Nighthawked.

Part II takes a step back and unveils the roots of religious ritual. Oscines starts with deep voice chanting, a call for seclusion and inner exploration. Last in the Heights, very briefly, looks back upon the most primitive rituals, hypnotic dancing rhythms. Again, Dormition marks the coming of things best left unspoken, which are subsequently given form and hailed on Bels. Notable here is the truly excellent production quality; giant bells chiming from the depths of unnatural pits, and how their ringing echoes slither into your ears, you might very well find yourself standing at the very edge, lured in.

The sanctuary is a maze, though, and the thematic progression of I and II is subtle. This changes with part III. Burn Witch, ye Sin brings you the darkest side of religious imagery: revelry in violence, the lust for power and abuse. Betrayal: a latent violence felt throughout the album suddenly erupts, the violent streak of the religious turning against itself. The sanctuary is razed to the ground. All that’s left afterwards is April, a melancholic echo of sin washed clean by spring rain. Beautiful and desolate, April carries a hint of regret.

Highlights: Dormition, Nighthawked, Oscines, April. Sweet Jesus, the whole thing.

Earlier on FSS: Re-Ups (2011) and Homegoing (2012)

Available here.

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