Book of Shadows - "The Cosmic Doctrine" (Ruralfaune 2008, rur042)
Book of Shadows - "777" (Ikuisuus 2008)
Book of Shadows - "Isadora Shadow" (Whirling Rainbow Music 2008, mymwly0107)
From Aural Innovations #40 (September 2008)
Austin, Texas based Book of Shadows have been busy busy busy… three new CDs all around the same time, and I believe more are in the queue. The core of the band are founding members Carlton Crutcher (keyboards) and Sharon Crutcher (vocals), with a rotating cast of musicians that most commonly include Aarron Bennack (guitar), Douglas Ferguson (bass, electronics), Eric Archer (guitars, electronics), Johnny McCollum (percussion), Jonathan Horne (guitar), Vanessa Russetto (viola), and various other guests.
First up is the nearly 80 minute set - The Cosmic Doctrine. It's got 9 tracks but I'll focus mostly on the lengthy ones. "Reflections of the Past" features pulsating drones and voices (that I could feel oscillating in my forehead), accompanied by guitar noodling. The voices chant, howl and explore, which along with the throbbing electronics makes for a haunting and almost physical experience. Sharon Crutcher's voice is an important part of what Book of Shadows are about, and very much a significant "instrumental" contribution (imagine Gilli Smyth with a Jarboe edge). The voices and throbbing waves continue throughout, though later in the track a high pitched, spacey, orchestral synth joins in, wraith-like, creating something that's not quite melody… but with an eerily ambient song-like feel. Nearly 18 minutes of haunting avant space ambience. The 15 minute "Days and Nights of Brahma" takes things in more intense directions, with high volume electronic waves, the howling sounds of cold uninhabited space, and wailing angst ridden vocals. There's also a machine-like, sort of space-industrial quality to the piece. The vocals get downright scary at times, and along with the atmospherics, spacey psychedelic guitar and sundry other sounds, makes for quite an intriguing combination. "Escape From Enchanted Forest" is one of the short tracks, consisting of spaced out alien electronics, exploratory guitar, and voices, which in this case nicely complement the freaky electronics. This segues smoothly into "Catch Me". This music is so haunting on the one hand, yet not dark or in any way sinister. Klaus Schulze meets experimental sound exploration in the supernatural world. "Yuga" has quietly melodic but also fuzzed guitars, along with ambient space waves and crying vocals. And of course things gets louder and busier as the piece develops. The 16 minute "Glapiola Frunder" closes the set and is one of the more playful tracks on the album, and probably the most guitar dominated. Still spacey, still sound exploratory, the guitars play melodic patterns, assertively scurrying about the fretboard, creating moody drones, ambient psychedelic guitar, and even rock out a bit.
777 is next and opens with the 28 minute "Midnight Sun". As the piece begins I feel like I'm sailing on a ship, but as I look around I'm not at sea… but in space. I hear a strange droning foghorn. Percussive sounds like steady machine clanking. The guitar starts to feel its way around to forming some melodic structure. There's a feeling of tension… not threatening… just not knowing what waits ahead. There's an avant-orchestral feel to the music. It's definitely musical, and very image inducing, but never abandons the atmosphere building and adventures-in-sound qualities. Soundscapes play a critical role, but manage to do so in ways that fit in with the musical aspects of the piece. Experimental, yet thematic and emotional. There are moments of pure spaced out electronics mixed with what sounds like the noises of a jungle or rainforest. Of course there are numerous twists and turns throughout the nearly half hour length of the piece and Book of Shadows held me entranced the whole time.
If that had been the entire album it would be well worth the price of purchase. But it's NOT… Book of Shadows fill these little round things to the max. "December 21, 2012" paints a picture of the windswept landscape of some barren, uninhabited planet, later adding a soft somber melody that seems to mourn its death. "Lily's Paw" is the first track with vocals, or any that I've been able to detect. "We Have Entered the 4th Dimension" is part meditative atmospherics and part experimental sound-art. Sharon chants lightly, at times sounding like… I don't know how to describe some of the sounds she produces with her voice. Book of Shadows are without question incorporating voice into their work unlike anyone else I've heard. In addition to guitar we've got dulcimer and viola, which of course aren't recognizable as such. "Phosphorous Sea" is another excellent spacey soundscape and sound exploration piece, in some ways like early more avant-garde Tangerine Dream. And "Hollow Earth" is another track with the dulcimer and viola, and here we get some more audible string action. The vocals are ghostly yet angelic. Very cool sound. Pure ambience plus the strings and voices make for an imaginative combination and Book of Shadows really bring these elements together in creative ways.
Finally we have Isadora Shadow, which has the same musicians scattered across the tracks as 777. After a short opening track with harsh, spaced out electronic mayhem we get into the 12 minute "Closer You See". It starts off like a combination of Acid Mother's Temple sans guitars and rhythm section, and trippy psychedelia, but then transitions to a bubbling avant-psychedelic sound-art journey, then drifting off into a dreamy netherworld between experimental free-improv and ambient psychedelia. Bubbling electronics, airy melodic guitars and angelic-folk voicings make for a genuine head trip piece. "Isodora Shadow" has an old time organ sound combined with freaked out alien electronics and some of Sharon's most heavily efx'd vocals. I'm pleased to once again report that I don't know how to describe this. Its deep space, totally tripped out, and accessibly avant-garde for the mind massage set. "Mosaic" consists of space ambience and mind-bending vocals, accompanied by avant free-improv guitar and acid-psych sounds. But overall a light but challenging spacey experimental voyage. Finally, there's the epic 33 minute closing track, "Waiting For The New World". We've got psychedelic vocals from the spirit world, spaced out Manuel Göttsching Ash Ra Tempel with an ambient edge, freeform trippy psychedelic expeditions, deep space free-improvisational and free-wheeling sound creation, avant-soundscape prog, scare-the-shit-outaya ghostly chants… absolutely wonderful and a standout among all three of these CDs.
Three albums and lots off variety across them. Book of Shadows are bringing together the space ambient, psychedelic and avant-garde free-improv worlds like noone else I've heard. I believe I've got all their albums and it's clear they've been steadily honing their craft over the past several years.
For more information you can visit the Book of Shadows web site at: http://www.myspace.com/bookofshadowsaustin
The Cosmic Doctrine is on the Ruralfaune label. You can visit their web site at: http://www.myspace.com/ruralfaunelovesyou
777 is on the Ikuisuuslabel. You can visit their web site at: http://www.ikuisuus.net
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz