Ben Chasny's membership in certain bands such as Comets On Fire, and now his touring and recording efforts with Current 93 (his contributions to the latter's Black Ships Ate the Sky made it stand head and shoulders over any studio recording they've released) have certainly influenced his main project, Six Organs of Admittance. Chasny's singing on previous efforts has been a mixed bag. He's buried them in the mix, he's put them out front, he's showcased them in free flowing improvisatory pieces and in tightly written songs.
The Sun Awakens is the record he's been promising. Where School of the Flower was a leap, placing his singing and guitar playing in equal measure -- though there were numerous instrumental pieces -- The Sun Awakens is the place they burst forth, fully entwined, completely formed. If anything, Chasny's vocals on this set are the most moving and sophisticated of his career. His singing has become so emotive within a fairly limited range as to nearly outshine his guitar playing, though not quite. The album opens with Chasny's electric guitar playing a short, open-chord interlude before ushering in one of the set's stunners: "Bless Your Blood." Accompanied by Noel Jon Harmonson on drums, John Connell on Persian ney, and Tim Green on a tone generator, Chasny's droning acoustic leads the way for nearly two minutes; but it's his voice and his words which become the central force. They are double tracked like the late Elliott Smith's used to be, though they sounds like something out of Aether, from time and space immemorial. They exhort, calmly, like another instrument, almost chant-like, and accompany the droning floating instruments perfectly. As other high-pitched backing vocals hover about the backdrop, the listener understands that this is a new type of folk song, one rooted in psychedelia, but it's most certainly not freak or acid-folk. The music swells to a nearly feverish electro-acoustic pitch without the tension ever being abated. It's followed in kind by "Black Wall," which picks that tension right up. Played in open E tuning, with rhythmic single lead lines against the drones, electric guitar gets overlaid as Chasny's sweetly dispersed vocals add to the drone effect, with an organ being woven in to bring density to the mix. "The Desert Is a Circle," is acoustic guitar and percussion with wordless vocals shimmering over a tune that is vaguely reminiscent of Hugo Montenegro's theme for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Two brief instrumentals follow before the record's crowning achievement in "River of Transfiguration." It's a sprawling 23-minute cut, one that begins with tone generators, organ, and sound effects washing across the stereo mix. The sound of a ney is hiding in the background somewhere like it came from some forgotten Jon Hassell release. This series of effects gently creeps and crawls, ever more creepy until the actual tune starts at eight-and-a-half minutes. When the band does kick in -- with drums, basses, electric guitars, and a virtual chorus of wordless vocals in chanted layers, the drone effect becomes a central premise, one that's been hinted at for the entire album. Drone is not an M.O., it's the sound of life itself here. Its pulse is constant, like breath, and represents the interconnectedness not only of the instruments and the music swirling around it (and it does swirl like a kaleidoscope of color, texture, and dynamic) but of all things, really, and this transfiguration referred to in the title has more to do with the Buddhist concept of emptiness, where nothing lives independently of anything else and is intrinsically empty of individual meaning, but pregnant with the possibility of change and transformation because of that interconnectedness. As the piece whispers to a close with throat singing carrying the drone into silence, that becomes self-evident. That music can convey spiritual concepts without describing them is an achievement. That it does so with such drama, grace, and constancy is an event worthy of not only respect, but awe.