Archaia

Archaïa

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This eponymous 1977 album, recorded without the aid or backing of a record company, was French trio Archaia's sole recorded effort. It is a lost psychedelic blast of the most freakish, misshapen sort, as captivating as it is terrifying. Formed in 1976 by Magma fanatics Pierrick Le Bras and Michel Munier, the band's goal was to play something approaching that group's music but via a different path: they aimed to use only percussion -- no drums -- and to make full use of only guitars and keyboard. The foundation on most Archaia songs, then, became Munier's throbbing bass oscillations, which took on a bit of a sinister, eerie weight once melded with Le Bras' guitar and third member Philippe Bersan's keyboards. The droning, medieval-like chants that occur throughout the songs could well be an outreach toward transcendence, but in this context they sound more like underground pagan rituals performed in the woods by mysterious robed individuals. If you happened to come across such a ritual on any given night, your eyes would likely be glued to the scene in a mixture of terror and fascination, even if you wanted to run away screaming. Archaia's music acts in much the same way, although it is not necessarily evil, only darkly unknowable. It lurks in the outer shadows of consciousness, in the part of your mind that invents twisted scenarios out of things as simple as sounds. In its claustrophobic, insular way, the album is hauntingly beautiful and totally unlike any other progressive psychedelia attempted before it; in fact, its closest descendents would probably be certain practitioners of ambient electronica music who arose in the two decades subsequent to the record's release rather than any rock-based artist. The music is atmospheric, nebulous, sinister, and murky in a tangible way. It feels heavy even without the aid of drums, and it is less driving than it is amorphous and engulfing, absorbing every stray sound that comes near it, like a sonic black hole. By 1978, Archaia had added drummer Patrick Renard to their touring lineup, creating a sound that was more driving -- in fact, closer to straight progressive rock -- while still remaining enigmatic. That evolution is reflected in two of three bonus tracks included on the beautifully packaged Soleil Zeuhl CD reissue.