Secret Chiefs 3

Book of Horizons

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Secret Chiefs 3's first three studio albums were not exactly stripped-down affairs, but Book of Horizons is by far an ambitious release. The first volume of a planned three-part series of albums, Horizons is set up to resemble a compilation of bands, the catch being that all of these bands are headed by SC3 leader Trey Spruance. The six bands, which have two or three songs each on this album, encompass pretty much the full range of SC3's previous stylistic forays, including the funeral ballads and marches of the Forms; the orchestral, Persian-themed rock hybrids of Ishraqiyun; the time-traveling surf-rock of UR; the electro-acoustic collages of Electromagnetic Azoth; the extreme death metal band Holy Vehm; and the sweeping film music homages of Traditionalists. These "bands" are not physically separate entities so much as they are distinct concepts, since musicians overlap from one band to the next, and can change from song to song within each band. In any case, this separation of SC3's many diverse elements into distinct bands has led to more extreme song-to-song contrasts than on any earlier SC3 release. The two Holy Vehm songs are heavier than anything Spruance has ever released, while the more linear, melodic numbers (Traditionalists' Morricone-esque "The Exile," the Forms' "The End Times," UR's surf-tinged cover of the Exodus theme) rank as his most lavishly orchestrated productions. In between these extremes lies the Devo-esque surf-rock of UR's "Anthropomorphosis: Boxleitner" (a worthy sequel to "White As They Come" from First Grand Constitution and Bylaws), the reverb-drenched Afghani folk-metal of Ishraqiyun's "The 3," and Forms' stunning closer "Welcome to the Theatron Animatrique" -- which sounds like the sort of orchestral film music that should be coming out of Hollywood circa 2004. Remarkably, given the huge orchestrations on so many of the tracks, there are only two samples on the entire record; all of the string sections, choirs, and such were the result of marathon overdub sessions à la Mr. Bungle's California. Even so, the album doesn't sound like it was labored over or artificially assembled, with the exception of the intentionally cut-and-pasted tracks by Electromagnetic Azoth and a few of the harsher edits on Holy Vehm's "Hypostasis of the Archon." And unlike Book M, which felt stiff and mechanical in spots, and California, which occasionally lacked the songwriting material to match the lavish production, Horizons comes through with soulful performances and top-shelf material on nearly every track (Ishraqiyun's "The Four" doesn't quite get off the ground like the other songs). The jarring juxtapositions between a few of the songs here disrupt the flow of the album here and there, a side effect of the compilation approach. Minor quibbles aside, this is a frequently jaw-dropping album that should silence Spruance's anti-Bungle critics and, more importantly, challenge and entertain devoted fans of his past work.

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