Moody, muted tolls of a remote bell creepily welcome you into Day of the Demons, accompanied by circular synth drones that seep out of the speakers like aural slime, coating every surface around you with their grim, insistent repetition. From out of the murk comes Charlemagne Palestine with a mewling, overwrought chant, his voice so distant amidst the omnipresent buzz of the synth as to seemingly be recorded at the bottom of the well in Hideo Nakata’s Ring. This is the malevolent atmosphere that presides over Day of the Demons, and it doesn’t relent at any moment across its 40-odd minutes.
Thing is though, the opening track I’m writing about is called ‘Raga de L’apres-midi pour Aude’, and suddenly the massed, sonically pungent tones and the intertwined vocal laments on show don’t seem quite so creepy. There is a fashion at the moment for music that supposedly trawls the darkest depths of human history, resurrecting old gods and violent rituals via drones, noises and overt nods to the traditions of “Eastern” musics, as if the combination of all these factors somehow automatically confers a mixture of spiritual gravitas and horror movie atmosphere. It’s something Desire Path Recordings were obviously keen to capitalise on with Day of the Demons, but it would seem Janek Schaefer and Charlemagne Palestine are far too intelligent and cheeky for such simplifications, and the latter’s lopsided sense of humour shines out of a title like ‘Raga de L’apres-midi pour Aude’, which then reflects it into the man’s unsettling ululations, so that even as the music seems unsettling, and Desire Path try to advocate the album’s terrors, one can’t help but break into a smile. The patient, hypnotic drones coupled with Palestine’s pained voice may be simple, in a way, but the undertones of humour and even aggression lend the piece a certain uncertainty, elevating above the platitudes the label describes.
‘Fables from a Far Away Future’ is less immediate, but perhaps altogether more potent. As what sounds like the world’s most decrepit accordion wheezes away consumptively, Palestine and Schaefer drop mysterious field recordings from around the globe into the mix, like dollops of mud decanted into a grimy mojito. Voices in English, Japanese, Arabic, even a pair of French people woozily trying to tune a xylophone, stagger and stumble out of the persistent, elegiac drones, like recordings from a black box retrieved amongst the ruins of the Tower of Babel. Talking in voices? Are Schaefer and Palestine thinking of The Exorcist? Part of the sinister appeal of Day of the Demons is its mystery. It doesn’t feel like the duo is channeling coherent nightmares, but rather that they’re probing at, laughing with, and deliberately standing back from the intrinsic demons of human nature. The album’s greatest strength, contrary to what the blurb may try to suggest, is its elusiveness. These two are far too canny, world-weary and musically adept to simply dump a load of evident sinisteria on their listeners. Instead, especially on ‘Fables from a Far Away Future’, they hint, tease and cast sly glances at whatever lies just over the horizon and behind our shoulders.