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Friday, April 8, 2022

Eldritch Priest – Omphaloskepsis (Halocline Trance, 2022) ****½

By Nick Ostrum

First, the title: Omphaloskepsis. This is, in essence, meditating on one’s bellybutton. Navel gazing. Cyclically and contemplatively looking inward in the hope of discovering some deep knowledge about one’s self, or some other urgent existential question, or, really, nothing in particular beyond the succession thoughts that arise and drift by. Omphaloskepsis is Canadian composer, author, professor, and earworm theorist Eldritch Priest’s recent release for guitar, electronics, and distortive processing (or something along those lines). Priest assumes roles both as composer and performer.

Now, back to the album: Omphaloskepsis a glittering and meandering sci-fi soundtrack that falls between new music suspension and prog rock structures. It is a musical tape collage music and 1980s B-movie distortion. A single composition that makes up this album changes over its 54-minute course subltely, but non-linearly. It is a fun piece, but, like the best George Romero flicks, a thread of seriousness underlies all of the dancing wavers and the entangling guitar lines. Phrases meet abrupt cuts or decay harshly. A five-minute take would seem too lighthearted. The duration and discipline and attention to fine detail, however, make this more than just a jaunt into a lunar studio landscape or a zombie-infested mall. I am not sure whether this is a critique, but it can get one thinking of heavier things, maybe the melancholia the laughter betrays, or the pretensions of some of the modern avant classical scene. To this, why not add artificial distortion? Why not make the guitar, muddy bass, and synth play the same lines over each other and over and over again? Why not make the listener listen for the minor variations that distinguish this from looping and phasing on the one hand and noodling on the other? Why not encourage the less attentive listener to lose themselves, only to tune back in to find familiar elements and forms interacting in slightly different ways, maybe with a deep murmur here, or a theremin pulse there, or some bass fuzz there?

In effect though not in aesthetic asceticism, this evokes Creative Sources-styled soundscaping, an electro acoustic mélange of melodies and scales (in this case) but one that seems to exist just in the present, with no real direction. It is as if Priest sat down to write a few phrases and decided to explore those over and over again, from different angles, eventually compressing them into a single piece. And that piece is good. Very good. In ways, it is almost nostalgic. However, it also sounds new, especially in its relentless pursuit of the leitmotif and its looping, subtlely differentiated potentialities. Make of that what you will, but, in short, this is a curio, and one that I have been giddily (maybe sheepishly) spinning repeatedly. And, yes, there is a wonderfully indulgent aspect to Omphaloskepsis, as well, though that should come as no surprise.

Omphaloskepsis is available as a double-vinyl and digital download here: