Band: Neptunian Maximalism | Album: Solar Drone Ceremony | Genre: Drone, Krautrock, Experimental metal | Year: 2021
From: Brussels, Belgium | Label: I, Voidhanger Records
For fans of: Om, Sunn O))), Ash Ra Tempel, Van der Graaf Generator’s weirder stuff
I briefly covered Neptunian Maximalism’s (NNMM) last album, Éons, in an Odds & Ends last year. I said that I liked the idea of that album—an abrasive, sax-forward assault of drone, psychedelia, zeuhl, and more—more than its realization. I’m not a big fan of drone, but I sensed that NNMM could put forward something a bit more palatable to my tastes while still maintaining that genre’s aesthetic language.
Solar Drone Ceremony is the second full-length studio release from this Belgian ensemble, and it contains just one 52-minute track. It’s a creepy, occultic album wrapped in befittingly H.R. Giger-inspired artwork showing some sort of sexualized alien ritual.
The album takes its time to get going. A low synth drone slowly builds, with other atmospheric effects fading in and out, giving an ambiance akin to walking down a dark hallway in a horror film. Around seven minutes, the growl of saxophone starts to show up. These slow, breathy wheezes only add to the menacing atmosphere which has been building up to this point. Percussion finally joins the fray around nine minutes in, but it’s distant, arrhythmic, and chaotic. It reminds of certain passages in “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” with its eerie mix of drums, sax, and keys.
Some hint of structure finally begins to arise around eleven minutes in. The drumming remains distant, but what was just rolling tom fills now has some weight and propulsion behind it. Heavily wahed guitar twists and slinks above the murkiness.
Wordless, chanted vocals—reminiscent of a muezzin—add to the obscure aesthetic as the noise grows ever more enveloping. By fifteen minutes in, this piece has become a lurching, cultic hymn. The drums are plodding, insistent, and unstoppable; and the morass surrounding this rhythmic backbone is constantly swirling and evolving as different instruments get their turn at the forefront.
The hazy, distorted atmosphere reminds me of early krautrock epics, a la Ash Ra Tempel or Achim Reichel. Much like those early ‘70s cuts, this record is variations on a theme, and the subtle, accruing shifts are what make this so engaging.
After over half an hour, the percussion drops out, and Solar Drone Ceremony is momentarily simply some lush synth pads. It’s not long before the drums return, emphatic as ever, and sax lines weave and warble over the cosmic call to prayer. The vocals eventually become harsher, more typical of metal, but it all adds to the auditory maelstrom.
With about ten minutes left, this opus scraps its drone pretense, and a faster, metal-meets-motorik drumbeat propels the music in a more energetic—but no less demonic—direction. This movement feels truly climactic, and all the preceding build-up was a wonderfully-laid foundation. The faux-religious fervor is palpable in this final movement, with its echoing percussion, jittery synth lines, and general frenzy.
Solar Drone Ceremony is not an album for the faint of heart. It is long. It is challenging. It is dense. But if you’re in the mood for it, and if you’ve got the patience, it is well worth it. This is a striking, arresting album that manages to do an impressive amount with surprisingly little.