Today me and fellow writer Vidur will be diving deep into the fantastic world of Neptunian Maximalism, more specifically, their sophomore album, Solar Drone Ceremony. Before we step through the portal into this realm, we have to offer a little something in the way of an introduction for this staggering band.
Hailing from Belgium, Neptunian Maximalism (also known as NNMM) is a community of ‘cultural engineers’ with a variable line-up, bringing together the disparate worlds of drone metal with avant-garde jazz, free jazz, spiritual jazz, and psychedelic music. Neptunian Maximalism started taking shape during early 2018 under the initiative of multi-instrumentalist Guillaume Cazalet (Czlt, Jenny Torse, Aksu), who brought together veteran saxophonist Jean Jacques Duerinckx (Ze Zorgs) and two drummers, Sebastien Schmit (K-Branding) and Pierre Arese (Aksu). Afterwards, Reshma Goolamy (bass), Romain Martini (guitar), Alice Thiel (synths, guitar), Joaquin Bermudez (saz, sitar), Didié Nietzche (soundscapes) and Leslie V. (black magic scenography) joined in 2019, thus changing the band into a what can be called a veritable orchestral ensemble.
By exploring the evolution of the human species, Neptunian Maximalism question the future of the living on Earth, propitiating a feeling of acceptance for the conclusion of the so called Anthropocene era and preparing us for the incoming Probocene era, imagining our planet ruled by superior intelligent elephants after the end of humanity. As Guillaume Cazalet explains, ‘for certain scientists, if we hadn’t ruled the Earth, elephants were supposed to be at the top of the pyramid of terrestrial life.’
The sound of the band is crystallized over the course of the ambitious debut album trilogy of Éons. It is a musical experience of gargantuan proportions where each chapter is part of a fascinating ritual, a cosmic mass of light and darkness recalling works of many different artists under the guise of an authentic voyage which steers the listener into the uncanny, unknown, and unbelievable.
Robert: Hey man, what’s up?
Vidur: Hey pal, I’m fine, chilling around, thinking about this Solar Drone Ceremony record. How about you?
R: I’m fine, taking it easy this weekend. Yeah, I’ve also been rummaging over the contents of the record a fair deal.
V: So, where do we start with this fifty-five-minute monster?
R: Honestly, I really have no fucking idea. I remember being drawn to Éons when it came out last year and saw it was available for review, but after skimming through it I felt more daunted than by any record that I’ve ever witnessed. It seemed to effortlessly dwarf mammoths like Kayo Dot‘s Hubardo, or Kamasi Washington‘s The Epic, just to name something for a comparison. I still can’t grasp the record as a whole and I’m not having an easier time with Solar Drone Ceremony either. It’s kind of like a Brobdingnagian sound sculpture.
V: I understand what you are saying. Éons was a monster that could not be described. All throughout Solar Drone Ceremony, I felt as if I am one of the women who is being sacrificed to the tentacle monster, as portrayed on the album cover.
R: Hahahaha, right on, that’s weirdly all too relatable, to be real about it. Have you had a chance to even partially engage with Éons, or is Solar Drone Ceremony your first real dive into Neptunian Maximalism?
V: I did try listening to Éons last year, but given the sheer scope of its music, I did not truly dive into it. I find Neptunian Maximalism akin to a complex orchestra, one that you need to pay full attention to. You need to immerse yourself in order to truly admire the beauty of their songwriting. Hence, I find it pleasing that they decided to release Solar Drone Ceremony. It is a tad bit more digestible than their debut and should help reach more eyes and ears. It still requires one to block an hour for just the music, but the experience is so worth it! How about you, having explored Éons, how was your experience with Solar Drone Ceremony?
R: I skimmed several times through Éons, but never really managed to give it a one-sitting-top-to-bottom listen. It’s too much even for my standards, I mean it’s almost one-hundred-twenty-nine minutes long. I can’t say I gave it the listen it demands and/or deserves and as such, I can’t really say that I fully experienced it. Although, I’m confident that I experienced more than enough of it to immerse myself into the absolutely mystical, occult, and arcane realm conjured by Neptunian Maximalism, which is truly and wholly unique.
Obviously Solar Drone Ceremony is much more digestible — but really, only in terms of size. As far as the tunes go, we receive exactly what we expect from a mini orchestra which apparently has never heard of minimalism of any kind, nor of compromise.
At an atmospheric level and dare I even say, at a conceptual level, the record retains the all to characteristic hallmark of the band and it expands on it adroitly.
V: It does, and presenting itself as one single piece makes it all the more challenging. Upon multiple listens, I did find Solar Drone Ceremony to be two parts, the first thirty-one minutes and the rest of twenty-four minutes. But, given how they interweave and flow across each other, I believe keeping them joint as a single-headed monster made a lot of sense.
Additionally, I found the name Solar Drone Ceremony quite apt as the music reminded me of the captivating droned outputs of Sunn O))). Neptunian Maximalism just add pipes, synths, and drums, taking it to a whole new level, where jazz, tribal, and folk music collide!
R: Agreed. You did mention while we were discussing about reviewing this that you read somewhere that Solar Drone Ceremony is the union, expansion, and rearrangement of “TO THE SUN : EÔS – Avènement de l’Éon Evaísthitozoïque Probocène Flamboyant” and “The Conference Of The Stars – (Cleopatra That Goddess)”. I can definitely see some of the themes in here, but personally, I wouldn’t proclaim that ultimately these songs have much to do with what Solar Drone Ceremony turned out to be.
It definitely has a strong Sunn O))) aesthetic in its delivery, but I guess that in that same breath, you could also argue that it is an Earth influence. I also tried, for my own ‘amusement’, to track down every stylistic influence and it’s just too hard to map it all out clearly. Not to mention that trying to do the same for Éons left me staring blankly at my screen with smoke billowing from my ears.
V: Yes, I did read that those two tracks are the foundation of this album. But such is the ability of the members of Neptunian Maximalism that this feels like an entirely new composition. The band has this uncanny ability to make their music sound free-flowing, almost as if they were just jamming out ideas. While also maintaining a very complex structure and rhythm to the movement across the album. There is a progression across Solar Drone Ceremony that can hypnotize the attentive listener. The minimalistic start is on point, as the drone sound build-up feels as if our spaceship is being charged as we get ready to launch into another world. Before the rhythmic rollercoaster in the final quarter brings one back to the earthly plane.
But when it comes to actually describe the music, I fail to find the right words. Can we even describe it? Is it possible to put into words the sound which Solar Drone Ceremony invokes?
R: Uhm, errr…maybe? I remember reading the ‘verdict’ of Éons on its Bandcamp page, from someone who bought it, saying something along the lines of ‘I’d love to review this, but it’s impossible to review this album.’ I agree, a review — by nature — just can’t cut through all the layers, complexities, and subtleties and especially the order of magnitude at which these things are conceived. I believe an essay — an extensive one — or something of that sort would be able to appropriately encapsulate the entire quintessence. This applies, keeping proportions of course, to Solar Drone Ceremony.
I think that in terms of progression and overall structure, as aforementioned, Solar Drone Ceremony is more akin to a sound sculpture than anything else. It has this megalithic quality about it and I don’t mean that strictly in relation to its physical size.
It also manages to pull together a level of slowly evolving textures, the likes of which I’ve never seen. It’s impressive how the album literally starts on one droning layer, which is subtle to the point where I have to max out the volume to be sure that I’m hearing sound and ends in a massive, nigh triumphant climax. Making the transition between these two extremes so smooth and linearly gradual is an accomplishment in itself.
V: That last part is probably the best possible explanation for the music on Solar Drone Ceremony, without actually playing the record. Personally, there were three elements, which caught my attention the most in this aural landscape. The first one is what you mentioned, the subtle drone layer that glazes the album. It brings a minimalist harshness to the music that keeps the ears pricked and attentive. The second is their incorporation of baritone sax and sopranino on the album. It pops out of nowhere and yet feels perfectly in place. As if it were to became absent, it would leave a giant gaping hole in the music. Lastly, the percussions and drums complete the trifecta. They add such zeal and energy to the music. I could almost envision myself watching the band and experiences the tribal beats pulses in my veins.
R: Indeed, I concur, although I feel like on this record, more so than on Éons, the vocals and their delivery constitute an essential component of the experience.
They come across as massive, albeit they aren’t screamed, or growled, or anything to raise the wow factor — at least on paper. It feels like they amplify — more than ‘enhance’ could capture – the laid-out mood and imbue you to the core of your soul with this ancestral and transcendent feeling, where it leaves the impression that you are traveling across all possible layers of existence throughout time.
I also feel that the synths add an extra pinch of surrealism to the already otherworldly expanse we are traveling through. The lack of the sitar, which is prominently showcased in Éons, feels a tad odd. I think I would’ve enjoyed some of that as well here — it may have brought an extra tasty flavor.
V: I think Neptunian Maximalism could have nine more instruments and still make it sound cohesive! A maximalism overload. One aspect we have not touched upon is that Solar Drone Ceremony is actually a live recording from one of their shows in March 2020. To pull off such an orchestral composition to such perfection deserves more praise than what I could put into words here.
R: Ah yes, indeed. It’s easy to forget this is actually a live recording, as the rougher production value, at least in my head, is chalked up to being merely a different aesthetic choice.
It’s thoroughly impressive that this was pulled off live like this. It’s definitely a clear testament to the band as performers, amazing ones may I add, as composers and last but not least, proof of a level of synergy and timing between musicians which is rather rare these days.
I would also be remiss not to point out that it is a truly impressive display of stamina as a performer to be able to go through such a titanic endeavor.
Also, the more I think about it, the more I am mystified about the improvisational feel (much like in Kayo Dot‘s music) which is actually a painstakingly rehearsed composition which is put together with a maddening attention to detail. When I say mystified, I am referring firstly to the fact that I cannot conceive how anyone can remember what they’re doing and their cues in the song. I believe orchestras should get a masterclass on their live performances in a class titled “How to Make Do if Your Conductor Doesn’t Arrive to the Concert”.
V: Hahaha, that would be quite the class to enroll in! I feel as if we should close this discussion here. Are there any final lingering thoughts in your head? Any side of the multi-faceted record you think we have not addressed (and can actually explain using words!)?
R: I would honestly want do delve deep into this, but for the sake of what is left of brevity, I’d also stop here as I feel that for most listeners, we at least managed to scratch the surface of this wild affair. Like I said, this is subject to a scientific essay or a PhD type of work. Besides, in cases like this where we tackle otherworldly experiences (cause calling it an album just sells it too short) words are very much beside the point.
V: It is weird to review an album and end by saying that it is best just heard in its entirety to understand the aural textures it carries in its sound. But then again, Neptunian Maximalism are no ordinary collective, and Solar Drone Ceremony is only a carved out segment of their overarching sound. But, based on its beauty, it is hard not to be excited to see how they expand their sonic horizons over the coming years.