I sometimes think of Ben Chasny as an occultist of the old school. For all the searing acetylene fire and noise that courses through his work as Six Organs of Admittance, there is something curiously late Victorian about the way his mind operates. For Chasny belongs to the lineage of seekers who, in the face of the fragmenting forms of knowledge in the modern world, held out the last hopes of synthesis: that art might not be parted from religion, nor religion from science—and that science, in some way dimly understood, might still partake of the magical. In both music and conversation, Chasny relentlessly pursues connection, the way this is related to that, the way that recapitulates something else. For a man who has made such singularly original music for the past twenty years, Chasny seems to love mapping the circuits of influence and inspiration that traverse his body of work. (The song titles on Six Organs records often function like a faded card catalog to the library of his mind.) As if the beauty of his music resided in its uniqueness, but the wisdom of if it was to be found in its correspondence with a vast world of visionary discernment down the ages.
Chasny’s gift is in making even the mutant rock of his new record "The Veiled Sea" as enveloping and mysterious as the unsettling chance operations of his Hexadic period. "The Veiled Sea" is, in some sense, a record built around guitar solos. Not the blown-out deconstructions of his work with Comets on Fire nor the saturnine processions of "The Sun Awakens"; not even the haunted, lysergic summonings of his early masterpieces like "Dark Noontide" and "Compathia." The ones here are big, open, implacably ascendant edifices crowning the album like church spires over the towns of Europe. They reminded me of the enormous, chiming solos of Katzenmusik-era Michael Rother, but Chasny insisted on a decidedly less rarefied touchstone: 80s American pop shredder Steve Stevens. He of Billy Idol’s band; he of “Dirty Diana”; yes, he of the soaring Top Gun anthem. Chasny continues to draw the improbable lines of connection.
The crumpled percussion and pulsing noise of album opener “Local Clocks” washes in and out like the tides of the album’s title. But this Nurse With Wound-ish little rhythmic fragment soon gives way to the truly majestic “Somewhere in the Hexagon of Saturn,” the first showcase for Chasny’s guitar work. Steve Stevens jamming with Ash Ra Tempel, Chasny suggested. An unapologetically humongous guitar peroration descanting over burbling synths. This crashes headlong into the dense, frenetic extraterrestrial rock of “All That They Left You,” more god-tier guitar shred laced atop a wicked backbeat and throbbing synths. Chasny’s keening vocals finally make their appearance but only under the guise of a thick layer of vocoder distortion. This is Six Organs as otherworldly emissary. “All that we left you is all you get,” intones Chasny, metallically. The alien punk of “All That They Left You” is honestly so good, and so strikingly different from anything else in the Six Organs catalog that it made me wonder what Chasny might do with an album of Chrome covers.
At the beginning of Side B, the dreamy “Old Dawn” is redolent of the washed-out “pragmatic tone pieces” Chasny released early in 2020 as "Sleep Tones," his self-described “go nowhere and do nothing” ambient experiments in combatting insomnia. But the alien soundscapes return in “Last Station, Veiled Sea,” particularly with Chasny’s spectral vocal part. And the guitar pyrotechnics this time, while no less thrilling, are not so much Reagan-era audacity as PSF-style blackened crust. "The Veiled Sea" closes with an absolutely ferocious cover of Faust’s Beefheartesque “J’ai Mal aux Dents,” featuring, oddly enough, French architect and noise enthusiast Éric Lapierre on backing vocals. The inclusion of the Faust cover at the end offers a kind of key to the entire record. One can hear distant echoes of the madcap drive and serrated crunch of the Wümme hippies throughout the album.
"The Veiled Sea" is easily one the most viscerally satisfying records in the Six Organs discography. As always, Chasny finds the invisible threads between incongruous sound worlds. Here it’s American guitar heroics and galactic postpunk, Popol Vuh-ish pastoralism and heavy psych. But these disparate musical regions are here rendered so fully and tangibly, one is struck by the sheer mass of them. It is an improbable universe, but somehow it all connects. - Brent S. Sirota