The Lord + Petra Haden - Devotional

28 Oct 2022 - Thorsten

Ritual Drone Metal | Southern Lord Records | Release date: 21 Oct 2022 | Favorite song: Ma Anand Sheela

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Whoever complains about SunnO))) not having released new music this year has not understood what its two performers have in mind – explorations of sound and tonality, concept and discourse, technique and technology! And sometimes it’s even better to have Stephen and Greg go separate ways because then we get more awesome music from the two of them. Devotional Greg’s latest record with Petra Haden is another example of how far that can be taken. And it’s his second release this year, so come on you complaining cry-babies!

Ritualistic music is very often voiceless as it relies heavily on rhythms and beats. The repetition of said beats are often used to induce a trance – by the performers as well as the listeners, who might even partake in the performance. This music can have vocals but not necessarily words in the sense that the voice is is not ushering words but harmonies and is used like another instrument contributing to the soundscape which is bigger and more important than the single instrument and its performer. The music is purpose-driven and aimed at the communication with a higher being, which in most cases will not answer. Thus it could be seen as monologue of sorts, which might also be a good notion of it, as one its main ideas is also to disconnect the performers of their earthly and bodily shackles and relocate their being at the side of the higher entity. One might say that “dog, anything goes, as long as you try to connect yourself with the spirit!”

Why this long non-committing paragraph? Because Greg Anderson (The Lord) and Petra Haden have released as new shared record which is another one in a long list of collaborations, which started a long way ago when Petra contributed vocals and instruments on some earlier SunnO))) albums. And this record is pure devotional, ritualistic music. But wait – is it? Here the purpose comes into play, because the background and concept to the record is the Rajneesh movement of the 1980s in the US which at its peak even launched a biological terror attack. Anderson said that as a younger person he was strongly interested in the movement in all its dark, gory sides, not really in the religious part of it. And when binging a documentary on this cult, its leaders and its ending with two of its leaders going to jail and the ashram basically imploding within a few weeks after, he came up with the idea of transferring the whole thing into music. His kind of music is basically pretty much picture perfect for such an idea, because his way of songwriting is based on repetition and moodiness close to trance.

When listening to this record on will quickly notice the importance of Petra’s voice because she really uses it to create these mantras, the slogans accompanying the transcendental progression for the here to the all, from me to next to it. One might argue that the songs are able to bring us closer to the leader of the movement Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who went into silence once the ashram and the community had been created in Antelope, Oregon. In that way, he is the higher being whose love the community was striving for. That way, these songs have a first layer of meaning, which can also be heard in the some what Indian sounding violin-tracks Petra laid down. In the droney repetition of Greg’s guitar that sometimes even sounds like the classic mantra-word “om”. Her wordless singing which is like the perfect embodiment of a group of people chanting because there are multiple layers of Petra’s voice on more or less all tracks of the record so that is often sounds like a lot of people performing these chants.

However, when listening more closely, one can notice the meta-level of the tracks, the criticism of the leaders of the Rajneesh movement (also called the Osho movement), the fact that they don’t want to idolize these criminals but give more than one perspective on these things: Listen to ”The End of Absence” and amid all these chants and somewhat Indian-sounding passages you can hear a muddy, short, sharp sound in between the harmonies. A guitar-line that is clearly out of place because it is not contributing to the beauty of the track, but hinders it from its harmonic perfection. The same function might be the idea behind Petra’s outburst in the track ”Ma Anand Sheela” about the woman who became something like Shree Rajneesh’s personal imam or prophet, who communicated between the group and the silent leader. And of course, we all know about how miserably people fail at the interpretation of their silent master’s wishes and will.

Thus this record is both – an adequate sound-transcript of rituals which might have happened at the ashram and the criticism of it. We somehow get two records in one – the devotional side and the discomforting truth behind the cult. And now – please tell me how such a great record shall not still the needs of the hardcore-SunnO))) followers. We once more have a thrilling record by one of the guys which shall keep your mind (and soul) busy until next year, when we will surely hear from Greg or Stephen again. Or from Greg and Stephen. Something to calm down the cry-babies…om.