Since the release of 2008’s Trowo Phurnag Ceremony, over the last decade the Russian collective Phurpa with their ritualistic performances and studio releases centred around the music of the ancient Tibetan pre-Buddhist Bon religion have slowly but surely garnered a lot of attention in experimental music circles, having performed as an opening group for drone legends Sunn O))) as well as at the Brutal Assault metal festival in Czech Republic the same year. With music consisting of deep throat singing and traditional instrumentation, and ritualistic live performances with the group sat down on the ground in a circle, dressed in face obscuring costumes and burning herbs on stage to hide themselves in smoke, it’s fair to say they’ve certainly carved a niche for themselves, and Gyer Ro is their upcoming new album, and longest studio effort to date.
It’s probably fair to say that you’ll know almost straight away whether or not Phurpa’s music will be for you. Their abyssally deep throat singing and chanting makes up most of the album’s length, drawn out, powerful and almost inhuman sounding voices with a dark droning sound to them. Phurpa are very far from being a metal group, their music being as much about sonics and power than music itself and as such rather defying genre classification. But when several voices all sing in this style together, especially on third track Mu-Ye the result is an extremely dense and mind-numbing heavy droning sound that surpasses the heaviness of any other vocals – if you could take the growling style of most death metal bands, slowing the tempo and deepening the pitch you might just about get something similar to this – an inhuman rumbling sound that sounds like the very movements of the plate tectonics themselves, primordial voices ritualistically chanting in a language as old as time itself and it’s as heavy if not heavier than most metal vocalists you can care to mention. So much so that for most of the album’s length they rely solely on the sonic power of these voices and little in the way of instrumentation. The metallic clash of traditional percussion accompanies the voices at points to accentuate the ritualistic atmosphere, or the voices give way at points for a few minutes to traditional wind instrumentation with a sharp droning sound, but for the most part is the powerful voices that (literally) do the talking. For most of the album’s 126 minute length it follows the same formula of vocals interspersed with or accentuated by sporadic and minimalist instrumentation and ritualistic sounds, there’s little in the way of variety but the impressively devastating but hypnotic sound of the vocals is absorbing enough to keep one listening. The first track Laughter of To-Nag-Ma makes up the entirety of the album’s first disc in the style mentioned above, moving through sections of deep vocals and occult instrumentals through it’s seventy five minute length. At first listen it seems each of the tracks is the same, but Hundred Syllable Mantra has a reverb effect to the vocals which along with more variety to the vocal sounds makes them sound a little more vibrant and human, while the second lengthy piece Mu-Ye sees the album at it’s heaviest and most oppressive when multiple voices sing over each other sounding absolutely dense and immense.
Phurpa’s Gyer Ro isn’t a change in style but sounds their most complete effort to date. An exercise in vocal power – otherworldy chants and deep droning throat singing mixed with sporadic traditional instrumentation make this an album that fans of ritualistic ambient and drone, or fans of experimental music in general, can’t miss.
Purchase and stream the album at bandcamp below: