The French ensemble SEBKHA-CHOTT has existed since 1999 and therefore celebrates its 10th Anniversary this year. Nominally they have four releases to date, although the latest one, “De la Persistance de la Mythologie”, is in fact a newly recorded, plus slightly rearranged, version of their first effort, “De l'Existence de la Mythologie”, which was issued in 2004 and is already sold out. The other Sebkha Chott albums are “Nagah Mahdi” (2006, review here) and “Niglah” (2008 – will be described within this page, too, below the first-named one). Finally I must note that I have no idea of the band’s personnel on either of the CDs, since neither their booklets nor press releases contain any information on the matter, and you see there are no track lists below, either: both of those are too long and verbose alike to put there or rather to be generally used within the review.
Sebkha-Chott - 2009 - "De la Persistance de la Mythologie"
(56:02, Musea Records)
Too long to put here
According to the band members, they live in ‘Ohreland’, a self-invented imaginary world with its own mythology which, though, seems to exist only in their minds, because (still according to the musicians themselves) their lyrics are full of pornography and – tyrannical as they say, i.e. sadistic – humor. What an awful topic for artistic self-expression! That said, I don’t need to comprehend French to realize that the disc’s lyrical content is indeed about something obscene. The group’s description of its music (a blend of ultra-metal, avant-garde, jazz-punk, electronic and hip-hop, created by – quoting them – “the violent way of thinking”) in most cases corresponds to the real state of affairs, also. However, only the last six tracks here are musical creations, whilst what we get before those is a male monolog addressed to some Julia, whom he occasionally calls a bitch in English. I don’t know how often he cracks coarse jokes towards his invisible interlocutrix in French, but he certainly does, probably many times. I’m also displeased with the fact that the man’s (monolithic of a sort) speech is located on 48 tracks-segments. I believe the band has done so in order to make this, originally a 7-piece, outing consist of fucking tens of tracks as both their other releases do, though it’s completely beyond me why. The real compositions range from 7 to 11 minutes, and the sound of most of those suggests that, traditionally for Sebkha Chott, quite a lot of (brass, wind and rock) players as well as singers (of both sexes) are involved in the project. However, it is well known that “many” is not necessarily equivalent to “good”, and here is just such a case. The vocals, the harmony ones included, are much less often cohesive than odd, to say the least, and the narratives – everywhere they are – reminding of clownery at best. The music as such leaves a better impression, albeit varying in quality on different tracks, two of which, 53 and 50, lie far beyond the progressive rock idiom. The first of these is basically a brainchild of electronic devices, deploying a drum machine, synth-bass, etc. In style it evokes a cross between E-Music, so-called trance acid and a DJ’s ‘creation’ and so is destined either for the dustbin or a discotheque which is the same thing in my view. The latter features most if not all of the band’s players, and yet it’s incredibly monotonous. To be more precise, it is so much hypnotically catchy that I would beware of playing it two, let alone three times running. Its primary theme is particularly obtrusive, reminding me strongly of an excerpt from the main soundtrack for Emir Kusturica’s film “Time of Gypsies”, which blends Serbian and Gypsy folk melodies and is rollicking, powerful and somewhat clamorous throughout. Full of unison solos and chords, the move or rather riff runs almost throughout the piece, and there are only three digressions from it – to rap (a jabber without any musical background), real hip-hop and free jazz, all of which sound far-fetched and incongruous alike. Muzak is the word, a sort of putting on airs. The remaining four tracks, 49, 51, 52 and 54, all would have been good compositions had they been free of vocal extravaganzas and all verbal trash in general, all of which, by the way, comes predominantly from the stronger sex’s representatives, though some parts of a mixed choir are also rather repellent. The music as such is indeed a cocktail of Punk Rock, Metal-In-Opposition and Jazz with elements of Electronic (but no ‘discotheque’ ones here, thankfully), and also Classical (on the last track), which often seems to steer in the same direction as Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, but – since the guitar riffing is Thrash-based in all cases, i.e. within the RIO-related movements, too – is both straighter and more repetitive than that.
In the press kit Sebkha Chott describes all its releases in no other way than as masterpieces, particularly accentuating the hero of this occasion. Each of the band’s successive albums is better than its predecessor, but even the third/latest one isn’t a complete masterwork IMHO. As for “De la Persistance de la Mythologie”, it is okayish at best. Besides, considering the essence of the ‘novelty’ deployed, I find the debut’s original version to be better than this one.
Sebkha-Chott - 2009 - "Niglah"
(74:28, Musea Records)
Too long to put it here
Subtitled as “Tapisseries Fines en XXX Strips et LXX/X Trompettes” (XXX Strips: sic – it should have been released with the “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” sticker on its cover), the 74-minute “Niglah” consists of 72 tracks, quite a few of which are certainly very tiny cuts whose cipher symbol of length would have looked more solid if it had been presented in nanoseconds :-). So it would take many days for me to do a track-by-track investigation in this case – if I were really about to do it, to be more precise. On the other hand, there are no pauses between the tracks, almost all of which are either complete compositions or parts of ones. Besides, the album is musically cohesive throughout, evolving almost as logically as Jethro Tull’s “A Passion Play”, for instance. All in all, to view it as a whole is the only possible way to describe it, so please, readers, don’t judge me too severely as it’s quite a difficult task to do it properly, in detail. As I’m by and large aware of its main lyrical message, it was at first not too easy for me to accept the recording, but in its overall appearance (think nearly all of its instrumental canvases and most of the vocal ones, meaning if those are taken exclusively as music, without their lyrical content) it is so eventful and generally compelling that I decided in the end to leave it to those who comprehend the language to reach the final verdict whether it’s heavily or, say, tolerably harmful to French-speaking teenagers. On “Niglah” the ensemble rarely deploys electronic engines and never flirts with pop stylings, besides which there are comparatively little disagreeable-sounding – both single and choir – vocal lines as well as phrases which, in turn, range from being exclaimed to being whispered. Okay, what Sebkha Chott plays here is for the most part a synthesis of progressive Black Metal and Zeuhl/RIO which is additionally enriched with Balkan folk, thrash, operatic, jazz and classical-like motifs – listed in line of descent according to their weight in the recording. And although the former are instantly striking only within the recording's first third, they are so broadly spread there that they have to be generally perceived as one of its main stylistic components. The album abounds in progressive features, but as the heavy guitar riffs are part of most of the arrangements, the ones involving brass, wind and stringed instruments included (there are plenty of those, too), it shifts in theme more frequently than in structure. The main reference points would probably be Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Maudlin Of The Well, though Universal Totem Orchestra and Bathory both fairly often come to mind, also. The fact is that most of the project’s vocal parts are shared between a large mixed operatic choir and a male whose singing usually represents so-called screaming, which means it’s done in the classic black metal key. Either way, the overall result is quite effectively evolving, perhaps in all senses forceful, music with an epic magnitude and a truly ensemble, at once lush and meaty, sound which for the most part only seems to be filled with heaviness. In other words, the band sometimes approaches Black Metal at its hardest – which is yet not the same as “most extreme”. As for specifically-sounding episodes, there are several brief segments with a quieter character – now both space rock- and E-music-evoking, now purely chamber arrangements – almost all of which serve as (sort of logical) bridges between, well, I believe it’s already clear what. However, some real digressions from the basic style also take place. One of those reveals itself closer to the middle of the disc and is a full-fledged folk metal tune very much in the vein of Skyclad. Besides, while listening to it I have a strong impression that it is Martin Walkyier in person who sings it. Finally the last – and the longest, 8-minute – track here is at once slow and killer-heavy throughout, reminiscent of one of the darkest doom-metal creations by Black Sabbath, namely Under the Sun from “Vol. 4”.
That being said, Sebkha Chott has played almost a perfect musical solitaire with “Niglah”, as the trump they have ever had up their sleeves, namely the blending of several and mostly very contrasting styles, has finally been used in a proper way. If the album had a different lyrical content most of it would have suited my concept of a masterwork, which is simply because in terms of both composition and performance it is excellent indeed. However, objectively considering all its pros and cons, I can’t force myself to rate it higher than I did.