Third, the latest album from tripped-out French space-rocker Aqua Nebula Oscillator, is a thrilling jaunt around Cassiopeia and Pegasus launched from the Catacombes de Paris. It sets its prow firmly towards an inter-dimensional universe, where the band jams with Ravi Shankar, Amon Düül II, and the Stooges in a Parisian squat circa ‘73, and drink weed infused wine from upturned skulls. Trying to encapsulate the band’s eccentricity is a hellish task, which is apt given that its white-knuckle psychedelic jaunts evoke plenty of vintage horror. The group’s work draws as much inspiration from Hieronymus Bosch and H.P. Lovecraft as it does from alien visitations and acid-fried mantras.
Formed in 2000, Aqua Nebula Oscillator has classic cult rock written all over it. Its previous albums have all been fittingly obscure, and if you were a fan of previous efforts you’ll note vocalist Shazzula does not appear on Third. Her absence obviously makes for a different dynamic, though it’s no less fascinating; the blending of motorik rhythms, Hendrix wig-outs and Hawkwind-esque psych makes for pure hallucinogenic chaos. All the necessary percolations (warbles, gurgles and fuzz) are there to fuel Third‘s orbiting oddness, and alongside that beats the heart of a garage punk band. Aqua Nebula Oscillator’s primordial and subterranean rock is drenched in feedback-soaked guitar, wildly distorting chords, and animalistic percussion and bass.
Third oscillates, quivers and rumbles though its psychedelic slurry, indulging in greasy hippie rock as much as any interstellar cavorting. The hollowed-out echoes of “Riot”, “Apocalyptoads” and “Saturne” situate the band on the edge of a void where the tangled threads of synth, iridescent guitar and whacked-out vocalizations are mutated into gravity-defying form.
Final track, “Incandescence”, heads out into space in a wonderfully nebulous fashion, but the debauched sitar frenzy of “Kill Yourself” reaches out the furthest—its murky trance and creepily effective vocal undercutting any happy hippy idealism. Bringing things a little closer to earth, “Turn On”, “Black Sun” and “Lucifer” rip though riotous psych/punk feedback screeds. “Final Solution” and “Dead Sun” dig into ‘70s string-shredding acid stomps, with squealing solos to blur vision and blow minds. Aqua Nebula Oscillator craft a nefariously demented mood throughout Third. However, for all the album’s celestial wanderings, the songs themselves are concise. The band keep things contained in a series of boiling cauldrons — rendering down the energy into raw, narcotic-heavy doses.
Facts are thin on the ground about Aqua Nebula Oscillator, but it’s not that hard to believe (or to at least imagine) that its members live in a “fifteenth century cave that looks like a cabinet de curiositées.” The group has a fine sense of theatrics, and it certainly sounds like it records its songs “far away from the nauseous and miserable meanders of this century.” Vintage it all may be, but Aqua Nebula Oscillator’s perspective on the music of yesteryear does not simply repeat a tale of a flower child crushed under the heal of reality ad infinitum. There’s a darkness to Third that goes beyond grim bohemianism. Something deeply iniquitous lurks within, something Old Nick would relish indeed.
French musicians have a long history of warping and reconstructing the orthodox adornments of rock/metal and electronica into more unconventional configurations. Aqua Nebula Oscillator’s contribution to that anomalous pool is delightfully bizarre. Third‘s acidified contours and high-octane sorties mix the phantasmagorical, the eccentric, and the grimy into a bubbling bong of kaleidoscopic outlandishness. Throw in the always-alluring extraterrestrial contrails and you’ve got a mind-boggling and wicked adventure guaranteed.