There was a time earlier in the decade when a month without a new Acid Mothers Temple release was like a month without a full moon—in other words, a geophysical impossibility. Recent years have seen the band ease back its output a bit, though only a bit; a quick browse of the AMT website reveals a still-heavy stream of new material out and forthcoming. Still, it seems as if Kawabata Makoto and crew have focused instead on touring the United States and Europe more frequently, not to mention surviving some lineup changes that prompted a change in extended moniker: what was once “Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso U.F.O.” has now become “Acid Mothers Temple and the Cosmic Inferno”. But then again, it’s also possible that I just stopped paying attention.
Regardless, the Mothers’ new Iao Chant from the Cosmic Inferno offers an occasion to reconsider the band’s sprawling oeuvre, overexposure and market-flooding be damned. Conceived as a tribute to recently deceased percussionist Pierre Moerlen of original space-rockers Gong, the disc re-imagines that band’s “Master Builder” as a single piece over 50 minutes in length. It’s an approach that has served Acid Mothers Temple well in the past and does so similarly here—as with the band’s epic treatment of the Occitanian folk song “La Novia”, “OM Riff from the Cosmic Inferno” translates its reverence for Moerlen’s proggy supergroup into a full-out religious experience.
Kawabata is never one to shy away from an opportunity to exercise the shamanistic overtones of the persona he’s created for himself as leader of the Acid Mothers collective, a situation emphasized once again by the Tibetan chant-like opening section of “OM Riff”. As if calling the faithful to prayer, the group sets a serene, yet somewhat ominous foundation out of which the piece’s titular riff eventually explodes. From there, the music becomes astrally projected on the strength of Kawabata’s guitar, Higashi Hiroshi’s electronics, Tabata Mitsuru’s bass, and the double-barreled propulsion of drummers Shimura Koji and Okano Futoshi.
Although Higashi plays second guitar in the band’s live performances, he’s not credited as doing so on this recording, contrary to the disc’s booklet photos. Presumably then, Kawabata takes sole responsibility for the celestial six-stringed racket that evolves out of the main riff, broken up into two sections by a more ambient center. Plenty of ink and pixels have already been expended in praise of Kawabata’s guitar heroism, but as the altar upon which the Temple is built, it still bears mentioning in the context of this work. Indeed, even in the long improvisational sections, the guitar is more felt than heard; notes and chords are forsaken in favor of an effects-laden, infinity-seeking force whose only bounds are the temporal restraints placed upon it by recording medium.
While all of that may sound like a resounding endorsement for Iao Chant…, it is… and it isn’t, depending on each listener’s prior history with the band. Die-hard fans who embrace the Mothers’ prolific release schedule most likely have the record already and are wondering why the hell it took so long to get reviewed; casual AMT listeners may think that this all sounds suspiciously familiar and decide that they’re content to wait until the band makes a more radical departure from the norm before spending their hard-earned money. But for the uninitiated and curious, Iao Chant from the Cosmic Inferno is a decent place to start—something that can’t necessarily be said for every item in the band’s vast discography. So to that demographic it can only be said: proceed, but do so with incredible caution.