With “Actaeon’s Fall (Against the Hounds)”, Six Organs of Admittance’s Luminous Night begins on a deceptively cheerful note. Couched in the medieval idiom, the song would be excellent background music for your next Dungeons and Dragons game. The pleasing, grandmother-friendly mix of viola, flute, and acoustic guitar (which is complemented by six repeating electric guitar notes periodically throughout the song), is so subtle and beguiling that only the most careful listeners will recognize the suggestion of darkness that comes to bear on all that follows.
Six Organs of Admittance is the project of Ben Chasny (also well-known for his participation in the psych rock outfit Comets on Fire), and Luminous Night is the 11th SOOA album, and the first new one in nearly two years. It’s not for newcomers. Mining everything from traditional English folk music to Middle Eastern atmospherics, it has a hypnotic, blood-pressure-lowering quality that, listened to closely and repeatedly, could induce episodes of involuntary spontaneous de-evolution. In other words, given the proper opportunity, Luminous Night will mindfuck you gently, but thoroughly.
Track two, “Anesthesia”, has a narcotizing effect, but you’ll resist sleep out of fear of the dreams you’ll have as the music (a loping acoustic guitar is slowly overtaken by smears of electronic noise as Chasny sings about vengeance and god) seeps into your subconscious. The song winds down to silence before giving way to the dreamy undulations of a sitar, accompanied by an acoustic guitar and hand percussion on “Bar-Nasha”. The repetitive, sinister music moves like a convicted man toward the hanging tree as Chasny’s imperiously sings about “the son of man”.
It’s heavy, heady stuff, and Chasny doesn’t let up. “Cover Your Wounds with the Sky” is as oblique as its title suggests, starting off with a wall of hesitating static that’s soon complimented by equally hesitant piano notes. The noise grows louder, but otherwise, not much else happens until “Ursa Minor”, a more traditional folk song — still dark, though; always dark — drops in, bringing with it recordings of insects, birds, and other unintelligible sounds. It’s brought to a close in a flurry of percussion and moans, giving way to the Pink Floyd-esque, 7-minute-plus epic “River of Heaven”. Here, one would think, Chasny would shine, but it proves to be the most tiresomely ponderous track on an otherwise consistently compelling album.
Nowhere is Luminous Night more rewarding than on its penultimate track, “The Ballad of Charley Harper”, a gorgeous ode to the recently deceased artist and children’s illustrator. “An atom is an atom / To the great and the small”, Chasny intones again and again, as if the phrase was loaded with deep, revelatory meaning. By the final track, “Enemies Before the Light”, listeners will be ready for a cool-down session, and the first few moments of the song suggest one is coming. But rather than move along linearly, the song grows like a hole in the sky, as disquieting noise shoots through at a gradually increasing pace. Here, finally, the listener’s diastolic blood pressure will finally return to normal as, like a fading star, Luminous Night falls silent.