The last album from French trio Aqua Nebula Oscillator, 2012’s Third, was a riotous brew of wicked and hallucinogenic rock, all set amongst interstellar chaos. The album’s acid-fried tunes were injected with heavy traces of Amon Düül II, Hendrix, and MC5, then brought to life in a bubbling vat being blasted by Hawkwind at full volume. Throw in some subterranean H.P. Lovecraft and Hieronymus Bosch worship, dust with lysergic films of the past, add in a dash of voodoo and alien visitations, and that was Third.
It was hugely enjoyable album–weird, cult, and crazed in equal measure–perfectly in keeping with Aqua Nebula Oscillator’s corrupted bohemian aesthetic. Formed in 2000 by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist David Sphaèr’os, the band, also featuring drummer Adrian Bang and bassist Alexis Raphaeloff, supposedly dwells in a fifteenth century cave filled with strange instruments, skeletons, and sculptures. The band’s members are obviously keen on remaining free spirits, with a fine sense of theatrics, and their cavernous cabinet de curiositées abode brought with it a sense of mystery, lit by iniquity.
All of that set out some clear ideas about Aqua Nebula Oscillator’s sonic and thematic syllabus. Wig-outs, freak-outs, and tripped-and-fuzzed-out rock ‘n’ roll with a devilish temper is excepted. However, in keeping with the band’s enigmatic persona, Aqua Nebula Oscillator has pulled a sinister swerve on its latest album, Spiritus Mundi.
The heads down motorik psychosis, dark psychedelia, and third-eye channeling rock is still here. But, Aqua Nebula Oscillator decided a change of venue was required for the recording of Spiritus Mundi, so it exited the underground and headed into the middle of the Pyrénées Mountains to track the album in an eerie villa. That change in elevation sees Spiritus Mundi having a corresponding lift, and more of an eclectic temper, and while the 11 tracks within still range across the acid-rock spectrum, they don’t dive quite as deep into the caverns as on previous releases.
That’s no huge disappointment; in fact, it’s really no disappointment at all. The phantasmagorical rock of old is still present, and while Aqua Nebula Oscillator explores more illuminated landscapes–looking down on humanity rather than gazing up at it from the catacombs–it still finds plenty of grim sights to behold. There’s been a subsequent expansion of the band’s sonic arsenal along the way, with more varied use of electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, voices, and off-kilter rhythms, but they’re all still wrapped around delightfully eldritch echoes, distortions, and oscillations.
What’s immediately apparent, is that Spiritus Mundi is the cleanest sounding release from Aqua Nebula Oscillator. That’s not to say there isn’t soiled analog rock aplenty to enjoy. Let’s keep things in perspective; a cleaner Aqua Nebula Oscillator is still a filthy rock band, but a punchier rather than swampier production does the group no harm. Opening track, “Spiritus Mundi”, is a squall of noise and bone-chilling voices. “Turn On Your Mind” is all tumbling space rock and rough-necked garage rock riffs, and the band’s take on the 13th Floor Elevators’ “Roller Coaster” sees it grind a gruesome blade right into the psychedelic cornea of the original.
Elsewhere, “Human Toad” finds the Doors at its darkest jamming with Faust, and “Jungle Man” has a slowly measured dose of midnight Creole creepiness stirred into its Gallic blues. On the lighter side, “Halo Tears”, “Tu Seras Roi”, and “Frankie” take a gentler psych-folk tack, and “Varanasi” sees Aqua Nebula Oscillator nod to Ravi Shankar’s sitar sunshine, once again.
The most notable element to Spiritus Mundi, is that the propulsion of the past has shifted down, into a lower gear. Previously, the band’s songs were like thrashing nightmares, but overall, Spiritus Mundi is more akin to having your brain slowly baked by fevered delirium. Still, given that Aqua Nebula Oscillator is inspired by the notion of parallel dimensions, it’s all rather fitting that it’s chosen to follow a different, though no less unhinged, pathway into the shadowy realms. It might well be an altered approach from the band, and there are changes afoot on Spiritus Mundi, but the album still provides all the required quivers and shakes.
Admittedly, Aqua Nebula Oscillator isn’t wallowing in quite the same grotto as it did on previous releases, but there’s still plenty of wickedness to be enjoyed on Spiritus Mundi. The band’s string-shredding ’70s stomp is still here on the album’s hardest tracks, and the eccentricity within is still obviously set on blowing minds. In the end, that sense of boiling the psyche in a kettle of kaleidoscopic sounds is ever-present, and that ensures Spiritus Mundi remains a heavy dose of hallucinogenic rock ‘n’ roll.
Wonderfully freakish tunes, for these equally crazy times.