The Sojourn of the Weary Traveler: Eremit’s Desert of Ghouls
Following their 2019 sludge masterpiece, Eremit returns with a two-track teaser EP on the inimitable Transcending Obscurity Records. Let’s literally comb the desert!
Eremit’s 2019 debut Carrier of Weight was a lugubrious meditation on migration and exile, a monastic study of movement, displacement, and (be)longing. Epic in scope at nearly 70 minutes of music spread over just three tracks, Carrier of Weight bore a tremendous burden both sonically and philosophically. It was perfectly suited to its moment, as well. If you can remember all the way back to 2019, before the devastation of a global viral pandemic proffered a morbid reminder that our increasingly embordered world is anything but impenetrable, the issues of movement—both forced and elective—and borders—the work of actual building materials and the magical conjuring of politi-craft—were at the fore of our thinking and imagination.
Nor was this just a case of imagination. As Toni Morrison frequently reminded audiences in her speeches and essays before her death last year, “Excluding the height of the slave trade in the nineteenth century, the mass movement of peoples in the latter half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first is greater now than it has ever been.” “It is a movement,” Morrison continues, “of workers, intellectuals, refugees, armies crossing oceans, continents, immigrants through custom offices and hidden routes, speaking multiple languages of trade, of political intervention, of persecution, exile, violence, and poverty.” The cost of this movement, whether the environmental toll of bourgeoisie globetrotting and the evaporation of space for non-human animals, the economic privation of tax havens and an international regime of sweatshop labour, or the human tragedy of forced migrations and enforced borders, is impossible to calculate.
Carrier of Weight trafficked in this very sentiment. While “Eremit” is German for “hermit” or “eremite” (from the Middle English æremite) and thus inspires thoughts of solitude, reclusion, and cloister, Eremit’s debut followed the travels of the singular entity aboard a ship who is still entirely interconnected with and insuperably inseparable from a worldwide movement that has few historical precedents. To put rather too fine a point on it, Carrier of Weight collapsed the distinction between existential loneliness and a truly global phenomenon.
Carrier of Weight also collapsed the distinction between traveler and vessel. In the opening moments of “Dry Land,” Moritz Fabian’s vocals croak over shivering synths, sparse drums, and the atmospheric veneer of the coming deluge of riffs. Nearly 35 minutes later, “Cocoon of Soul” opens with the creaking of a ship’s hull, the disembodied echo of Fabian’s croaking. The songs mirror each other, too, in their use of Neurosis-esque build-ups that lead to and augment leviathanic swaths of slow- and mid-paced sludge. Eremit’s approach to Moby Dick-sized tonnage is reminiscent of the grandeur of turn-of-the-century classics such as SoulPreacher’s “Deadnothingspace” (2000) or God’s Iron Tooth’s “The Slow Ride Home” (2001). Each asks the questions: how can a song keep going and going? How can it carry so much weight for so long? How does the traveling hermit survive the length of their journey or the breadth of their exile?
Buried between these two behemoths, Carrier of Weight’s second track “Froth is Beckoning” blisters forth at such a pace to lift the spray out of the oceans and into our sun-scorched visages. The wind is in the sails, the whale is in our sights, and we are cutting through the wake of giants with the heat and speed of Hermes. (You get it. This track is slightly less slow than the others!)
If the veritable blaze of “Froth is Beckoning” left you frothing at the mouth for something less ponderous than the hulking, glacial tracks that bookend it, then Eremit’s 2020 EP Desert of Ghouls is for you.
Fans of 50-track record samplers will remember “Beheading the Innumerous,” the first of two tracks on Desert of Ghouls. Similarly to their approach on “Froth is Beckoning,” Eremit again keeps things brisk, and, as I wrote back in January, this is a song that highlights Eremit’s penchant for capturing both the grandiosity of doom and the ugliness of sludge. Forgoing any sense of atmosphere, “Beheading the Innumerous” begins with a slowed-n-throwed version of its main riff that is throttled to its swaggering stride in a matter of moments. From there, we are merely doped-out grains of sand blown about by the buzzing winds of fate and fuzz. A narcotized head-nodder, “Beheading the Innumerous” is a comfortable landing place for disembarkation from the good ship Carrier of Weight. On we trod.
As the story goes, 12 years have eclipsed since the “hermit Umno” passed “through a secret gateway” after a nearly endless ocean voyage as documented on Carrier of Weight. If “Beheading the Innumerous” tells the tale of Umno’s battles in the Desert of Ghouls (and it apparently does), then “City of Râsh-il-Nûm” masquerades as a moment of oasis. Fittingly, the first half of the track borrows Al Cisneros’ aesthetic for an experience that is equal parts The Sciences and Advaitic Songs. This is, after all, the heady discovery of a long-lost refuge of civilization in an oceanic desert. What begins, however, with mythic enchantment ends with Eremit’s most aggressive passages yet. “City of Râsh-il-Nûm” ends in a pyritic incandescence, marking the end of another leg of the hermit’s journey.
What I find striking about the abrupt transition in the middle of “City of Râsh-il-Nûm” is the repeated reference to the city’s walls. Fabian intones over and over the name of the city and its walls, a forceful incantation that conjures up the idea of borders and embattlements. The coastline separates desert from ocean while the parapets divide city from desert, and thus lines are drawn that bring names, identities, borders, and difference (back into) existence. The hermit now carries the weight of a name while the named city carries the weight of its history. On the Desert of Ghouls, we are no longer adrift as the multitudinous singularity; we are singled out, located, and walled-in.
This arrival of self is the arrival of the Other, and it is perhaps this moment of contact for which Eremit’s hermit has been seeking. As documents of movement, Desert of Ghouls and Carrier of Weight are invested in this attitude of searching. For what, though, does the hermit search? “There was a time,” Morrison tells us, “when to contemplate and strive for happiness was critical, necessarily compelling.” No more, she says; it is a “bankrupt idea,” a search route in need of a new map. Morrison instead urges us towards an activated, wakened, alert dreaming: “not idle wishful speculation, but engaged, directed daytime vision. Entrance into another’s space, someone else’s situation, sphere. Projection, if you like. By dreaming, the self permits intimacy with the Other without the risk of being the Other. And this intimacy that comes from pointed imagining should precede our decision-making, our cause-mongering, our action.” The only way out of this mess is a dreaming of “unusual vividness, clarity, order, and significance.” We must dream and visualize the Other.
Desert of Ghouls is a teaser for Eremit’s second full-length to be released later this year. Where on the hermit’s journey will we then find ourselves? What forms of experimental dreaming, of intimate imagination, of ranging visualization, await us there? Hopefully we will meet with such forms that allow us to see over and through walls that must be torn down in order to make way for a more just global existence. Let us dream!
DESERT OF GHOULS IS AVAILABLE NOW ON BANDCAMP
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