We Should Ever Be In Motion: Nomadic Rituals’ Tides
An artifact for our age.
“Most nomads,” writes Bruce Chatwin in The Songlines, “claim to ‘own’ their migration path (in Arabic Il-Rāh, ‘The Way’), but in practice they only lay claim to seasonal grazing rights. Time and space are thus dissolved around each other: a month and a stretch of road are synonymous.” On Tides, the third LP from Belfast beasts Nomadic Rituals, time and space are unyoked from what H.G. Wells called “placid assumptions” about progress, humanity, and evolution. Instead, Nomadic Rituals follows alternative spacetime paths towards new—or lost—ways of experiencing and understanding life.
Tides is an album with heady interests and influences. Because it is so interested—in space missions, in prehistorical and contemporaneous skywatching, in the dissolution of what Herbert Butterfield once deplored as the Whiggish strategy of ordering moments of history as ineluctably leading to an already preconceived (and politically motivated) outcome—Tides is both invigorating and daunting. It is an album interested in science but not in the singularly modern sense of the term. Science is not, though it is often taken to be, writes Stephen Jay Gould, “the ultimate tale of progress,” moving linearly along a legible, clear path. It is something completely different, something that retains a mystical, unknowing, and unknowable quality. Recognizing this, Nomadic Rituals looks deep into the futural histories and the historical futures of space exploration, Neolithic excavation, and the existential angst of the digital age. Nomadic Rituals offers a rich trove of cultural interests that deepens and makes all the more satisfying their massive and immersive sound.
“Cassini-Huygens Part 1” opens the album with the dusky twang and ponderous drums of post-stoner atmosphere before giving way to a deluge of roiling, planetary riffage. The space-stoner rock of long-forgotten Rebreather blends with Cult of Luna’s expansive and deliberating post-metal as Nomadic Rituals avalanches through the Cassini-Huygens’ groundbreaking voyage to Saturn. Named after Giovanni Cassini and Christiaan Huygens, two 17th-century astronomers who traveled to Saturn in their own ways, the Cassini-Huygens was the orbiter-lander space-research mission that landed on Titan and entered Saturn’s atmosphere. In “Part 1,” Nomadic Rituals addresses Cassini directly, beseeching in a black metal rasp, “What have you seen, Cassini? Where have you been, Cassini?” The urgency of these entreaties calls to mind Searle pleading, “What do you see? Kaneda! What do you see? Kaneda!” as Kaneda finishes repairing the damaged shield cells and opens himself up to the cresting sunblast that obliterates him in Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. It is a confrontation with the desperation to know what can only remain unknown.
Riffs with the size and warmth of a solar flare punctuate these questions, directed to the probe and the Italian astronomer. While we wait for current-day scientists to analyze all the data from the Cassini mission, we also wonder what it meant for Cassini himself to observe and record the surface markings on Mars, the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, and the division in the rings of Saturn through 17th-century eyes. Can we hold together the spectacle of The Day the Earth Smiled with these first European forays into deep space? Can we think of each of these moments partnered with one the other in the briefest of contredanses during an eternal quadrille? Cassini is man and machine, the 21st century and the 17th, an early success of Western astronomy (with an assist from Indian astronomy that Cassini helped disseminate throughout Europe) and a modern one all collapsed into one indissoluble moment of majesty and awe.
“Part 2” shifts perspective while Nomadic Rituals’ low-end swings along its doomed orbit. “Send, receive / My life complete,” echoes out the Cassini-Huygens, the ship now transmitting its mission along gravitational waves. “Part 2” slides into a higher, more heated register, offering up a classically sludgey feedbacked solo to counterbalance the track’s galactic pummeling. By the end of “Part 2,” you are no more than the slowly dissipating hiss of a lost interstellar signal.
“Them” and “Tumulus,” the middle bend of Tides and arguably the album’s best material, bring together the aggression of Mosquito Control-era Isis with the sorely missed gargantuan tones of Pelican’s self-titled EP. In particular, “Them” is all riffs and cataclysmic vocals, a vehement expression of desolation and introspection screamed into the immense face of space’s lifeless void. It also might be about Borg.
“Tumulus” follows, hurtling us from the rings of Saturn to the mounds of Brú na Bóinne. Brú na Bóinne, or the Boyne valley tombs, sits 40 kilometers north of Dublin and comprises the Megalithic passage graves of Knowth, Newgrange, and Dowth, with some of its tombs, stones, and henges predating the Egyptian pyramids. It is one of the most important archaeoastronomical sites in the world, a space where we can attempt to understand how people in the past thought about and lived according to the phenomena of the sky. It is a testament to a sophistication and patterning of life to which we only have scant access. While the rhythms section of Carson and Smyth pounds away, Hunter’s baritone guitar time-warps and star-twists psychedelically throughout much of “Tumulus,” creating a rich, intoxicating, disorienting ether in which to contemplate all the forms of knowledge—astronomical, archaeological, and otherwise—that have been so often denied to past peoples as well as to indigenous peoples of the present. Though “Tumulus” is a de-composition of the journey from stardust to earthdust, it brings us not so much to the past as relic but to the past as a vast and unexplored future. Time’s Arrow pierces Time’s Cycle, an irruption of one movement of time into another to create a new temporality. The song ends with us buried underneath rocky, loamy mounds of Sleep-toned riffs, descending deeper into another realm.
Things briefly settle into a haunting calm as the final third of Tides finds Nomadic Rituals invoking the ritualistic Om to trace our entropic path towards heat death on “Moving Towards Total Disorganisation.” Ultimately, however, Tides ends with the apocalyptic turmoil of Keeper, as we all sink heavily, wearily, and mortally under “The Burden.” As the album crashes towards its inevitable conclusion, both Godflesh and Jesu traipse in and out of view, shimmering figures on an ever-crumbling horizon. “Do we suffer to live?” asks Nomadic Rituals in these final moments. Less so thanks to albums like Tides. “Music,” remarks Arkady to Chatwin, “is a memory bank for finding one’s way about the world.” Tides charts a starmap of memories between peoples past and present, planets and burial mounds, artifacts of the future and discoveries of the past, so that we might more humbly fumble our way through life with more interest in what there is still to learn and in different ways of understanding than in feeling interesting for what we presume we already know.