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Tunnels of ĀH - The Smeared Cloth (2012 - 2018 Unearthed)

Tunnels of AH - The Smeared Cloth (2012  2018 Unearthed) coverOver the course of 5 albums on Cold Spring, Stephen ĀH Burroughs has brought a unique vision to the dark esoteric sounds informed by his practice of Buddhism and studies of Gnosticism, mystic Christianity and magick. Burroughs is himself a Buddhist and approaches everything as ritual. A dark stream of sound runs throughout this collection but as much as it is brooding and unnerving, there's also a sensitivity. The Smeared Cloth (2012 - 2018 Unearthed) is comprised of unreleased recordings over two distinct periods and yet due to Burroughs' approach there's a cohesiveness and consistency of quality making this more of an album than others pieced together.

The first album features tracks unreleased tracks from before Lost Corridors and outtakes from Thus Avici, while the second album was recorded during and between the sessions for Surgical Fires and Charnel Transmissions. Amidst the eerie droning and rattling and echoing Z'EV like percussion of the opening track, 'Aceldama' Burroughs unleashes sinister insinuations about "the field of blood". This early version of a track from Thus Avici touches upon many themes prevalent in the work of Tunnels of ĀH. Aceldama was the name of the land bought by Judas with money received from betraying Jesus. Accounts vary but in one version the land was designated a burial ground, which almost relates to the sky burials and charnel grounds which featured in later Tunnels of ĀH work. Burroughs has his own take and it's there when he says "Aceldama is here in cities of blood... with faces like sin". It's a heady and strong opening.

Naturally as a collection culled from previous recordings there's a thematic continuity and coherence in sound evolving from Lost Corridors to the harsher Thus Avici and onwards to tracks recorded in the period of Surgical Fires and Charnel Transmissions. The title of the debut Tunnels of ĀH album arguably signposted a psychogeographical element and listening to 'Lost Corridors' and 'Icon of Light' you can almost see why. Both are constructed from textures creating an atmospheric haze of rustles, shuffles and shifts. The former includes location recordings with the latter being more propulsive and shadowy. 'Garlic Blades', meanwhile, throbs uneasily with reverberations swirling around a vast dank space. Another lost corridor, perhaps. Dark ambient isn't a term I usually associate with Tunnels of ĀH, but in the context of these wordless two tracks with the arcing droning of the expansive 'Draize Cloud Over Arcady' and the harsher quivering textures and chasmic quakes of 'Fountain Of Life' it kind of makes sense. Burroughs has spoken of these corridors and tunnels as being portals and these shadowy offerings certainly offer the opportunity for some meaningful inner visions.

The starker 'Amorphophallus' hints at something more elusive. Its title relates to the "corpse flower" which emits a scent of decaying flesh and here amongst the ratchety effects and noise rattles repeated distant wails emerge from deep underground and quickly disappear. It is within the deep threshing sounds of 'Brute World' that the characteristic Tunnels of ĀH sound emerges. It is there in the repeated bowed sounds and keening percussive chime of 'Brute World' - its title taken from The Tibetan Book of the Dead - with deeply buried animalistic grunts and quiet utterances creating something ritualistic.

Religious chanting runs throughout 'In A Pig Ark Dark' accompanied by hollow taps moving through passages of seering electronics but it's lyrically Tunnels of ĀH come into their own. 'Great Darkness' is a mass - not in the catholic sense, I should add - of ululating drone layers and darkened atmospherics, as Burroughs speaks of giving his heart amidst a raining clatter of metallic percussion and short repeated bursts of hiss. Buddhism and mystic Christianity feature on a number of tracks. Over the churn of percussive pummel, with added twang, Burroughs intones excerpts from The Heart Sutra on 'Keys King At Womb Door Again'. Erratic rhythmic tones and electronic whirr surround Burroughs on 'Multi-Storey' as he recites the six realms of existence - god, demi-god, human, animal, hungry ghost, hell - part of the cycle of existence in Buddhism before opening into a rare mantra chant. That might surprise those who only know Burroughs for being the vocalist in eighties noise rock outfit Head of David.

If there's almost a sense of stillness to be found in 'Multi Storey' it's absent from some of the tracks from the second collection especially the opening tracks which continue the biblical theme. Against beaty throbs and ring of singing bowls, Burroughs' intonations on 'To The Paschal Victim' concern the "terror of our lord" shrouded in imagery of flowers, wheat and barley corn before bursting into powerful slabs of noise. Those beaty throbs continue on the wordless 'Circumcision (Hunter Christ)' but mixed with swirling noise serations, noise blasts, chain rattles offset by liturgical chants it's just as effective. There is a religious significance to 'Camphor' but its sped up processed vocals over pulsing distorted tones comes closer to the approach of the chime and gong stations found which inspired Charnel Transmissions.

The closing two tracks vibrate to a more minimal sound. 'Red Distribution' is steeped in a hazy, static ambience and location recordings, while 'White Distribution' quietly jolts between erratic taps and deeper pulse tones, occasionally electrified by light blasts of fizzing distortion. Nothing too harsh or dark, and although taken from the Charnel Transmissions period, in the context of this massive compilation they seems borne from another dimension.

One track which I've failed to mention is the especially impressive 'The Cloth Is Smeared'. From flighty shimmering threshing sounds it builds with clattering and careering rings as Burroughs paraphrases apocalyptic text from the Book of Joel: the sun turns black, the moon turns red. Over hammering the phrase "blood and fire" is repeated, as it sucks in children chanting in a nursery sing song style. Highly effective, this is the closest Tunnels of ĀH have come to channelling the nightmarish dreamscapes of Current 93 circa Nature Unveiled. I'd love to know why this never surfaced on its intended album.

Stitched together from unreleased work from four albums The Smeared Cloth (2012 - 2018 Unearthed) makes a wonderful introduction to the unique vision of Tunnels of ĀH. The quality and consistency of material on this collection compares favourably with their previous material making this a must have for those already familiar with their "industrial esoterica", especially since Burroughs has recently been more prolific with his industrial noise project FRAG. This is dark, hallucinatory music of the highest order. The Smeared Cloth (2012 - 2018 Unearthed) is available digitally and as a double tape set from Cruel Nature bandcamp and double CD from Zoharum bandcamp