Rafael Femiano is the name of a man that knows his darkness. If you didn’t know that before, you will know it after listening to Oikos latest album The Great Upheaval. Oikos is a band, consisting of him, a bandmate and a great number of guest musicians, that have a number of tapes and CDrs under their belt. It’s about time they got themselves a proper vinyl release. The moment you lower the needle, you know you’re in for a ride.
The first tune, “Ravaged, burned”, utilizes guitars, drones, ambient moans and any number of sound sources to create an utterly amazing vision. It evokes images of the remains of gunslingers shot dead, lying in the desert as the vultures circle above them. “Menace and Portent” continues in a similar vein, except here there is something building. A tension, a threat, a looming disaster. Those who love pain – in others, and utterly in themselves – feel a gruesome anticipation. Those of higher moral quality feel only dread, but perhaps both emotions coexist in everyone concerned at some level? As listeners, we surely partake of both.
Next “Joik” shifts the location to a colder place. Somewhere in the eastern parts of Eurasia, a drunken drug addict plays the didgeridoo outside a hut in which he hides for who knows what reason. Drones, synths, cold, death. Perhaps a hint of beauty, but there is a hopelessness that isn’t going anywhere.
“Marrow of Prayer” offers something else. While the album is described by the artist as “an imaginary soundtrack for every moment in history ravaged by violence and superstition”, this track clearly has some religion in it, and not just because of the title. There’s an expectation and a transcendence, inviting the listener to go beyond the “violence and superstition” which are the very heart of what the Eastern-Orthodox Church sometimes refers to as The World, and which the rest of us refer to as the World as well. The track drones on, combining threatening vibrations with a note of beauty and harmony. Even when it breaks down after half the play time, and the bass and siren like wails put the horror of Becoming into focus, there remains always the promise of a peace to come.
Closing the album is “Arch”, a track which continues where “Marrow…” left off. The drones are still there, as is the hope, and there’s a creaking sound, suggesting that something is about to break. A couple of minutes in, a drum beat kicks in, while the many instruments start building towards something. In the end, it peters out. Creaking, calling it a day, silence.
This is Nick Cave without vocals, and it’s spectacular. If No country for old men had a soundtrack, The Great Upheaval would be it. As things stand, we can enjoy this splendid journey through something perhaps greater than its authors intended, without being bothered by visual media.