Mythology and folklore are alive today because we retell the stories. With each telling, a new interpretation is born and new meanings are added, taken away, enhanced, or erased. With each new medium, stories evolve, they can highlight new areas of myth that weren’t there before, or had been previously lost to history. Mesopotamian stories, the stories of Gilgamesh, Tiamat, Marduk, are were many of our myths began. Yet so much has been lost or remains untranslatable. So much so, I believe, that it is up to mythopoeia to begin recreating it, retelling it, revitalizing it. In a world where new mediums are developed all the time, what is their goal, their purpose in myth recreation? Valanx, an experimental drone project I’ve talked about before, is releasing a new album called Radiant Orbs of Abzu and it deals with, I believe, the recreation of the primordial myth: The Absu.
Nearly every culture on earth has a creation story, and in those creation stories, the world as we know it came into being in a violent manner; from chaos, from void, into order. The Hebrew concept of the Tehom, the primordial abyss, the Nordic Ginnungagap, and the Mesopotamian Absu. Each of these is where creation came from. For years and eons beyond count there was nothing but these voids, these nothings, these abysses from which nothing came. This is chaos, formlessness. Absu, or Abzu as I’ll call it from here on out, are the formless, fresh waters that exists beneath the world in ancient Mesopotamian mythologies. Abzu, both a primordial being and one of the primordial forces of chaos and entropy, is the mate of Tiamat, the salt waters. Their offspring slew Abzu and in retaliation Tiamat created monsters, creatures that she hoped would destroy her children and revenge her mate. Yet out of that chaoskampf came the world. Order, such as we see it now at least, came out of the formless chaos that was before.
But why? What was the point of creating, well creation, in the first place? For eons beyond measure there was simply nothing. Chaos doesn’t necessarily mean there was chaos or anarchy as we see it today. Chaos is the amorphous, amoral thing that existed before creation, before time itself existed. So, truly, what was the point? Why was creation necessary? Was it something that was bound to happen? Did the primordial forces of chaos and emptiness have no choice? Was this their choice? Did they set things in motion by producing offspring or were they merely pawns in the game of existence? In reality? Is reality what we call this order? Why? Chaoskampf is the struggle against chaos to create order, but what is the struggle of chaos to remain? Does chaos have a right to exist? Was the creation of order a violation of reality?
Does the Abzu still exist? Is it a physical place like Lake Vostok or the hundreds of underground lakes and seas we find in cave systems? Is it one of those things that existed but no longer does? Did it pass from reality to the realm of ideology? Does it exist there today? What are we meant to understand about the Abzu? Why have stories about it still persisted to exist even today?
That is where I believe mythopoeia comes in. We cannot fully realize what the Abzu, and the cosmological concept of chaos meant to the old world. We can learn bits and pieces from the writings they left behind but we are still, overall, powerless to create what it. But does that mean we cannot recreate it? Mythology and folklore have always evolved; we can see that much at least. Look at Mesopotamia even. There have been dozens of civilizations that have come into the area, empires that rose and fell, all of them adding layers and layers of story into the mythology of the place. Absu was Abzu, Apsu, Apse, Abse, and a host of other names. It grew, evolved and transformed. Slowly, but it grew nonetheless. Somewhere, though, the growth slowed or even stopped altogether. Is the fault of the new religions in the area, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Islam, trying to stamp out anything from the old world rather than build off of it? Perhaps. But we are in an age where we can recreate, retell, and revitalize the mythologies and folklores of old. You can see it every day in the new forms of media and story telling that blossom each year. Look at Viking Metal, it’s a new way of retelling the old stories, adding layers of mythopoeia without even realizing it. Thrusting new ideas into the light, retelling old stories with new methods to reinforce their importance. Calling new generations of people to search for the stories and to tell them again and again. So too, does the album Radiant Orbs of Abzu.
I don’t believe all experimental drone, or any genre for that matter, set out to recreate the old myths but in the case of Valanx, I believe that is its purpose. Each album focuses on an old element and retells the myths, with music and sound rather than words and poetry. Valanx’s last album, Ouroboros, focused on the recurring myth of the serpent that eats its own tail, symbolizing the recurring, endlessness of time and reality. Now we are given Radiant Orbs of Abzu, a two song anthem to the most ancient of all things. I thought this album, for the purpose of mythopoeia and storytelling was perfect. The entire album is just two songs, two nearly 20-minute epic pieces that recount the ancient feel of the Abzu as well as the extreme depth of the waters.
Adjectives like “deep” and “thrumming” are absolutely appropriate, so much so that I’ll get them out of the way here instead of saying them over and over again. The album itself feels as though half of it were recorded in the Abzu, or at least a decently deep body of water while Arne Weinberg, the mastermind behind Valanx, used myriad percussion, drone, and distortion effects to tell his own stories of Abzu. The atmosphere created by Valanx here is akin the movies like The Abyss, and Europa Report, two movies that I think are another way of telling stories about the Abzu. The sensation of being so far from the surface that not a single ray of light can make it is terrifying, and that’s what Radiant Orbs of Abzu thrives on. Emptiness and void are terrifying in their own way, we are surrounded by “order” in the form of other people, noises, sunlight, smells, and tastes that we are familiar with. But take all of that and get rid of it, we have chaos. Isn’t it odd to think of chaos as a lack of life and strife? Perhaps our idea of chaos has shifted over time as language has changed from those days in Sumer. Language has grown in complexity and variety and words that we think of now have completely different meanings.
Valanx is probably my favorite artist for this kind of music, music that purposefully retells and redesigns myths. Valanx takes everything into account when it comes to the myth. For instance, so many of the myths from those days are now connected with “alien” intervention (a theory which I soundly reject, but that’s just my opinion). Everything from the Fertile Crescent has been subjected to “theories” of ancient aliens, from the book of Ezekiel to Gilgamesh. Valanx even gives these ideas a fold in his own retelling with creepy, otherworldly sound effects. Add to that the use of ultra-low frequency drones, you get the feeling that even in the emptiness of the great waters, something is there. Something that is not human or earthly in origin. There’s a strange rhythm in the sound effects, in the percussion that made me, at least, feel as though there was something influence from beyond what we are aware of. There’s a darkness in the album too, a darkness that has always existed but is rarely visited because it’s not the same kind of darkness that we experience in metal or ambient. Sure we see darkness, that’s the whole point of those forms of music, right? We listen to them to experience darkness. But even that darkness is influenced and affected by the light. The darkness of the Abzu, and thereby this entire album, is devoid of even the knowledge of light. Every sound, every drone, every echo, is done in darkness, the primordial, chaotic darkness that existed before the light, before anything. Before Nietzsche’s abyss, before the Sagan’s void. There was the darkness of the Abzu. Even if we have never, and will never be able to, experience that sort of darkness, this album offers a tiny glimpse of that darkness. Of what exists and thrives in the darkness before the light. It’s fascinating and it’s terrifying. It’s worthy of hours of study and analysis and it’s worthy of shunning and running from.
Is this an example of me overanalyzing something? Possibly. Was everything I found in the album something that was meant to be found? Likely. Was the way I interpreted it the way it was intended? I hope so. Yet even so, I think this is an example of the text (the music) growing beyond the intents and purposes of the author (the composer). Just as myth is wont to do, it grows beyond what the first teller means, it grows in the minds of those that listen to it and expands beyond what its original purpose was. Valanx has truly created a new wrinkle in mythology. Well done, sir!
I cannot help but say good things about this album. It was everything I hoped for from the moment I looked at the name. The Abzu, or Abzu, has always fascinated me and Valanx clearly respects the source material while adding his own dimensions, his own wisdom, his own interpretations. This is the kind of album I want to hear when I see mythological references. I want something that retells the myths. I want new angles to old stories. I want to see the folklore in a new light (no pun intended) and Valanx gave me that in Radiant Orbs of Abzu. The only thing I could have wanted more was another song, another 2o minute opus to the darkness, but considering the tactile format (a cassette) I don’t think another song would have been good. I think he did perfectly with what he was up against. I cannot be more clear than right now: this is the album I want. This dedication, this purpose, this format. This. It’s only March but I have a (very!) clear front runner for Dark Ambient Album of the Year. This was an album I could enjoy as a lover of myth, as a lover of analysis, and a lover of music. You don’t have to be like me and overanalyze it to enjoy it. You can shut off the lights, put on some headphones and put it on full blast. You will not regret a single second of it.
Highlights: with only two songs, I’d say the whole damn thing
If you liked this try: Metatron Omega, From the Bogs of Aughiska, Xerxes the Dark
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