There is a common misconception among less adventurous listeners of heavy music that Metal somehow owns heaviness. This belief discounts any music that isn’t wholly bedraggled with palm-muted guitar distortion and the barbaric pounding of drum and bass. Clearly, folks on this wavelength have never heard the collective improvisational genius of “Blues & Roots” by Charles Mingus. They’ve most likely never heard Michael Gira’s Swans building a pyramid of sound around a single chord, or the space aged gospel echo chambers of Spiritualized.
I once saw Louie Bellson, contemporary of Duke Ellington and first drummer to ever employ double bass drums, do a solo using only a pair of brushes and a high hat. A musical highlight of gargantuan proportions, that was close to the heaviest shit I’ve ever seen in my life.
Music like that is massive. Not necessarily better or more enjoyable than traditional Metal, but certainly not of the wimpy variety, as much as persnickety purists would like everyone else to think. The ever-obtrusive mantra “That’s not Metal” that so often bounces off the lips of these people rarely makes an impression past the crowded Internet chat rooms, but it is quite agitating nevertheless. As so often is the case with exploratory heavy music, Belgium’s Neptunian Maximalism has been slapped around routinely by absent-minded troll-types for months. But for dudes like me… that’s a sure sign of something I really want to hear.
Neptunian Maximalism (NNMM), according to their Bandcamp page, “is a community of cultural engineers… mixing drone metal with spiritual free jazz and psychedelic music”, which is as good a description as you’re going to find anywhere. The band has a rotating cast of approximately thirteen musicians, each with a unique improvisational approach, brandishing a variety of instruments from the expected (guitars, bass, drums) to the unexpected (sitar, flute, baritone sax, and something called “black magic scenography”). Comparable on paper to Sunn 0))), Acid Mothers Temple, and Ornett Coleman, NNMM released a voluminous three-disc concept album called “Éons” in June this year via I, Voidhanger Records.
The concept is complicated, but loosely based on an unusual theory of human de-evolution. It would be easy to get lost within the labyrinth of criss-crossing abstractions, if it weren’t for the fact that the entire album makes you feel close to home on whatever plane of existence NNMM resides. What makes this an extraordinary record is that it defies categorization entirely. Is it an experimental drone metal record, or an experimental free jazz record? Are there hidden messages from some long lost cvlt? Is the collective known as Neptunian Maximalism actually from their name-sake planet, and is “Éons” their warning to the Cosmos? I can offer no answers to these questions, but I can think of a shit ton more. That being the case, this fact makes “Éons” an endless source of inspiration and creativity with more depth and heftiness than nearly any other album put out in 2020. Again, not necessarily better or worse, just unquestionably exceptional and powerful.
It’s heaviness does not lie within the presence of distorted guitars and blast beats, rather with its insistence that the listener travel unexamined and often uncomfortable territory for the better part of three hours. This music does not go easy on the ears or the subconscious, seemingly restless even through the quiet bits. Neptunian Maximalism provides all of this and more, and it is absolutely glorious!
Rating – 4.5/5