Aggelos Baltas, throughout his career and many guises as a musician, has always worn his hat tipped at least vaguely towards the rich cultural history of his motherland. As Fantastikoi Hxoi, he mutated obscure folk samples into psychedelic memory bubbles through which the ghosts of Greek legends could jam across the centuries; even as Dream Weapons, a dense, driving techno project, Baltas might sometimes use the drone of a floghera or similar classical aerophone as a base on which to build from. But it is with Anatolian Weapons, for all intents and purposes a fusion of both those projects, that the Athenian has gradually lengthened his arm to welcome his country’s (and its neighbours‘) rich and storied musical past to the shore.
That is not to say the new release under his most prolific moniker won’t perturb sections of his following. To The Mother Of Gods, released earlier this month by the RVNG Intl. imprint Beats in Space, represents the veteran producer’s first collaboration with an artist from beyond the realms of dance music. Using stems sent to him by folk musician Seirios Savvaidis, Baltas set out to “explore what happens when the principles of dance music are applied to pre-digital musical modalities.” He maintains much of what makes Greek folk music so uniquely haunting – the mournful vocalisations, the drone of wind instruments, the preternatural connection to natural surroundings – and structures beats around them with loose and easy expertise. Although elements of prior releases such as the excellent Black Sea, which made notable use of Muslimgauze-y percussion and sampled Middle Eastern vocals, have cast a net wider than the more club-oriented sound Baltas built his reputation on, none has gone quite so far as To The Mother Of Gods where left-turns are concerned.
This is not club music in the style of Dream Weapons, but that is not to say it couldn’t still play a part in people’s revelry. The album strikes a similar tone to Screamadelica in the way Baltas uses percussion to elevate Savvaidis’ prismatic vocals, and although slower tracks like “Ston Stavraito” can stray a little too close to sunset drum-circle territory, most others hit an otherworldly sweet spot that works supremely well on several planes.
Take the title track, for example, and the way the bass snakes its way through a veritable grove of percussive and aerophonic layers, transcendent and kinetic in equal measure, or the album’s opener “Tarachti Katarrachti,” which introduces Savvaidis’ trademark wail over a steadily swelling drum and bass combination before it breaks across piano lines and drones like a wave on a warm pebble beach.
The album’s masterful centrepiece is the eight-minute “Ofiodaimon,” which acts as a distillation of everything that makes To The Mother Of Gods such a success. For more than half the track’s hypnotic length, pipes keen heavenwards over a kosmische kick of drums and splashy tambourines straight out of Loaded-era VU, lit up by sparkling synths and buoyed by a drone so clear and weightless it feels like an invisible cloak falling around your shoulders. Savvaidis’ wordless howl comes and goes, falling back and surging forth before gently nestling in as a texture unto itself; yet another stitch in Baltas’ expanding tapestry. The sun bursts with only a couple of minutes remaining, and its release is glorious. Now Savvaidis sings of ancient deities, raising the track higher still – sonically and spiritually – and carrying it up and up until there’s no further it can go. To the mother of Gods, indeed.
At its best, To The Mother Of Gods contains music that will move you bodily, metaphysically and cerebrally all at the same time, and is as easily digested at home on headphones as it could be enjoyed coming down with a sunrise over Santorini. Whether the stalwarts will find much to love, especially where the slower, more plainly traditional tracks such as “Kalesma” and “Ston Stavraito” are concerned, remains to be seen. I like to think Baltas and Savvaidis have created something here that will unite tastes as easily as their collaboration does genres, and as gracefully as the resulting album spans existences – on this plane and in the heavens above.