Senyawa, “Alkisah”

In a deranged new nightmare of distorted Indonesian folk-metal-industrial-noise, Senyawa’s new album packs a heavy dose of evil liturgical power. A séance, dirge, praise and punishment all at once.

Melodies and rhythms help us remember words and ideas. Moods, motifs and rituals are understood through—indeed partly made up of—the stage set by sound. What are weddings and funerals, or “Love” and “Death” themselves, if not songs communities sing to each other? And do new songs create new communities, new rituals, new categories?

Yogyakartan duo Senyawa says sure, why not. String player Wukir Suyadi and percussionist/singer Rully Shabara play self-made traditional Javanese instruments drenched in completely obscene layers of blown-out distortion, sometimes in brutal industrial-rock bashes layered erratically over ritualistic chanting. Snaking around through infinitely-nuanced microtonality, Suyadi’s punk-dulcimer fugues over Shabara sounding like a zombie Tibetan Buddhist throat-singer possessed by demons in ecstatic screeches not unlike occasional collaborator Keiji Haino. It’s no wonder they jammed in 2014 with the globe-trotting reedsmith Arrington de Dyoniso and released a split record with Melt-Banana the following year. Lately they’re hot on the heels of a collaboration with Stephen O’Malley, and with this record they’re officially and indisputably the hottest shit in town if you’re into heavy music. None can deny that Senyawa completely slaps.

With self-made instruments tapping into wholly unique microtonal harmonies, and a scream-chanted multi-lingual kabuki asserting the breadth of an infinitesimally modular pan-Indonesian auter-world, Senyawa carves out a whole new cosmology, syntax, and way of life.

Unlike previous output, the album is an equally balanced mix of string-driven free-rock and percussion-heavy industrial exorcisms. But that’s not to say it’s a subdued affair. If you were struck by lightning tomorrow and plunged into a terminal coma, you would still probably not forget Alkhisa’s opening titular jam through your dying breath. The duo sounds to be under a hypnotic spell, their bodies overtaken by the animal spirits deep within the wood of their instruments. A chiming harp loop, a taiko-esque acid waltz, and insane guttural howling all just go on and on.

It’s no wonder the record label Phantom Limb likens it to the Ramayana Monkey Chant of Bali—likewise a modern tradition, asserting a post-colonial and globalised kinship in a regional community by summoning the spirits of a Pagan or pre-colonial mysticism. New ways of being, thinking, and relating to one another are always built out of the pieces of the old ones. In some cases they’re self-fashioned out of bits of bamboo, plugged into a rusty distortion pedal, and…