Sunday, 20 June 2010

Little Birds Of Lightening

Walking through the midsummer woods I saw a small wren flitting from branch to branch, ticking noisily at my presence. Wrens nests are sometimes difficult to find and the best method of uncovering their hiding place is to watch the adults and mark where they fly. It wasn’t long before the wren that had been alarming so noisily at my presence flew towards the vertical root-plate of a large tree blown over in the winter storms. Here, amongst the tangle of roots and soil, the wren had built its nest of soft green moss, vibrant in the dull earth colours of the rocks and roots.
This small and unprepossessing bird has associations with kingship, magick and secret knowledge as it’s names in European languages indicate; Latin - Regulus; French - Reytelet; Welsh – Bren (king ) German - Koning Vogel (king-bird), Dutch – Konije (little king), Manx - Dreain, from druai dryw, the Druid's bird.
The wren was considered a "most sacred bird" and is called Drui-en or Druid bird in Gaelic.In Welsh the word Dryw means both druid and wren because the wren, is as the Druid, known to be cunning. It is said that the Druid's house was the wren's nest and that the wren's nest was protected by lightening. Whoever tried to steal wren's eggs or baby wrens would find their house struck by lightning and their hands would shrivel up. Lightning was the weapon of the thunder bull-god Taranis, who often inhabited oak trees, and the wren was sacred to Taranis.
It would be a sorry thing to be struck by lightening on midsummers eve in the woods not a mile from home so I left the wrens to their business and carried on with mine.

Hunts & Wars and the Age of Aquarius

Known for their hyperbolic reviews small independent San Francisco store Aquarius Records has been a supporter of THB since the earliest days. Here's what they have to say about H&W...fucking shoegaze???
TENHORNEDBEAST Hunts & Wars (Cold Spring) cd 14.98 The return of UK based one man ritualistic doomdrone shamen Tenhornedbeast, and another collection of abject darkness, grim sonic mystery, folk flecked dronemusic and epic black ambience, and as in the past, things have definitely shifted during the extended period of silence between this new record and the last. The very first 10HB record we had heard, was recommended to us as "epic, sprawling primitive doom/drone" which at the time was all we needed to hear, and indeed, that's precisely what it was, but with each record, 10HB's sound mutated and morphed, into something new, not always super dramatic, more an ever evolving sonic darkness, definitely dronemusic, but not so much primitive, a more composed sort of doomy black ambience, a post industrial drift that definitely leaned more toward drone than doom, but also more toward industrial then metal, which makes sense that he's found a home on Cold Spring alongside Toroidh, Laibach, Nordvargr, Prurient, Von Thronstahl, Wicked King Wicker and the like.
And in fact, the first track here, the evocatively titled "Reaching For The Stars We Blind The Sky", finds the sound of Tenhornedbeast definitely moving even further in a sort of industrial direction. It begins like we would have expected, dark and mysterious, spaced out and shimmery, with keening high end drifts, underpinned by deep rumbles, muted downtuned guitar buzz, feedback, all the sounds gauzy and grey, until about halfway through the guitars begin to grind the riffs crumbling and distorted and the drums kick in, not a straight rhythm, and not really free either, a bit martial here and there, but they seem to wander and drift, stumbling through a bleak field of stretched out tones and layered streaks of howling feedback, slipping from minimal and spare to chaotic and aggressive and back again, a little bit doomy, but more like some blackened neo-folk.
A 12 minute jam that really could have stretched out to fill up the whole record. But instead, the rest of the disc drifts into deep, tranquil dronemusic, laced with birdsong and melancholic melodies drenched in reverb, downtuned bass thrum driven creeps, held aloft by skeletal percussion, and again swathed in blurred effects and layered drones, heavy sure, but more mesmerizing and trancelike, string laden neo-folk, with haunting slowed down samples and disembodied voices, clouds of cymbal shimmer, and grinding mechanical guitarscapes, with hypnotic machinelike rhythms, swirling minimal lullaby like interludes, and finally the 20 minute title track, slow glacial riffage pulled and stretched until the riffs becomes long layers of undulating low end, billowing distorted bass like some sort of sonic avalanche, everything washed out and almost shoegazey, instead of getting heavier and heavier, it gets more and more shimmery and fuzzy, booming gongs, swirling effects, all wound around a simple, downtuned bassline, a slowed down doomic anti-groove, that creeps and crawls and finally drifts into the ether. Gorgeous packaging, an exquisitely designed 6 panel digipack, all browns and golds and greys and metallic inks...

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The Bird Of Night I

The bones of woodmice and shrews lay white and bare among the leaves and stones at the top of the crag. The southern edge of this huge ancient woodland is dominated by a steep limestone outcrop that provides a vantage point from which to view the canopy of the oaks, elms and ashes below and beneath that the deep viridian woodland floor, which in early summer is carpetted with dogs mercury, wild garlic and ground elder. It is clear from the white relics among the leaves that this vantage point, a place to look down on the woodland below, is also used by owls.
Dozens of grey owl pellets lie amongs the rocky limestone clints and grikes. Thick and lumpy, misshape, vomited forth from the cruel mouths of predatory, nocturnal psychopomps. In many cultures of the world the owl is an omen of misdeeds and a herald of death. Not only is it a ruthlessly efficient hunter but its eerie, ululating call has that quality which tricks the human mind, so prone to seeking meaning and correspondance where none exists, into believing that it has heard the voice of some wraith or night-gaunt that shuns the day.
Throughout the history of mankind, the owl has featured significantly in mythology & folklore. Owls are one of the few birds that have been found in prehistoric cave paintings and they have been both revered & feared throughout from ancient to modern times, in Cameroon the owl has no name and is only referred to only as "the bird that makes you afraid. Romans saw owls as omens of impending disaster. Hearing an owl indicated an imminent death, the deaths of many eminent figures, including Julius Caesar, Augustus & Agrippa were reputedly preceded by the hoot of an owl, Shakespeare citing in Julius Cease, (Act 1 Scene 3) "And yesterday the bird of night did sit. Even at noon-day upon the market-place, Hooting and shrieking
While the Greeks believed that sight of an owl predicted victory for their armies the Romans saw it as a sign of defeat. They believed that a dream of an owl could be an omen of shipwreck for sailors or an omen of being robbed. To ward off the evil caused by an owl it was believed that the offending owl should be killed & nailed to the door of the affected house, something one presumes was easier soothsayed than done.

The Bird Of Night II

Native British beliefs about owls include the Welsh custom that if a owl is heard amongst houses then an unmarried girl has lost her virginity, or that if a pregnant woman hears an owl her child will be blessed. In Yorkshire owl broth is believed to cure whooping cough, which speaks to the barbarism and benighted state of the inhabitants of that county.
The peoples of ancient North West Europe that we label “Celts” had a close association with the earth, evident from their mythologies in which the gods dwelt around them and the landscape, sky and the elements were sacred. Birds feature in Celtic traditions as symbols of divinity and as servants and messengers of the gods and owls are believed to have played a more prominent role in early Celtic cults and could perhaps have derived from a more broadly based deity of a common Indo-European descent (the proto-Germanic word for Owl is “uwwalo”, which I had earmarked for a TenHornedBeast song title until I noticed Chet from Blood Of The Black Owl had got there first).
Predating the Greek cult of Athene, for whom the owl was an animal attribute, were images of these ominous birds in Celtic art. Owls are believed to be a sacred animal to the famed Cult of the Head and they are often depicted with human heads and in company with horned animals such as rams and bulls, all of which have are zoomorphs of the head cult. In modern Scottish and Welsh languages, the owl, by the etymology of the word alone carries negative connotations of death and darkness.
The most famous aboriginal British myth dealing with the owl is in the story of Bloudeuwedd, contained in the "The Mabinogion". Blodeuwedd was created from flowers by the magician Gwydion for the prince Llew Llaw Gyffes. She had an affair with Goronwy & they contrived to kill Llew. On his death, Llew was transformed into an eagle but was healed & returned to human form by Gwydion. Llew returned to seek revenge but rather than killing Blodeuwedd Gwydion turned her into a white owl, to haunt the night in loneliness & sorrow, saying "I will not slay thee, but I will do unto thee worse than that. For I will turn thee into a bird; and because of the shame thou hast done unto Llew Llaw Gyffes, you shall never show thy face in the light of day. And thou shall not lose thy name, but shall be always called Blodeuwedd."
An example of owl imagery in Celtic metal work are the handle fittings found on the famous cauldron discovered at Bra, Jutland, dating to the 3rd century B.C. The cauldron was found in a bog and was believed to have been a votive offering that was broken into pieces before being ceremonially deposited in the water. In the La Tène style it is adorned on the rim with five cast bulls heads and birds head attachments that held the three large iron rings. The front face of the flat semi-circular fitting bears a three-dimensional face of an owl that is constructed of several curved and circular shapes, with the large eyes and sharp beak standing out. Celtic scholars refer to the technique of creating hidden or suggestive faces out of designs as the "Cheshire Cat style" of ornamentation.

The Bird Of Night III

An object of equal beauty to the Bra cauldron owl fitting is a jade mask carved by the people of the neolithic Hongshan culture of north eastern China, dated from approximately 4700 to 2900 BC. Hongshan jades includes many zoomorphic pieces with pigs, dragons, pig-dragon hybrids, cicades and birds being among the most common. Carved without the aid of the metal tools it is thought that Hongshan jade workers cut the rock using saws of animal sinew primed with sand and grit, drilled holes using pump drills with hard stone bits and polished the jade on river sands and silts.
The mask shows a sweeping, graceful symetry and striking, naturalistic propertions that speak of an artist intimately aware of the form and character of the animal. The jade itself is a deep green flecked with golden bands. Two small holes have been drilled into the piece at the top suggesting its use as mask in some form of ceremonial.
[ Those interested in the exquisite jades from the Hongshan culture are pointed in the direction of the excellent book “From Pig to Dragon and to the Collector - Appraising Neolithic Hongshan Jades” by Mr. Xu Qiang. (ISBN 978-7-80142-865-3/Z.436-08.2007 Hua Yi Publishing House, PRC) In his book Xu also makes reference to the apparent paradox of less than 300 Hongshan jades in official collections yet many more held by him and other private collectors. He explains that, in view of the number of Hongshan grave sites and the average number of jades found therein when tombs were still in pristine conditions, a much larger number of authentic Neolithic Hongshan jades are not impossible. Mr Xu’s explanations are translated into English, alas English of a risibly poor quality which does not always allow the reader to fully grasp the fine details which are probably revealed in the Chinese sections of the text. ]
Such a delicate and expressive object as the Hongshan owl mask is at odds with the inauspiscious character that Chinese folklore assigns to the bird. Traditionally the Chinese do not like the sound or hooting that the owl makes because in Chinese phonetic meaning it gives the expression for digging of a grave. One of the ancient Chinese beliefs was that when a person is about to die one would hear the Owl hoot calling out `dig and dig'.
The Mandarin word for owl uses the same character as “killing a person and placing his head on a pole” and another Chinese name for owl, "xiao", is used in expressions relating to ferocity and bravery. It was also believed that when the young of an owl was about to fledge the next it would dig out its mother's eyes or even eat their own mothers. Erroneous as this belief is owls are known to be violently territorial and to defend their nests against intruders, as the wildlife photographer Eric Hosking found out when he got too close to a tawny owl and paid with the loss of his eye.
As I sat amongst the bones of mice and looked out from the yew-burrowed rocks into the woodland below I wondered where the owl was that had left such ossuarys amongs the leaves. Tawny owls (Strixa aluco Sylvatica – “sylvatica” meaning woodland and denoting the subspecies found in Western Europe and the British Isles) usually roost on branches close to trunks, hidden from sight by both by their excellent camouflage and peoples aversion to sitting still and looking up. Of the countless times I have heard owl call I have seen them on the wing only a handful – and then only briefly as they flash past in the darkness, sometimes illuminated as the pass through clearings or trails.
Tawny Owls pair off from the age of one year and stay together in a usually monogamous relationship for life. An established pair's territory is defended year-round and maintained with little, if any, boundary change from year to year. This site may have been used to regorge pellets for generations. Owls may have sat on the yews that bristle on the crag since before people crossed the landbridge from continental Europe, their pellets decomposing to reveal the bleached bones of their kills, their cries a prescience of death to creatures that walk on two legs and on four.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The Moon And The Yew Tree - Sylvia Plath

I recently visited the ancient woodland that runs from Hagg Wood to Yewbarrow, on the southern fringe of the Cumbrian hills. Massive, old and spectral yews cling to crumbling limestone cliffs and erupt from the shallow soil like a message of blackness. Deadly in their solitude. Sylvia Plath's poem captures the selenic mysteries of these ancient trees and this hidden stretch of woodland.
This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue. The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place. Separated from my house by a row of headstones. I simply cannot see where there is to get to.
The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right, White as a knuckle and terribly upset. It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here. Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky ---- Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection At the end, they soberly bong out their names.
The yew tree points up, it has a Gothic shape. The eyes lift after it and find the moon. The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary. Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls. How I would like to believe in tenderness ---- The face of the effigy, gentled by candles, Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.
I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering Blue and mystical over the face of the stars Inside the church, the saints will all be blue, Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews, Their hands and faces stiff with holiness. The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild. And the message of the yew tree is blackness -- blackness and silence

Friday, 4 June 2010


In the spring of 2009 TenHornedBeast used source sounds provided by Pyramids to record a track for the WVNDRKMMER compilation project.
This track, titled "Secret Overlord", is now available on this lavish and genre defining release. 5 cassettes housed in a large format box with colour cover and black card slipcase with silver wax seal.
High Praise to Pyramids and Small Doses for making this dream a reality.

Hunts & Waaaarrrgggghhhhhhs

Never thought I'd see the day.