Witxes: A Fabric of Beliefs
Denovali Records

Most recordings come into clear focus after a few listens while others, such as A Fabric of Beliefs by the enigmatic Witxes, take considerably longer to do so. Stylistically, the fifty-four-minute album covers many bases with noise, drone, dark ambient, post-rock, prog, folk, and soundscaping episodes surfacing along the way. No one style predominates, however, which makes the album hard to pin down. In theory concerned with beliefs, whether they be dogmas, superstitions, or spiritual convictions, and how their external manifestation aligns with one's inner state, the group's follow-up to its 2012 debut outing Sorcery/Geography cultivates mystery by identifying on its inner sleeve the names of those who guest on the recording but crediting itself by band name only—even if Lyon-based guitarist Maxime Vavasseur (elsewhere identified as “Witx Master MX”) is the wizard behind the curtain. Contributing to the recording's expansive sound-world are tenor saxist Pierre-Loup Mollard, bassoonist Nicolas Mary, acoustic guitarist Clément Rhétorie, and percussionists Fabien Mysak and Léo Dumont, while Frédéric D. Oberland and Nicolas Laferrerie (aka Medecine Music) also add percussion to the album.

A seventeen-minute three-part suite, whose title references Abraxas (a mystical word that, in one of its meanings, refers to a powerful god-like figure of archetypal character) opens the album in arresting manner. Emerging out of crackling mists, a mellotron (or what at least sounds like one) appears in “Through Abraxas I” to give the material a prog-like quality before the sound is fractured by raw guitar textures. The second part opens with a concentration on cryptic swarms before tremolo guitar strums appears to lend the material a dusty, contemplative feel, after which “Through Abraxas III” builds from an opening ambient electronica sequence to a scalding guitar-fueled climax.

The subsequent tracks all conform to a repeated titling pattern—“The Strands,” “The Apparel,” etc.—that at least creates the impression of a narrative thread, even if there isn't one: “The Strands” opts for a pastoral electroacoustic style in wedding dense webs of acoustic fingerpicking to piano accents and percussive flurries; “The Apparel,” a deranged post-rock exercise smothered in diseased saxophones and electronics, conjures the image of a dark forest populated by goblins; “The Weavers” suggests some bizarre fusion of Steve Reich's Clapping Music and Popol Vuh; and “The Pilgrim” flirts with jazz in its free-form saxophone blowing, though it's sometimes hard to tell when it's buried under a mass of molten textures. There are also dark, combustible mood-pieces (e.g., “The Breach”) whose sound design is so dense they verge on opaque, plus a lovely outro, “The Moonlit Passage,” that's distinguished by a shimmering crescendo of guitars and synths.

The unexpected appearance of a vocal folk song near the end of the album proves somewhat jarring, arriving as it does after so much instrumental delirium. That said, “The Words” isn't objectionable on musical grounds and also seems to lend support to the idea of an album-length narrative, in this case one of a journey having been undertaken (“It's been a long, long night / And we still cannot find the way…”). In the final analysis, that A Fabric of Beliefs resists easy classification isn't necessarily a weakness, as its off-kilter quality keeps the listener on edge and thus captivated.

June 2013