The modern zeitgeist is centred around people and place: who should be where and why. Politicians pontificate; columnists rave; nationalists demand walls; liberals erase borders. Across the board, spittle-soaked arguments rage. But if we are all born of stardust, doesn’t that make us both people and place?
This thought seems to inspire “Cosmos”, the opening track of Constantine Skourlis’s debut for Bedouin Records. Oppressive sub-frequencies place pressure on the ear drums as if trying to capture concentration by force. The track reflects the cosmos of Neil DeGrasse Tyson as he updates and occasionally corrects the works of Carl Sagan. Misconceptions are smoothed out and a pool of understanding percolates. Glossy synths are combined with feudal clanging. Dark swells are juxtaposed with sharp glints of strings like distant stars emerging into night.
This album, however, is not as interested in the Cimmerian night sky as it is with the gloom of the land beneath our feet.
Hades began his life in Greek mythology as the god of the underworld, the oldest son of Cronus and Rhea. Those afraid of using his name referred to him as “Pluto”, or “Zeus Of The Underworld”, adding euphemisms such as “The Rich One”, “Notorious”, or “Who Receives Many”. But the same word is used to signify the underworld itself. Hades is both god and location, man and mass. Similarly, Erebus (whose name appears as the final track on this album) is simultaneously a primordial deity born of Chaos, a representative of tenebrosity, and a region of the Greek underworld ~ brother of Nyx and according to the Sanskrit Rajas, “a place of darkness between Earth and Hades”.
Constantine’s Hades offers a similar duality. Between these gods lie “Divide” and “Emptiness”, offering a dark commentary on the human condition. The album is concurrently mortal and mineral: a geographical record conceived in an idyllic island setting and a mournful tribute to the tragedy of man. Early in the recording process, the artist made sound-searching journeys deep into the underground of remote island caves as storms raged above, recalling the myths of gods and realms. A year after these recordings, Lesbos became an arrival point for refugees fleeing unimaginable horrors, risking and losing lives and loved ones.
In hindsight, we can see not only the impact of our actions but also the context and connections of outside forces. Recently we have seen people stripped of their humanity and rebranded as little more than the places that they have fled: not only the people of Syria fleeing Assad’s regime, but also ISIS forces and a US-led bombing campaign. Skourlis could not have known the historical solemnity that would permeate his blend of field recordings, strings, percussion and old tube radios. The weight that now presses on each struggling piano note, scything bowed string, and jolting percussive crash serves as a memorial for the innocent lives lost in the most shameful humanitarian crisis in recent history. The album was already powerful; now it has become important as well.