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Tephra: Tempel

img  Tobias Fischer

Blood is thicker than water. So it should seem only natural for Tephra to regard the family as the ideal model for their band. Rather than defining their goals through the typical routines and cycles of musicianship – releasing albums, giving interviews, going on tour – the Braunschweig-based formation are considering social and musical implications as one and the same thing. Modern marketing managers will undoubtedly drool at the promising community-aspects of this philosophy, but in reality, the approach represents the exact opposite of a social media ploy. Rather than creating artificial ties between entirely anonymous consumers, the tangible connections between the group's members, their friends, relations and audience are at the heart of their endeavours, manifesting themselves in the little wonders rather than the singular big moments in life. Perhaps the most suitable comparison would be with the German psychedelic scene of the 70s, in which ensembles like Amon Düül operated like tightly-knit enclaves. Spending time together on stage and off stage was equally part of the creative process, the one begetting and feeding back into the other. By default, this all round closeness has consequences for the compositional process as well: On Tempel, Tephra are not just taking their personal style to a new level – they're also manifesting their sense of unity in the material at hand.

The link with the 70s makes sense in other regards as well. For one, there's the inspirational interest in Eastern philosophy, aesthetics and spiritual practise, most openly displayed on the closing title track, on which the guitars are droning like sitars, the drums are pounding as if part of a ritual, while the lyrics delineate the path of the searcher towards revelation, truth, deliverance and the unity of the self with the cosmos: „Of deepest density and weakness/ You find a way, perfection, enlightenment/ The brawling river in you/ The golden lake is oh so close, almost arrived and shadows resolve/ See the flames, they lead you/ Step over dashing stones through thorny underwood to the brawling river in you“. Despite this obvious nod as well as the cover artwork's explicit imagery, exotic and spiritual references mostly remain subtle, restricting themselves to the use of expedient scales, pleasantly complex rhythmical patterns and the sounding of giant prayer gongs at the end of „Seven Teeth“. Mostly, however, the external inspirations are amalgamated into a dense, mysteriously glowing sound of maelstrom-like riffing, slowmotion-speed melodic unfolding as well as frontman Ercüment's throaty shouts and soaring vocal lines, which rise to the sky like incense on majestic anthem „Deadman's Path“.

More openly than these aesthetic rather than contextual elements, however, the album is defined by a recognisable and closely co-ordinated interaction between the musicians, gradually perfected over the course of the past seven years. Rhythm has essentially become the pulse of their personal rite of passage: It is neither the doomy groove of sludge nor the strict, machinal metrum of funk, neither the arithmetic stop-and-go of math- and post-metal nor the simple stomp of hardcore. Rather, it is their own, personal groove, a head-nodding swing that puts the body in sympathetic resonance and which could potentially go on forever on its own accord. It never does, though, bass and drums instead laying down the foundation for the material to unfold upon: While one half of the band are creating the inner pulse of the music, the other are shaping the ebb and flow of thematic resources on top of it. The guitar work is undeniably the most prominent factor here, the twin-axe-axis pristinely placed on the left and right channel of the stereo image. As a result, one can literally hear how microscopic cells are growing and edging each other on into epic themes, motives are passed hence and forth between the poles, or, as in the dreamy middle section of epic nine-minute centerpiece „How the West was Lost“, float around each other like plumes of smoke, billowing and disintegrating and creating a weightless advent and disappearance of musical material.

The „post-metal“ or „post-rock“ tags have already frequently been applied to Tephra, while Tempel has been described as being „mostly instrumental“. Although technically speaking correct, with three of the eight songs dispensing with vocals altogether and Ercüment remaing silent on long stretches of the remaining material, these descriptions are obscuring the real quality of the album. In fact, neither are lyrics leading the music, nor are vocal tracks simply taking turns with instrumental ones. To be precise, these two separate layers have become part of a unified whole, in which they are treated as equal and applied according to the needs of the particular song at hand. Opener „Ghost“ constitutes a congenial example: A richly ornamented groove is rising from an alluring feedback drone and kept simmering for almost two full minutes, before a short passage of monolithic doom riffs and tortured screams rips its texture open – only to disappear and give way to the band again. It is not hard to regard this approach as part of the organically-grown structures of the band: Decisions are taken on democratic principles and there is strictly speaking neither a fore- nor a background. For the audience, this absence of egos had paid off, the vocals deepening the immersive effects of the instrumental structures rather than counterpointing them, every single part of the machinery serving the overall experience and journey.

It's not an easy journey Tephra are taking their audience on here, the density of the arrangements requiring attention and the will to participate in the process of unfolding. If the family is a model for their interaction, then the temple is a metaphor for the qualities of their music: Anyone can knock on its doors, but not everyone is granted permission.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Tephra
Homepage: Golden Antenna Records

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