Senyawa has come a long way since forming a decade ago. From the beginning, the band has been Rully Shabara on vocals and Wukir Suryadi on numerous instruments mostly of his own creation. (For an early solo release of his works, check out this Antara Dapur & Lingkungannya at archive.org.) Often, these are gnarly string instruments, such as his Bambuwukir, in addition to various flutes and percussion. On Alkisah, Suryadi torques various unnamed custom strings (or, mostly strings) and Shabara contributes his patented howls, growls and operatic Sprechgesang.
Alkisah marks an epic turn for the band in terms of concept, performance, and production. Senyawa as a duo began with recordings available free for download through the quasi-anarchist/ultra-local netlabel YesNoWave. They then shifted to other underground labels and, embracing the disruption of the pandemic, turned to 40 (!) of them for this release. In short, the album was co-released by labels in various markets "as an alternative method of music distribution that is more decentralized and non-hierarchical, allowing it to be more accessible in distance and price, redefining music exclusivity by sharing its ownership, and empower smaller scattered powers to grow and connect." Each label designed its own packaging and formatted and mastered its own releases. In the US, this task fell on by Phil Freeman's new label Burning Ambulance Music, which has released what I understand is the only CD version in the American market. The world was fractured. Most of us in the US, at least, were pushed into our respective domestic bubbles. Why not reflect that disarray in the release itself, allowing production and distribution of this album from Java to be re-localized and glocalized through discrete regional nodes? Very cool, meta stuff.
Now to the music. Alkisah ("Once Upon a Time" in Indonesian) is a concept album, which, per the Bandcamp liner notes, "tells the story of a formerly advanced society that comes to recognize the impending destruction of its established order. Redemption is nowhere to be found — doom is here, and what happens afterward is all that matters." My Indonesian is non-existent, so I am going to have to trust the description on that one and just lean into to the sounds. The doom metal undertones are unmistakable, but Senyawa transcends the conventional plod and clod and offers shades and shapes of darkness that are more predicated on prog, noise, avant-rock, and some oddly numinous folk melodies, as the bardic metal chants of the opener, "Kekuasaan", attest.
Track four, "Istana", is one of the heaviest. The strings and percussions are unrelenting, and the vocals incant atop them. After the nearly 7 minutes conclude, the listener knows shit is about to go down. It does not, however, fall as one might expect. The next track, "Kabau", is a dark folk piece and is followed by "Fasih", a stew of ritualized drum-loop, delicious electric strumming, and a narration that seems to tell a story that, apart from the mood, is utterly inscrutable to this reviewer. This piece calls to mind Magma in its percussive symphonics, shorn of most of the rest of the orchestration. The rest of the album ebbs and flows similarly through that tense and tortuous sonic spaces that Senwaya has so convincingly and uniquely claimed as its own. Indeed, Alkisah is an hour-long trek through a lambent and craggy sonic cavern that serves as the threshold between the mundane world and the rather hazy spirit-realm below it (or a distant mythologized past, or a divined epic future). Through it all, however, the tension builds, but does not breaks. Again, the lyrics are lost on me, but the music never reconciles, as I imagine the story never does, either. Instead, it fluctuates and spirals, only to return on itself presumably to start the cycle again.
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