Music critics like to throw around phrases like “highly original” and “defies categorization” with reckless abandon. But in this day in age, what artists truly deserve such praise? Most popular music has assumed a dull, homogenous shade of grey. Music television is a window display of disposable Lolitas. Modern rock music is saturated with frivolous “pop-punk” acts like Yellowcard and Maroon 5 (“pop-punk” functions as an oxymoron in this sense). To make matters worse, American culture absorbed hip-hop and reggae as soon as it appraised their net worth.
Suddenly, like a massive storm summoned from every pungent corner of the globe, comes a wicked cult of musicians known as Secret Chiefs 3. Their fourth record, Book of Horizons, is in fact highly original. To say that it defies categorization is an understatement — it gives new meaning to the word experimental. And it’s absolutely fucking ridiculous in the best kind of way.
Book of Horizons sounds like the dying wails of a rabid Hydra with symphonies instead of lungs and magic eyeballs in its throat. It makes no apologies for an abrupt transition from a mystical Indian lullaby to a pastoral orchestral ditty with a death-metal tempo. The wide variety of soundscapes was produced by instruments including the saz, the dumbeks, and the ghatam. Book of Horizons even features a 19/16 time signature.
The album’s quirky smorgasbord of dense mythology and awe-inspiring musicianship suggests that the listener is not necessarily meant to wrap his head around Secret Chiefs 3 entirely. On the contrary, Book of Horizons is meant to be interpreted and enjoyed on its own preposterous terms. Song titles like “On the Wings of the Haoma” and “The Electrotheonic Grail Dove” could have been written by a metal band with a sense of satire (the Fucking Champs and the Darkness come to mind). However, as Secret Chiefs 3 are quick to point out, they’re not kidding, and they’re certainly not joking around.
According to legend, Secret Chiefs 3 is not really a band at all. It may be more accurate to suggest that they are a mystical cult playing a transcontinental game of musical chairs. Their leader is Trey Spruance, a composer and musician who uses the album’s liner notes to proudly dismiss his reputation for “artistic fascism, philosophical heavy-handedness, obscurantism, and anti-modernity.” Spruance is known for his work with Mr. Bungle, and he is personally responsible for all of the guitar work on the best album of all time, Faith No More’s King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime.
On Book of Horizons, Spruance performs, composes and exorcises mystical beings alongside a plethora of band mates and contributors. The array of accomplished musicians featured on the album recorded their tracks “on location in a hundred different places.” Listeners will witness a glockenspiel track that sounds like it was recorded in the bowels of Hell, a viola riff that was presumably uttered in a dewy meadow, a banjo groove that is drowning in the Mediterranean.
Secret Chiefs 3 is a collective of musicians that shares an utterly boundless sense of grandeur and imagination. They are also without a marketable single, a conventional “frontman,” or a discernable chorus. Their wild journeys through sound are not going to prompt you to sing along to their primarily instrumental mayhem. You will never find yourself in the shower reciting the harp progressions from “Welcome to the Theatron Animatronique.” And no other band will ever, ever be capable of performing an accurate cover rendition of a Secret Chiefs 3 song.
Book of Horizons is a delirious collision of musical influences that will surprise and intrigue the adventurous music addict. However, for the same reasons, this record is also virtually unmarketable, as well as basically unpalatable to the contemporary American ear. Secret Chiefs 3 are so clever and ambitious that they have been successful in playing by a set of rules entirely generated entirely by their own collective imagination.