Hypnotic Underworld

(Drag City; 2003)

By Amir Nezar | 4 October 2007

Once, I was samurai.

And a mystical music beckoned from the mountaintop, filtered through the mist and mirage of the bamboo forest, the pale blue pillars of thick half-light from a flat sky diffusing into a pathless pattern. I must make it to the mountaintop.

Hypnotic Underworld (1. God Took a Picture of His Illness on this Ground)

It was to be thirteen eerie minutes early on in my travel. Tin whistles, scraped strings and rolling cymbals punctuated each of my steps, and as I improvised my dashing path so did the onrush of trembling cello and discordant saxophone swim in and out of discord and harmony - though, through it all, I could feel the emboldening bass shift in and out of chords with quiet consistency as my soul struggled to secure a balance. A tumble of drums signaled an oncoming landslide, and I deftly dodged the down-tumbling rocks, my focus as sharp, in the ethereal, swirling mixtures of noise, as the piercing siren sound of the saxophone. Light cascaded down in intermittent shafts like the cascades of lighter percussion that occasionally brushed through the grey-blue gloom. I could feel ghosts about me, wraiths whispering in washes of whistles and celtic harp, and I was unsteady, as I moved briskly through the whooshes of wind. I was still on guard, unswallowed by the murk, but one with the unpredictable atmosphere. The entrancement of the forest threatened to enthrall me and hold me back, but despite the final, heightening wails and ghostly pleas, I swooped up and out of the forest, up the incline, chilled and resolute, my mind as sharp and clear as ice.

Hypnotic Underworld (2. Escaped and Lost Down in Medina)

The ground beneath my feet widened out, suddenly, the mist whispering at my back, clinging still to the spectral trees. Bass moved surely and quickly through climbs and recessions, my feet grabbing instinctive footholds in the uneven landscape, filled in with improvised piano, and a mellotron. It was a fuller air as I rose, my surroundings more structured, if more harsh, the percussion from the mountain top raging with furious inventiveness, crashing cymbals and tornado-whirls of bass and snares, my heartbeat moving to the glorious rhythm of the bass, the wheeling noises of synthetic keyboards brought under control into a more structured brilliance. A layer of clouds further, and…

Hypnotic Underworld (3. Aramaic Barbarous Dawn)

The sun exploded. Beautiful melodic downstrokes of electric guitar tore from the mountain's music source, filling the pillars of light, making their illumination concrete. The percussion easily fell perfectly into step with my leaps and bounds upwards, upwards, towards what seemed could only be heaven, the bass as lithe and lightly plucked as my rapid feet, my courage mounting, choruses of angelic harmony urging me, urging me, urging me, and with keyboard flourishes amidst final electric bass thrashes, my feet suddenly took on great speed…

Hypnotic Underworld (4. Leave the World!)

And whipped through the remaining rock crags, furious as the percussion-whipping that wound around my calves and brought me to lethal swiftness, my heart thudding with the relentless bass, cymbal taps and snares aflare! The rock crags were behind me.

Hazy Paradise

Verdant fields unveiled themselves to my sharpened eyes, and the music fell into pace with my slowing steps, evanescent, reverberating guitars lilting in my ears, theremin riding on languid bass, flowers blooming with the bold guitar crescendos punctuating the sonic landscape. The voice winding its way through the silky bass was as smooth and dry as a mythical serpent. I was wary of becoming too languid, lulled away into this paradise, described once before by a sage named Syd Barrett, of an era distant temporally but not musically from this journey. Indeed, I had heard of journeys not too far from mine in spirit (though those travelers tended to remain relatively stationary, and inspired by less pure trips of the soul), traversed by means of a god called "Pink Floyd." I could feel the shade of this god over my own journey, though the pure difference of soul and purity here seemed to be of its own life. I was samurai, and this sound was inflected with the impenetrably beautiful dao of Japan.

Kiseichukan Kite

Spoken words accompanied my ascent away and up from the full and ambrosial plateau. Plucked strings and a lute lifted me up as the bass moved in easy peaks and valleys, and light, hollow percussion filled the occasional space. I could feel the ecstasy of the finishing journey coming up.

The Piper

What I did not expect was the glorious fury that gathered and released on the next part of my journey. A simple whistle, scraped strings, and a plucked guitar gave no hint of the coming thunderstorm of hyper-beautiful sound. But then a siren's wail of wild feedback pierced through the quiet, and a phenomenal hook atop a mild storm of percussion shaped itself. Lulls came and went, serene scenes of sonic splendor drifted in and out, beautiful ornamental guitars moved limber over calm bass, with the whistle in the background, before waves of multi-layered hooks shot through, and I shot forward with blistering speed and versatility, avoided the dashes of lighting brought by snare thrashes. Thunder rumbled, and then, out of a magnificent fork of lightning was forged a dragon made of the most sweetly dangerous guitar solo I had heard in years, winding about, biting at me and writhing with deadly elegance. I dashed this way and that, my sword flashing as I finally brought the dragon to its knees and continued to the beautiful sounds of the lifting, sonorous guitar. The dragon wailed in wounded cries of feedback as I breached the outer edge of the area, and, drums beating with the fury of my roused heart, I took part in the catharsis of the most beautiful of the songs I had heard yet on this album or perhaps even ever. I had to escape, for the near-seven minutes of unhindered devastating splendor threatened to rip my body apart and send me catapulting into the ether, lost forever. What awaited me next?


The epic ten minutes that followed saw a beautiful arrangement of three different movements, each with its own landscape. The first, bringing alive a slope of pale green swirling trees and waving long grass, was comprised of effortless bass, flute, piano, and extended vines of subtle feedback. The second brought clouds and made the landscape gray, turning the trees into stone skeletons, a more ominous bass line lining harp plucks and twisting a sinuous darkness into the guitar feedbacks, now made great, winding serpents. The percussion took on different, more unpredictable life, and as I moved methodically through the forest of stone I prepared to meet a furious destiny at the end. When I had passed the last of the rocky effigies a great rumbling commenced, and the brooding hurricane that had begun to collect itself above me raged forth - with a breath of warning wind, a seamless tribal percussion began, and formless wails from beyond took brief, scattered, paths through the dark piano line and great torrents of cymbals and percussion crashes. It looked as though I might be whipped from the mountain, but I buckled down and brought my legs to move through the winding winds, until finally…


Lilting, lovely guitar languidly caressed my eyelids as the clouds broke and the sunshine spilled through. A deep, gentle voice brought on another Pink Floyd-ish progression of guitars and bass work, slow but steady percussion easing my legs into steady step. I was certain of reaching the goal. It could only be so. As the brilliant keyboard-stuttered conclusion and rubbery bass flourishes came to a brilliant crashing ending of exploding sunlight and similarly supernova-ing cymbals and drum work, revelation seemed at hand. A voice cried truth, strings wrapped in supple grace about the climax, and I reached the top.

Holy High / Dominoes - Celebration for the Gray Days

I saw them there. Takuyuki Moriya, Kazuo Ogino, Junzo Tateiwa, Masaki Batoh, Michio Kurihara, Taishi Takizawa. Brothers from a nameless repeating era. Immortals with souls in balance. In service, ever, to the glory of sound. This moment, filled with exquisite arrangement of their instruments, from guitar to vocals to bass to mellotron, seemed less a conclusion than a simple pure ageless procession to an infinity of more, more, more. They smiled at me and said, "Revelation is not here, friend. It is in continuing, endlessly." Tears fell from my wind-worn, beauty-torn, appreciative eyes. Yes, I had to continue the journey. Revelation was in every step I had taken through this time, and would continue so long as gods as these were providing the soundtrack. I reached the mountaintop, but not the end. The end was somewhere couched within the limitlessness of the beyond, where other beautiful sounds beckoned as these had. But I did stop with them, and embrace them after they had concluded, in a brilliant closer of organs and bells and heavenly choruses and blinding guitar and cataclysmic drumming. Angels danced among us, and I wept and wept and wept. Heaven descended and left, and I turned, dry eyed, ready to begin again.