ASTODAN // BATHALA - BLACK WITH WHITE PULSAR VINYL (2LP)
RELEASE DATE: 13th November 2020
For their second LP, Belgium’s Astodan are continuing the conceptual through line revolving around ancient burial chambers that was first approached in 2018’s Ameretat. On Bathala they have taken inspiration from the Filipino Tagalog tribe, who would bury their dead standing up in tree trunks as an offering back to nature, and to their god, for whom the album is named. A major step for the band in the two years between records came in the writing process; whereas Ameretat was written entirely by founding member Tim Moens, Bathala was an equal effort, bringing together stylistic and artistic perspective from each member. The result is a fuller and more fleshed out listening experience, with expanded instrumentation including cello, violin and piano, and a tone that is much more indicative of where Astodan is headed musically with a freshly raised ceiling of possibilities.
Upon first listen Bathala comes across in darker hues than its predecessor, but like Ameratat the record makes its most powerful statements in the beauty found around the edges. It speaks to the thematic content, and the band’s impressive ability to translate broad ideas into instrumental compositions that effectively represent the ideas behind the music. As these tracks come together around the realities of death and loss, it is only natural to find the music moving through shadowy textures and aggressive outbursts. But in these burial rituals the belief in life beyond what we know is as meaningful as the mourning of death, and that balance is what Astodan seeks to achieve in their writing. Capturing the grace that comes with a hope beyond hope and the elegance and dignity of rituals honoring the dead is of equal importance as interpreting sorrow and anguish, and it’s this equilibrium that sets Astodan apart both sonically and conceptually.
Listeners need only explore the ambitious, grandiose lead single “Likha” to get a well-rounded look into what Bathala has to offer. At over 11 minutes, it makes no concessions to approachability, instead presenting an unencumbered artistic vision. Bookended by slow-burning atmospheric sections and allowed to soar in its middle sections, the song demonstrates Astodan’s adept hand with building immersive soundscapes, wielding crushing riffs, engaging affecting melodies, and shifting tone and tempo to create a dynamic listening experience. The variation present on the album can be seen in the two songs that follow it, the dark, mystical “Buaya,” and the tender, dulcet, but eventually towering “Alay.” However, for those who are following the more esoteric elements of the songwriting, the balance and progression through darkness to light can be seen in the opening and closing tracks. “Hukluban,” the most confrontational and afflicted track, sets an early tone that is observed and met head on, leading slowly but confidently to the climactic moments of “Makka Kasanaan,” a cathartic denouement that offers reassurance without lowering the volume. It’s this finale that ties all the threads of Bathala together, in a manner that is uncompromising, true to concept and entirely satisfying. With this record Astodan firmly cements themselves as a unique and compelling collective that exudes confidence and artistic chemistry.