Sometimes, for whatever reason, great art slips past audiences and remains woefully underappreciated. Which is why we’ve created an essay series called Fossil Records, devoted to helping people discover lost and obscure work that never got its due.
There’s a certain type of music that I’ve taken to referring to as “story music”—stuff that lends itself to description more so by analogy and metaphor than by its base components. It’s what makes a lot of reviewers describe metal songs using words like “crushing,” comparing the sounds to natural disasters like avalanches and hurricanes. The imagery evoked in the listener is so powerful that it almost eclipses the tangible sonic attributes of the music itself.
Hathor, by Igor Wakhevitch—the man with the most evil sounding name in music—is one such work. Its secondary title, Liturgie du soufflé pour le resurrection des morts—“Liturgy to breathe life into the dead,” roughly translated—is definitely an apt description for what this music sounds like. It also sounds like a flock of vampires waking up in an abandoned Soviet satellite slowly orbiting the earth. Or the coronation hymn sung to celebrate Darth Sidious’ induction into the ranks of the Sith. Or a sonic brochure the soul receives once one learns they will not be getting into Heaven. The music is scary, and it is also incredibly involving.
Wakhevitch, alongside his progressive electronic experiments, is also a prolific composer of operas, and Hathor carries this distinct flourish of theatricality throughout its two markedly different halves. The opening track, “Hymne a Sathanael,” is like a giallo theme for an imaginary Dario Argento film that would’ve taken place in deep space. The melodic elements of the record then collapse into tribal drums, droning synths and horrifying spoken word sermons and growls before reaching side B, a barely-accompanied experiment in mixing ominous choral baritones with flashes of panicked electronic stabs. Easy-listening music this is certainly not.
Yet for all its sinister abstraction, Hathor never feels like a record that one is simply enduring. It is ugly and diffuse, but sonically speaking it is also rich and full: it is mixed in such a fashion as to make use of every inch of headphone space. The atmosphere Wakhevitch creates is tense and alien and unpredictable: as unsettling as the whole enterprise is, one can’t help but wonder just what lies around the corner as each track comes to a close.
Consider also that this album was released a year before Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra, a record largely credited with seeding ambient and electronic music as we understand it today. Under any circumstances Hathor would be a strange and ambitious work, but the understanding that it was composed before the “rules” of electronica were firmly in place simply makes it all the more captivating of an experience.
And indeed, Hathor can best be described as an “experience.” Like a good horror movie, it is dreadful without suffocating the audience in its darkness, mysterious without being so obscure as to leave it to interest only of scholars in its genre. In this way, the fact that it’s long out of print only adds to the experience of hearing Wakhevitch’s opus for the first time. It cannot be simply listened to; it is music that must be found, and summoned.
Christopher M. Jones is a comic book writer, pop culture essayist, and recovering addict and alcoholic living in Austin, TX. He currently writes for Loser City as well as Comics Bulletin and has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators for his minicomic Written in the Bones (illustrated by Carey Pietsch). Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.