The legendary Beherit has finally resurfaced with their first full-length release of new music since 2009’s “Engram.” It’s been a long wait for sure. I know I’ve been wondering what Nuclear Holocausto Vengeance has been up to all this time, and now in 2020 we have an answer with “Bardo Exist,” an album that’s possibly more divisive among fans than the politics in the USA. Beherit is well known for the Black Metal classics “The Oath of Black Blood” and “Drawing down the Moon,” but they’ve also experimented with ambient music on the “H418ov21.C“ and “Electric Doom Synthesis” releases. Black Metal was revisited on “Engram,” and to those who were hoping Beherit would continue in that vein, know that I share your pain and disappointment because this is not a Metal album. However, I also respect an artist’s right to evolve and create music that’s true to themselves, and since ambient music is already part of Beherit’s arsenal it was instinctive to give this an open-minded chance. Given this approach, NHV easily demonstrates that supremely sinister music isn’t just limited to Black Metal.
“Dungeon Synth” is one label I’ve seen tagged to “Bardo Exist” and that’s a fitting description for its music. A short and creepy intro featuring vocals spoken in some unfamiliar foreign tongue leads into “Shadow Prayer.” This song starts with an effect that sounds like torch fire followed by a deep bass that beats like a pulse. This pulse is slowly overtaken at one point by an unsettling section of chaotic horns. It’s a familiar sound that effectively creates a tension reminiscent of those horror movie scenes where the main character slowly approaches what will be a grisly discovery. This ability to build suspense and leave the listener hanging in a constant state of unease is used to the fullest extent on these songs. Some spacey synths enter the mix as this song nears its end. These Outer Space vibes continue on “Coruscation” and the suspense builds once again before transitioning into “Acid Death Vision.” This is easily a standout track, with organ notes and slow beats providing the backbone for a dark soundscape filled with tripped out spacey synths, and those slow beats punctuate with a deep crash as the rhythm continues. This song also exemplifies the otherworldly and hellish vocals that appear sporadically throughout the album. Sometimes they manage to trigger vivid flashbacks of “Drawing down the Moon.” Those vocals are contrasted on “Silom Vortex” with some whispers spoken over a piano track. There is also a spectral quality that appears on songs like “Extreme Thirst and Insomnia” and “Blindsight” with effects that sound like the rushing flow of spirits or some other astral energy. A sense of sickness (hopefully not Covid) comes through in coughs on “Mens Rae,” and “Ghost Visitor” has a static effect that makes the vocals sound like they could be coming through an old radio as an EVP. “Peilien Vanki” really evokes visions of Outer Space, as if you are looking out spaceship windows and watching the stars fly by while light-speeding your way into the deepest uninhabited reaches of the universe. A fragmented and ghostly piano track ends the album on a melancholic note befitting the title of “Sorrowers.”
Since NHV basically dropped this album with little warning and no additional context, it is uncertain what, if any, concept is behind it, but titles of the songs and the album itself provide clues to some possibilities. According to this article on “The Tibetan Book of the Dead,” a bardo is a state of transition, and there are three bardos that occur between a person’s death and rebirth. I’m speculating based on the atmosphere of the music and song titles like “Acid Death Vision” that this album is taking place during the second bardo, where the deceased individual is said to “encounter frightening apparitions.” The article also states that these frightening encounters are what drives the individual towards rebirth, and the life they will be reborn into depends on whether their karma was good or bad. A song title like “Mens Rae” would suggest the karma of this journeying spirit is bad. “Sorrowers” also leaves the impression of a spirit being stuck and having no choice but to continue down the path they’ve chosen. How much truth is there to “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” and the bardos? No one can really know what happens when the time comes for us to drift back to the great void of our origin. Regardless of what you choose to believe, the album title “Bardo Exist” almost serves as a warning, and the music a reminder, that projecting negativity can come back to haunt us and so it’s never a bad idea to try and be a source of positive energy in life.
While it’s somewhat of a letdown that Beherit didn’t pursue Black Metal on “Bardo Exist” it’s also good to explore other styles of music and not limit ourselves to a Metal echo chamber. Nuclear Holocausto Vengeance obviously put real thought and effort into something equally dark and sinister, and it’s a worthy addition to the Beherit discography. “Bardo Exist” is well produced and feels more cohesive than their earlier ambient endeavors. It has more in common with some of Ulver’s work in that it plays like a soundtrack, and it would fit perfectly as the score for some horror/Sci-Fi themed work. The only problem I have with this style of music is that it demands a specific mood and setting. It’s probably not something you’re likely to play in the car on your way to work or while doing something outside on a sunny afternoon. This is best experienced when you’re sitting by yourself in the dark at night, and even more so if you’re in the basement. But I also feel this way about a lot of Black Metal albums and that doesn’t make them any less relevant. “Bardo Exist” is a worthwhile experience that deserves many honest listens. Find a dark place, open your mind, and let your introspective side have a free-for-all.
*Just a side note that at the time of this post I have yet to receive my physical copy of the album and have only heard the 11-track version available online. The cd version includes a second disk with a 23-minute bonus track titled “Bardo Exists” that I haven’t been able to find online. I would expect this to contribute significantly to the whole of the album, and so I may post an update when I finally get to hear it. I may also look at the lyrics that are in English if they are included in the booklet.
UPDATE: Almost a week after this post I finally received my CD in the mail and got to hear the bonus track “Bardo Exists.” This is an ambient track that utilizes many of the same elements heard on the main album, and it is similarly dark but not on the same nightmarish level of the other songs. It has more of a tribal and spiritual vibe. My ears may have been playing tricks on me but it also sounded like some distorted guitars entered the mix during the latter half of the song. I wouldn’t say this is one of those bonus tracks that just gets tacked on at the end, but it does feel separate from the rest of the album in a next chapter kind of way. It could be transitioning from the end of the second bardo to the beginning of the third, which would be rebirth, but that’s just me speculating. I think if you liked the first 11 tracks it’s worth getting a physical copy for this song and that it adds some worthwhile length to an already interesting experience. No lyrics were included so I’ll just leave it at that.