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Senyawa’s Alkisah: Indonesian sorcerers put the ‘manic’ into ‘shamanic’

Experimental metallers Senyawa mix the sublimely strange with the deliberately comic on new album Alkisah

Senyaway - Alkisah album review
(Image: © Phantom Limb)

The arcane creations of Java’s Senyawa have always straddled the uneasy divide between innovation and traditionalism, infusing the rigours of ancient ritual with an invigorating spontaneity. With its clear reverence to native folk tropes, there is something engagingly exaggerated, even cartoonish, about this latest anarchic missive from Indonesia’s chief ‘experimental metal’ export. Alternating between the doom-laden drones of their 2018 offering, Sujud, and more skittish forms, Alkisah finds the duo of vocalist Rully Shabara and multi-instrumentalist Wukir Suryadi locked in a series of shamanistic communiques, seemingly directing their animalistic wails and junkyard clatter toward impish spirits trapped someplace in the afterlife. Yet, there are also several passages where the hallowed hijinks spill over into smirk-inducing slapstick.

Rully clearly revels in his role as yowling trickster, his animated repertoire of croaks, groans and hollers recalling the laryngeal aerobics of throat-singing fancy dress fan Attila Csihar. His amassed layering of monkish chants during the cavernous, ominous thrum of Istana, curdle and diffuse like stifling mists over Wukir’s feral salvos of bespoke distortion. But then comes a cut like Kiamat to disrupt the intoxicating spell, Rully launching into an alarmingly buffoonish, bestial gibber to befuddle the hex.

With his battery of homemade instrumentation – locally crafted from bamboo and traditional agricultural tools – Wukir’s spiky contributions are vibrantly alive, scuttling about like a cartload of confused turntablists trawling through fields of coil springs, before landing in the lap of a gamelan ensemble for a particularly rigorous round of Scrapheap Challenge. Like the dukun practitioners of their homeland, Senyawa serve as singular soul healers, dispensing their curious brand of sonic deliverance with black sorcery and puckish horseplay, fashioning a mystical link between magic and mirth.