Jex Thoth have been providing deeply psychedelic, dark pagan folk to the masses since 2007, and in that time they have delivered an impressive two EPs (with a third due this year) and two full length efforts, their critically acclaimed, self-titled debut (2008) and this sophomore effort entitled ‘Blood Moon rise’. It is hard to pin point exactly what makes Jex Thoth so special. There is the vocalist herself, of course, a singer whose voice is redolent of dark, moonlit ceremonies and whose astonishingly personal tone feels like it is speaking directly to the listener across the void; there is the band, who seem to have drifted into the modern era directly from the seventies, and whose reference points are the twin peaks of Black Sabbath and Jefferson Airplane (via ‘white rabbit’) with hints of the Doors, thirteenth floor elevators and pentagram thrown in for good measure and there is, of course, the music itself, which is atmospheric, hypnotic, beautiful and disturbing in equal measure. Whatever potent element elevates Jex Thoth from the swirling miasma of doom and gloom to the heights of ethereal beauty, one thing is clear: ‘blood moon rise’ is a remarkable record.
Opening with the short incantation of ‘to bury’, a song that feels more like an opening ritual than an actual track, it is on the deeply psychedelic ‘the places you walk’ that the band appear with their soporific riffs lazily intertwining over a restrained beat before Jex’s sublime voice wafts into view, cleverly multi-tracked and sounding darkly wondrous. It’s a bewitching voice, delivered with a gentle power that hints at hidden strength, so sweetly kept out of sight that you never doubt its presence and as the song progresses, Jex weaves her spell around you so that you’re neither able to leave, nor do you wish to. ‘The divide’ is a heavier beast, one that opens with a devastating doom riff that is utterly crushing in its breadth and depth, and the band concentrate all their power in pummelling the listener with an unutterably slow trudge through the fields of darkness, with only Jex’s beguiling voice as a guiding light in the gloom, urging you ever deeper into the cold night air. It is a deeply atmospheric on Black Sabbath’s darkest reckonings laden with unsettling ambient noise that would not sound out of place on a Swan’s record, and there certainly are parallels between Jex and that goddess of the underground, Jarboe. ‘Into a sleep’ delves into the murky world of Barry Adamson, with its dark, throbbing bass and subtle nuances providing a skeletal backdrop for Jex’s truly lovely voice to coil itself around your neck, oh-so-gently cutting off the oxygen even as you relish its embrace whilst ‘And the river ran dry’ is an ever-so-delicate instrumental bridging the two halves of the album.
The magic continues on ‘keep your weeds’, a seductive piece of music that is closer to progressive than doom, although that dark undercurrent remains at the core of the band’s music, and once more it is Jex’s unutterably gorgeous voice that keeps you utterly hooked into the music, absorbing every nuance of her warm tones as her voice pours out of the speakers like liquid honey and the music builds to a gentle crescendo. ‘Ehja’ is a massive, epic doom-laden masterpiece that stands as the crowning glory of this wonderful album. Powered by a huge, distorted riff and somnambulant drums, it is all the more potent for the subtle nuances the band bring to the music, the guitars slithering and crawling over the surface of the track’s extended mid-section, and for Jex’s typically astonishing performance. ‘The four of us are dying’ is a shorter, darker track, powered by those wonderfully gritty Black Sabbath guitars once more and the stately groove the band achieve is somewhat akin to head-banging on Prozac. It would appear that the band have one more ace up their sleeve, however, for the album’s closing track is the folk-inspired wonder of ‘Pysar’, an eight minute epic that once again draws upon the beauty of nature and the grandeur of the earth to see the album out on a high, especially thanks to a huge guitar solo that draws the song to its climax amidst swirling organ and hypnotic rhythms.
Jex Thoth are a band that offer so much that it is all but impossible to take it all in in one sitting. Here you will find love and loss, the power and beauty of nature and gentle incantations which wrap themselves around you and hold you in their embrace. What is most remarkable, aside from the strength of the songs themselves, is the fluid grace with which the album has been sequenced, so that in sitting and listening it feels like one stunning, continuous piece of music that ebbs and flows across its sub-one-hour run time. With glorious artwork to match, this is an epic, heart-breakingly brilliant piece of work that stands as Jex Thoth’s greatest work to date. Utterly wonderful from start to finish, the superlatives don’t exist to praise this album highly enough.