Strange Mountain
Ancient Eyes






Ancient Eyes is a pointillistic eleven-track Drone tape by Indonesia-based Marcel Thee aka Strange Mountain and further embodying one half of Roman Catholic Skulls. Written in February 2014 and released in May 2014 on Matthew Barlow’s Twin Springs Tapes in an edition of 50 tapes available to purchase and stream at Bandcamp, it continues the efforts of Asheville, North Carolina’s nonpareil tape label to showcase the unity of nature with man’s current technology-driven gaze. Sure, it has been done before and ever since; the surprise level however takes place on the cusp of glorifying and altering the personal viewpoint. That Marcel Thee lives in Indonesia is only of secondary importance, for there is in fact only one instance where an Occidental listener can pinpoint a certain faraway mystique. Furthermore, the press blurb cleverly neglects to mention the instrument-related base frame of Ancient Eyes. As usual, I might mistake guitars for synths and vice versa, but I think that the majority of Ancient Eyes is based on processed guitars or similar stringed instruments. Even if this is not the case at all, the sometimes scything sine sinews are embedded in wonderfully hazy drone supplements that vaporize humidity, dryness and warmth of all sorts. In addition to these legato instances, there are clear signs of arpeggiated or divided patterns in the patchwork that tumble, oscillate and gyre freely. Ancient Eyes is a strikingly positive and insouciant tape, but it is also dichotomous, with side A and B each having their own distinct focus.


The eponymous opener is one of the most benign tracks of the whole tape, exuding angelic synth washes and microscopically pastoral timbres akin to Cologne’s Pop Ambient formula. Everything is magnanimously streamlined and rectilineal without succumbing to an all too sketchy diorama. In fact, the many tone sequences and processed guitars of Ancient Eyes shimmer through the sustained reverb all the time, creating a fittingly mountainous, mightily amicable aura. The following two minutes of Cousins are similarly bond-driven but much more exhilarative and fluttering, comprising of arpeggiated cesspools, blotchy syrinxes and a titration of tumular bleeps and whistles. Despite the bubbling physiognomy, it can still be accepted as a Drone track; the tonality, however, is more akin to a 90’s bubblegum rave. Vitreous in lieu of vitriol, this adage is also applicable in terms of Believing So Forth, the centerpiece of eight minutes. Seraphic strings meet diaphanous doldrums, whereas the latter show no signs of boredom, but operate as vestiges of the cross-linkage between warm orange glows and towering protrusions ablaze with argentine light. The post-processing nebulae never fully encapsulate the listener, nor is there a complete immersion due to the polished plasticity of the piercing drones which sometimes reach sine tone quality. Celer’s Viewpoint (2013) comes to mind, and Believing So Forth is equally fond of the oxymoron called aggrandized minimalism.


There is a triptych of – duh! – three tracks that is particularly immersed by nature, showcasing this tendency both via the titles and organic cannelure. The first part of this perceived triad is called Grizzly Kids, another Drone track at heart whose nucleus is guarded by vesiculating blips and cherubic chime droplets. The superstructure, though bubbling and seething, is actually more of a cataract due to the aureate gleam of the sublime placenta that floats like a rivulet through the euphonious scenery. Here, everything is all right, there is no dark counterpart or hidden portent. Curious Sun, on the other hand, is a tad more arcane while still radiating a soporific incandescence. The artificial sun rays are not reaching the arrangement with their full power, but seem to be filtered or entrapped in a moiré of mistiness. This effect may be mystical at first sight, the zoetropic scintillae however are mesmerizing despite their glacial complexion by adding an unaltered purity to the hazescape. Soft Trip then completes the springtide with an intermixture of lavabo heights and enthralling string breezes. Even a distant piano seems to plink along. The piece feels contemplative, yet mercurial and uplifting enough to get rid of the petrifying kind of remoteness. And so the listener basks in light as Soft Trip fizzles out.


The amplified state of light is so important to stress since its augmentation and omnipresence are a big part of side A. The aforementioned Soft Trip, while technically belonging to side B, is the final instance of majestic luminosity. Earthier, more hatched colors appear throughout the tape’s latter half, with the superfluids still exposed to solemnity. Afterwards, Sad Babylon juxtaposes a rumbling heating recirculation drone of bone-crushing fortitude with a faintly accordion-like antipode of purple clarity. The tone sequences are more doleful but never cross the path to bewailing self-pity. No matter the allure, the darkness increases: Awakenings is an ignis fatuus of calcined blackness illumined by gamelan gongs, chime chimeras and related bells. There is light aplenty in this piece alright, but the photometry reveals a silvery gloaming as enigmatic as Angkor Wat, a cavernous place where even the most ominous reflection is swallowed. During the follow-up Rock And Roll Sun, Marcel Thee manages to interweave the playful warmth and bubbly feistiness of side A into the embroidery, but the light only glimmers, the softening glissando of the chopped synth bursts cannot veneer the fragility in-between the capacious interstices of darkness. Lone Eagle Theme meanwhile is more vigorous and aeriform, comprising of cautiously wonky synth gusts whose completely legatofied gestalt make this the ethereal heterodoxy when contrasted to the tape’s endemics, while the short apotheosis Raining Rainbows returns to a sylvan locale awash with light, only that this light is once more bouncy, distorted and twisted, but nonetheless hued in nostalgia and freedom. One short appendix of whitewashed hiss, and Strange Mountain’s natural quandary is over.


Ancient Eyes does not feel mightily ancient, the amount of Candela it emits, however, crosses a certain threshold which makes Strange Mountain’s tape feel awash with sodium light, i.e. the very light which is blazingly yellow yet strangely flickering and soft when it is used in the dark. A dark world is not what is depicted of this album though. Even in the most muffled and willfully hazy moments, crystals of clarity flare up, agglutinating the equilibrioception amid the proclivity for mucoid maskings. Ancient Eyes shows once more the power of a physical release, where both sides work in tandem, yet feel autonomous enough to allow different takes of the intrinsic aura with the aid of the same textures and surfaces. All in all, side A feels more wondrous, is bathing in clemency and a gaze upon – or onto – natural surroundings which, it needs to be added, are created without the sole use of a field recording; no bird or animal crosses the paths in recognizable form. Side B then turns into a darker valley, again without any sign of histrionic dark matter pads or cosmic secrets. The implied coherency of Strange Mountain’s tape functions all the better by delineating the distinctions and small varieties. It is these moments, progressions, alterations or in short, the flow, that makes this tape so tied to a transfigured nature. Leniency and solace are stored in the tape reel itself, making Ancient Eyes a more than appropriate realization of Twin Springs Tapes’ love for transitionary seasons and climes.


Further listening and reading:


Ambient Review 351: Strange Mountain – Ancient Eyes (2014). Originally published on Jun. 18, 2014 at