Xiphos and the beheading of maritime serpents

XIPHOS: On Beheading The Thalassocratic Vipers

Release year: 2022
Label: Khthon

OK, color me confused. What the Hell is this album about? The project takes its name, Xiphos, from an ancient one-handed sword, a secondary weapon used by the soldiers of ancient Greece. But what are the thalassocratic vipers, snakes of maritime empires, and why do they need to be beheaded? And how is that related to the cover, which looks like it could be lifted from some old sci-fi movie?

Perhaps listening to the album will provide some answers!

Spoiler: it doesn’t. There’s really nothing to be heard on On Beheading The Thalassocratic Vipers that explains the album, nor do the track titles shed much light beyond a certain apocalyptic, downfall-of-the-empire thematic.

Consisting of metallic drones, static humming, what sound like excerpts of radio broadcasts and other various abstract sounds, the album has a very ambient nature. Verily, when I think of “dark ambient”, it is something like this I think of. Brooding, abstract, ominous, vaguely oppressive. The music of ruins, of a doom to come, of an eerie silence. The lingering sound of something that’s already dead.

Within the broad context of dark ambient music, On Beheading The Thalassocratic Vipers positions itself in the more industrial end of the spectrum, somewhere close by to death industrial and droning industrial. As opposed to, say, the more harmonious synth-dominated dark ambient close akin to dungeon synth, or the ritualistic stuff. The constant humming drones have the quality of tortured, moaning metal and buckling iron, and whilst never becoming chaotic or discordant, there are moments of white noise.

Giving up on even trying to understand what the name of the album refers to, I think of a desolate wind blowing amidst the ruins of technocratic civilizations. The last laments of dead cities, sung by metal constructions crumbling apart. The deteriorating echoes of its radio transmissions echoing in the aether, ghosts of a dead science. A wind spreading not sand, but fine-grained rust covering everything. These are the mental images evoked by the drawn-out droning, the humming and the buzzing, the background throbbing and rumbling, and the occasional more percussive element.

Purely musically, at times Xiphos comes across as older Halo Manash stripped of the ritualistic, shamanistic elements. Replace them with solemn imagery of iron carcasses exposed to the sun, and you might have an approximation of what the album sounds like. Though most tracks are not overly long as far as dark ambient go, landing in the 5-6 minute territory, Xiphos find the time to slowly build atmospheres and soundscapes by adding and modulating layers of sound. The album clocks in at a very reasonable 35 minutes – one is tempted to say it could be even a bit longer!

In the end, I suppose it doesn’t much matter if my – or the anonymous listener’s – interpretation of an album like this is even close to what the artist intended. By keeping things strictly instrumental, and even covering the radio broadcast excerpts with layers distortion rendering them largely indecipherable, Xiphos gives only vague clues to understanding the album. I’m sure that is no coincidence.

What matters is that On Beheading The Thalassocratic Vipers is a beautifully and darkly evocative piece of music. Almost inevitable and instantly, it will start painting vivid pictures in the listener’s mind, tying together vague associations into a tapestry of dark imagery.

And that, I think, is what good dark ambient should do.

Visit Xiphos on Bandcamp

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