- Perhaps the most famous witch trials in English history, the Pendle trials of 1612 saw a clan of almost a dozen people executed for the murders of ten victims. Among the accused was Elizabeth Southerns, AKA Demdike, a grandmother who confessed to having sold her soul to the devil, and to having made clay figures of her enemies for voodoo-like curses. Having adopted Southerns' nickname for their own, the UK duo of Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty unleash a similar nefariously scourge on the peaceful dub-inflected world of the Modern Love label, connecting the dots between Demdike and Lee Perry, between black magic and the Black Ark. One normally associates dub with Rasta spiritualism, but Symbiosis relocates the shamanic pulses from Jamaica to the rainy plains of Lancashire, and—in the process—reconnecting with the occult side of Rastafarianism.
Symbiosis serves up the darkness by stirring world-funk and horror soundtrack samples into a potent brew based on a menacing, atmospheric dub-techno broth. The album broadly follows a dynamic formula, in which psycho-killer suspense gets followed by burbling grooves, the two playing like night and day, offering tension and release. Opener "Suspicious Drone" is precisely that, a low, unsettling rumble that evokes Consumed-era Plastikman scoring an X-Files episode. Ominous metallic clatter and Hitchcock-strings rise up out of the muck before everything disappears violently down a low-pass black hole. "Haxan Dub" throws a bit more Jamaica into the mix, with ghostly horns and a reggae beat. Here you can tell, or rather feel, the superb mixing job done by Berlin's legendary Dubplates and Mastering—the bass is massive, even on headphones.
"All Hallows Eve" has a 20 Jazz Funk Greats-style sense of claustrophobia, tracing an impending calamity, hearing threats that loom just offstage, casting long shadows. Suddenly a bell-twinkle, reminiscent of the haunting riff from Suspiria, plays us off right before the axe falls. A calm settles in—a Turkish psych-funk beat, filtered into a percolating little creature, the sort of thing that Canty has dug up plenty of times on his renowned Finders Keepers label. The un-dubbed "Haxan" is a clubby, uptempo dub-techno number, seemingly miles away from the dubbed-out doppelganger which precedes it. The percussion-heavy "Conjoined" finds a hooded coven on the prowl to the clamor of elephantine toms and flittering synth pricks.
As cinematic as the record is, it's impossible to ferret out a conclusion. Do the good guys save humanity from extinction? Or does some unholy force reign triumphant? Things don't seem to neatly resolve either way. Symbiosis is more about a constant menace that never fully shows its face, lurking in the dark, inching ever closer. While Southerns may have met her untimely end some four centuries ago, Whittaker and Canty's bass-heavy mood music manages to channel plenty of her dark energy. You might want to listen with the lights on.
01. Suspicious Drone
02. Haxan Dub
04. All Hallows Eve feat. Danny Norbary
07. Extwistle Hall
08. Trapped Dervish
09. Nothing But The Night
11. Ghostly Hardware