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Phantom Limb

Released: 12th March 2021

Coinciding with their tenth anniversary as a band, Senyawa’s newest statement (their first for Phantom Limb) captures the energy and creativity of a wholly singular act in full stride. Alkisah is their seventh album, building from the doom-heavy density of 2018’s Sujud (on the inimitable Sublime Frequencies label) and the folkloric darkness of its predecessor Menjadi (on Rabih Beaini’s Morphine Records) to deliver a staggeringly powerful rush.

Senyawa have been described as “experimental metal”, though the tag limits the true scope of their work. While elements of the sound compare with metal - the darkness and the fury that spills over the side of tracks such as “Menuju Muara”, for example - Senyawa sit on a very different branch of the musical tree, and even then bear the fruits of many others. Instrumentalist Wukir Suryadi performs on homemade instruments, created from bamboo and other natural material, offering a rarely explored link between the ancient, traditional, mystical musics of South-East Asia and the contemporary avant-garde. Vocalist Rully Shabara (who has collaborated with Phantom Limb as a solo artist before Alkisah) mines the human voice for its strangest and most challenging sounds, chanting, yowling and throat-singing like a chorus of demons in one song and an arcane, chattering machine in the next. About them, rhythms skitter and crash around like gamelan, punctuated with trashcan drums here or bulging plumbing percussion there, while the doomier moments (such as “Istana”) crush with seething waves of distortion and Shabara’s mesmeric growls (a mix of Javanese, Bahasa, and other Indonesian languages). The record lurches from urgency to apocalypsis, twisting and twining fervorous Ramayana chant with animist mythology and hellish atmospherics.

The band were the subject of a 2012 documentary by acclaimed filmmaker Vincent Moon. His footage - of the band playing spontaneous music in rice paddies, atop mountains, in busy market squares, in moonlit temple grounds - celebrates not only their frenzied, punk-as-f**k attitude (Shabara wears a leather jacket with the collar flipped up throughout) but also the indelible, intricate marriage of their Indonesian heritage with their music. Senyawa could be from nowhere else. Nowhere else could have birthed Senyawa.

They have co-released with Sunn0)))’s Stephen O’Malley and Phantom Limb favourites Melt-Banana, and shared the stage with the likes of Damo Suzuki, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, Keiji Haino, Tatsuya Yoshida, Charles Cohen, Greg Fox, and Oren Ambarchi. With a uniquely ambitious decentralisation, Alkisah will be collaboratively released by a multitude of labels, big and small, ranging from a cassette imprint in Bahrain to a Malaysian metal imprint to Phantom Limb in the UK.