Secret Chiefs 3 Book of Horizons

When Mr. Bungle magnate Trey Spruance isn't busy bungling he is composing and producing for Secret Chiefs 3, his experimental/ethno-musicological side project. Book of Horizons has an astonishing breadth of material on it, and most of it is downright grand. Instead of going the electronic/world beat route that is all the rage and sampling the exotic sounds on the latest Rough Guide CD, Spruance has not only orchestrated his compositions with instruments from around the world, in most cases he got virtuosi to contribute to the project (Shazad Ismaily, percussion; Eyvind Kang, viola; William Winant, percussion, etc.). This recording took years to produce, as many of the tracks were recorded on location and assembled later on Spruance’s G5. The result is something akin to traditional folk groups, heavy rock bands and classical orchestras from four continents jamming together in various time signatures and tunings. It is very often sonically astounding — layers of sitars, santurs, and percussion jangling, humming, strumming, and throbbing underneath synth and guitar melodies. This is ethno-fusion where a traditional Afghan melody builds into bass/drums/guitar frenzy, or, in the case of "Exterminating Angel," a cookie monster-voiced death metal band occasionally takes a recess to allow a few seconds of Gregorian chanters a chance to Gregoriate. But for every welcome bizarre/bazaar culture clash there's a soundtrack just waiting for a heroic movie to star in. This is the album's only weakness because, really, who wants half a soundtrack? On tracks like "The End Times" Spruance's melodies often sound like they were lifted out of West Side Story or some equally unfantastic theatrical production from my parents’ generation. Or then there is "Book T: Exodus" that seems to long for Dances With Wolves 2. Not exactly fitting with the world of cocktail party instrumentation and all the Comparative Religion 101 text book song titles. (Mimicry)