The Holy Mountain by Bo Ningen

Release date: March 1, 2024
Label: Alcopop! Records

London-based, Japanese psych rockers Bo Ningen have form when it comes to soundtrack work. They have previously worked with film makers for Yoko Ono’s Meltdown Festival and also live soundtracked a friend’s film at The Whitechapel Art Gallery. They have now attempted an even more ambitious, and possibly controversial project, in creating a new soundtrack to Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 cult classic film, The Holy Mountain. The band have performed their alternative take live, as far back as 2019, but this is the first time they have recorded it in a studio and made it available to purchase, in a triple vinyl boxset, no less. It’s weighty in more ways than one…

Whilst the OST couldn’t quite match the movie for bold and shocking artistry it is still a very ambitious and singular work, mixing traditional classical pieces, modern jazz, ominous folk and a sort of heavy South American religious fervour. Jodorowsky was at the reins for the music too and had the talents of a vast array of musicians at his disposal, not to mention jazz legend Don Cherry. It’s an imposing collection of tunes to try and match and of course the visuals demand musicians bring incredible interpretive powers to the tasks.

Bo Ningen approach the project very much as a rock album, working largely within their palette but upon a broader, less regular canvas. They are not the first people to think of adding rock music to Jodorowsky’s hallucinogenic visions- if search YouTube you will find some well-meaning stoner dudes have matched the images to Sleep’s Holy Mountain, much to the chagrin of some cineastes! Personally I think it works pretty well, and the same can be said for Bo Ningen’s more formal and holistic attempt. Devotees of Jodorowky may not agree, but they will have another chance to judge it properly when the band live soundtrack it at Earth in Hackney in March.

Fans of the band will probably be less hard to win over, as much of the music here contains the band’s restless, aggressive but cerebral psych rock stylings, but with more synth-led pieces than in their previous output.

It begins with ‘Alchemist’, an ominous insect like drone with restless percussion, a mood setting piece that doesn’t resolve. In fact many of the opening numbers leave you wishing for the accompaniment of visuals, self-contained and restrained they are good on atmosphere but don’t bring the rock kicks. ‘Encounter’ has a robot funk bass guitar which does rise towards some sort of mild climax. ‘City 1’ is more of the same, angular bass-led,cubist funk, like Miles’ Down on the Corner with added tremulous spidery vibes which breaks into fuzzy guitar chops and skittering drums. ‘Wax Dummies’ sees the band really lean into the task of matching the OST with a longer, eerie, atonal spook.

‘The Duel’ may be the first track that really pulls in the rock fans with it’s funky drummer breaks and accelerating, feedbacking fighter jets sound. Other highlights include  ‘Venus’ – a chiming, trance inducing psych thriller, like an angry Panda Bear and ‘Saturn 2’ – a cross between Heldon & DJ Shadow, a sinister spy movie theme with whispered words and urgent synths, descending into more feedback squall.

The improv noodles and squelches of ‘Pantheon Bar’ as the album nears the end makes you suspect the band have run out of steam, but the closing number ‘The Climbing’ then leaves you dumbstruck and awed. One of the most exciting, crushing, pulsating, psych freakouts ever committed to wax, you’ll have entirely forgotten about the film as you’re pitched into the centre of a strobe-lit hurricane. Bloody marvellous!

Did The Holy Mountain need another soundtrack? No. Is Bo Ningen’s take on it better than Jodorowsky’s? If you’re a rock fan, then at times yes. I guess the film is such a baffling, blasphemous bombardment, a fetishistic, feverish feast that it’s not surprising musicians want to rise to the challenge of meeting Jodorowsky’s muse. Bo Ningen are as good a band as any to try to reach the summit.

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