Tunnels of Āh “Surgical Fires”

Tunnels of Āh “Surgical Fires”

Right from its unsettling introduction Surgical Fires, the third album from Tunnels of Āh, follows a much harsher course than is found on their previous albums Lost Corridors and Thus Avici. Lost Corridors was a psychogeographical musing on tunnels and structures while Thus Avici meditated on the new dark age. Like the preceding albums, Surgical Fires is naturally informed by Stephen Āh Burroughs’ studies and practice of Buddhism and his abiding interest in the esoteric. Buddhist texts appear woven into the fabric of Surgical Fires but their hushed delivery amidst the noise textures makes them hard to decipher. One track features Anji Cheung, a London based sound artist. She’s a natural fit as Cheung, like Burroughs, in her own work sculpts unearthly drones and bleak atmospherics and shares an interest in the occult and Buddhism. Cheung provides vocals to one track, on an album that seems more instrumental than previous releases. The assemblage of percussive elements and electronic noise places Surgical Fires in the lineage of industrial music, a sound that has fired Stephen Āh Burroughs since the early eighties. It is by far the harshest of the three Tunnels of Āh albums which might not be surprising since it seems to be concerned with psychic attacks. I’d hazard a guess that the work of Dion Fortune and particularly her anecdotal study Psychic Self-Defence plays a role on Surgical Fires. Surgical Fires best fits Tunnels of Āh intent: This is psychick war. Surgical Fires open to the processed industrial clank and clatter of ‘Demonic Forms’. From the series of pummels, scrapes and scratchings underneath an electronic roar, rises, let loose like a rampaging surge of insectoid chattering. The relentless onslaught is like an audio take on the occasional episodes I experience when my head is subject to careering thoughts rendering me unable to focus on anything specific. Mines may be the result of constant tiredness but Surgical Fires is dealing with psychic attacks. Keening metal and oblique wordless chants only add to the confusion created by this ugly spirit, and then there is the added whirr of a drill. This is the sound of trepanation, a bore hole driven into the skull to relieve the pressure. And at the hands of Tunnels of Āh it also acts as a portal into the mind. The following track ‘Purging Process’ harnesses electronic noise textures with a hazy mishmash of discordant frequencies and buzzing electronics as it battles with the hungry ghosts. Set against this are elements of ritual clang and what may be discordant guitar howls. Is it? I can’t be sure, as I don’t think guitars have featured on any of the prior Tunnels of Āh albums but it’s not out of the question as remember Stephen Āh Burroughs was once part of the noise rock outfit Head of David. Burroughs voice appears on ‘One Hundred Gates + Eight’, another title illustrating the influence of Buddhist text on his work. Reduced to a spoken whisper over layers of ominous eviscerating drone. His words cloaked in buzzing drone seem to be a homage to and about the protective nature of the Buddhists and the sacred words of the Dharmas. Buddhism may imply a sense of stillness but Tunnels of Āh fill their tracks with unsettling drones, glistening tones and morphing sound shudders. ‘Mind As Corpse Bearer’ is riddled with some seriously effective rippling tones, as a constant cranking see-saw sound runs throughout the static etched drone. No space or light manages to pierce ‘Release Of The Burning Mouths’; an impressively oppressive onslaught featuring layers of deep airy droning and textured shifting layers. The title takes its name from a Chinese Buddhist ritual where the denizens of hell and hungry ghosts are invited to feast and hear the Dharma preach before being sent away. Voices take the form of bestial growls along with the breathy exhalations of Burroughs; a hushed sinister uttering cast against an evocative maelstrom of sound layers and fierce noise effects. The following ‘Black Air (Exhale)’ is a more textural working filled with coruscating electronics, hollow ratcheting and jarring frequencies. Just by chance, a few weeks earlier I became aware of the work of Anji Cheung who provides vocals on ‘My Love To The Lordly Cobras’ on a split single with the revitalised Terminal Cheesecake. Here her soft whispered tones are subject to split-channel processing, as she recites a Buddhist protection ritual over low stuttering electronic drones which swell from underneath amidst sound shimmers and flashes, before reprising the text accompanied by chants. Surgical Fires closes on ‘Emission Through A Hole In The Head’ which wades through crunching textures (the beginning kinda reminds me of a slowed down take of Throbbing Gristle’s ‘What A Day’) before it morphs into more nebulous territory. Burroughs intones words performed as a looped chant, as melodic chime wafts over the crunchy textured backdrop. The collusion of sounds is quite unsettling, coalescing into a noise drenched climax before its deep drone exit. I’m always taken by the sounds and direction Stephen Āh Burroughs follows. Tunnels of Āh may fit into a lineage of esoteric and occultic music but Stephen Āh Burroughs is on a path of his own making. And while the meaning and intent may be hard to excavate – I really wish he’d provide details of the key references – amidst the noise drone and textures it’s certainly worth going along for the ride. Surgical Fires is another great singular release from the restless, unsettling mind of Tunnels of Āh.

RABEN REPORT, November 7th 2016 :
2013 in Birmingham gegründet, so ist Tunnels Of Ah ein noch recht junges Projekt, ist aber dafür auch recht aktiv, was den Zeitplan von Veröffentlichungen betrifft. “Surgical Fires” lautet der Titel des neuen Werkes, welches mittels “Demonic Forms” eine verstörende Einleitung erfährt und ehe man sich versieht, ist man in einem Strudel aus unruhig brodelnden Frequenzen gelandet. Der Lärmpegel steigt im folgenden Stück noch etwas an, ehe man mit geheimnisvollem Flüstern bei “One Hundred Gates + Eight” aufwartet. Je nach Tagesform kann man von Tunnels Of Ah halten was man will, aber von reinem Krach sollte keinesfalls die Rede sein. Vielmehr schafft es der Protagonist überaus interessante Facetten aufzuwerfen, welche vorliegender Publikation diesbezüglich einen Pluspunkt verschaffen und das Teil recht variabel klingen lässt. Dennoch wird keinesfalls leichte Kost serviert, denn “Surgical Fires” hat fraglos einen harschen Fundus, weshalb man damit wohl auch am ehesten Hörer von Industrial ansprechen dürfte. Spätestens mit “Black Air (Exhale)” trennt sich die Spreu vom Weizen und ein stabiles Korsett ist in dieser Angelegenheit durchaus ratsam. Ebenso sollte man Zeit mitbringen, denn am Stück lässt sich das Album nur schwer erfassen, da vielzählige Elemente und Schichten erst abgegraben werden wollen, ehe das Ding so richtig funzt. “Surgical Fires” ist keine Kost für den alltäglichen Konsum, sondern eben ehr etwas für starke Momente. Wer gerne mal eine harsche Portion Industrial schnappert, der sollte hier mal reinhorchen, der Rest dürfte sich nur schwer an diese kräftige Hausmannskost gewöhnen.
Artwork 6/10 – Atmosphere 8/10 – Total: 7/10

SIDE-LINE, February 26th 2017 :
In a previous life Stephen Reuben Burroughs got involved in Head Of David. Today he has found a new sonic canvas called Tunnels Of Ǡh to exorcise his music ideas. “Surgical Fires” is the third album by this music veteran. Content: “Surgical Fires” takes off with noise-driven loops and that’s an essential element running throughout the entire production. Burroughs creates a kind of horror-soundscape accentuated by tormenting sound manipulations. From boiling noises and buzzing sound waves plus ghost-like whispers he creates a hostile atmosphere appealing your imagination to create dark and tortured visions. That’s precisely what the title of this album is referring to: ‘a kind of psychic surgery’ probably to calm down the terror like visions this music is spontaneously appealing for.
Positive points : Tunnels Of Ǡh is a band, which is hard to define as one particular music style. It rather sounds as a synopsis of multiple, dark influences finally resulting in a personal dark music creation. This is a sound, which can’t leave you unaffected; it’s too freaky to leave you unmoved and that’s precisely the main strength of this work. I like the progression from rather noise-like opening cuts towards more ambient-driven cuts with solid sound treatments awakening your most secret and perverted fantasies. So in the end I would say that the ambient side of “Surgical Fires” is definitely hard-hitting.
Negative points : “Surgical Fires” is the kind of work, which will be not accessible for a wider audience. That’s what all kind of underground music has to endure isn’t it? You don’t hear me to complain although the very first cuts left aren’t the most convincing ones.
Conclusion: “Surgical Fires” is the work of an alien or simply an artist finding an outlet for his most perverted music ideas. But no doubt about it, this is an artist who already has found disciples who will be ravished discovering this new creation of their Master.
Best songs: “One Hundred Gates + Eight”, “Black Air (Exhale)”, “Mind As Corpse Bearer”.
Rate: 7/10.

CHAIN D.L.K., February 5th 2017 :
According to the liner notes, the title of this release, “Surgical Fires”, alludes to psychic surgery and, so, it probably marks a reference to the first days of industrial where a theme as mind control was central but this album doesn’t present any explicit message but instead tries to build an atmosphere of conflict and inconvenience from the beginning to the end. The mechanical sound of “Demonic Forms” opens this release and introduces the listener towards a relatively canonical industrial sound which evolves in a noise crescendo in the second part of the track. The development of “Purging Process” is almost meditative even if using noisy sources while “One Hundred Gates + Eight” is even more subtle in his construction with the juxtaposition of voices above a deep drone and sparse samples. The contrast between ambient and noise is further developed in “Mind As Corpse Bearer” and “Release Of The Burning Mouths” where the second element is never able to overwhelm the first while in the foreground of the central part of the track. “Black Air (Exhale)” is a return to the abrasive framework of the first track while “My Love To The Lordly Cobras” which features the vocal contribution of Soror Anji Cheung skims the territories of certain ritual music but without the hypnotic effect. “Emission Through A Hole In The Head” closes this release starting as noise track and evolving into a sort of song when the voice seems to start chanting accompanying the development of the noise towards a resonance. This new release by Stephen Ah Burroughs marks a development towards a personal and crafted sound even in a codified tradition so it’s something that could well fit the taste of fans of old school industrial but also fans of more modern approaches. It’s worth a listen.
3,5/5 – Andrea Piran