A Portuguese band from the milennarian city of Lisbon, Stone of Babylon are an instrumental stoner band, inspired by myths and history, especially that from the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East (apparently, mostly because that’s where hops and beer first developed!).
Traveling back again in time to the ancient history and myths of Mesopotamia and the fertile crescent, Stones of Babylon continue where they left off with their 2019 debut album Hanging Gardens. They start from song titles with the aim that the listener can embark on a journey and, somehow, be taken to the places of an always mysterious past that even now still writes on the pages of history….
Somewhere in Babylon, in a space almost lost in time, the eighth gate of the city was erected. Like any door, the Ishtar Gate symbolizes access to coded worlds, the closing of crossroads, or simply the thunderous force of power….cue Ishtar Gate, their second full-length production. There’s plenty of cosmic inspiration, with one foot in the past, another in the future, the head in the present and the expanding soul. With the arrival of Alexandre Mendes on guitar, there is a continuity, a continuing evolution where the band are keen to maintain the thread of their previous path but to reinforce the sense of concept for their project. The intention is for the six tracks that make up Ishtar Gate to take the listener into a feel for the sounds of the Middle East through the use of dense, doomy Western-style riffs – to quote the band: “something like sonic mantras alternating between weight and subtlety; and designed to culminate in a psychedelic and travel atmosphere“.
The six tracks do indeed read like a mantra of Babylonian historical highlights, each being between seven and a half to ten minutes long.
Gilgamesh – named after the king of the Sumerian city-state of Uruk, around 2500BCE, who was the best known of all ancient Mesopotamian heroes “the king who did not want to die”. The first three minutes or so comprise fairly standard stoner riffs, nothing too bad, nothing mega-exciting! But we do now morph into a lighter, obviously Middle-eastern vibe, quite delicately played at the upper range of a fuzzed-out guitar. The last section is slower, more ponderous…is the king dying, we ask ourselves?
Annunaki is the name for a group of deities from that Sumerian period. (Also “Princely Seed”, the God of the sky! Its a slower gentler number, still in that narrow fuzzed-out stoner trio mould, but quite light in tone. Half-way through there’s some wah wah work reminiscent of Hawkwind, more so as it winds up into a sort of cosmic feel.
Pazuzu – Another god, god of the southwest wind, leader of the evil spirits of the air. Sounds amazingly like Richard Burton narrating at the start (check out the video). Therefter we’re into familiar stoner territory before again alternating with the more sonorous, Middle-eastern arrangement.
The gate of Ishtar: The Ishtar Gate was the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon, constructed circa 575 BCE by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II. So there! This one smacks of early Floyd for a while before the obligatory stoner riffs arrive. Most of this track though is more psych-rock than stoner, extended sections of the eastern-tinged arrangement working well
The Fall of Ur could be inspired by The Lamentation for Ur, a Sumerian lament composed around the time of the fall of Ur to the Elamites and the end of the city’s third dynasty c. 2000 BCE. Or it might be a reflection on the use of abbreviated texts in modern languages? You choose! Again around half the track is stoner, the other half more eastern-psych led.
Tigris and Euphrates- The confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is believed to have been the place where some of the first civilisations emerged. From ancient times empires arose and fell in the river basin, including Sumer, Akkad, Babylonia, Assyria. There’s a lot of history to this area! The longest track, fittingly, it’s a microcosm of the previous five. A nicely crisp production does make this one perhaps the most accessible to non-stoners?
To the outsider, these might all sound a bit niche and samey, and you would be right, you certainly need to have a taste for Stoner Rock! There is however a surprising amount of variation in mood among the pieces, and the secttions that are “eastern-inspired” are quite intriguing, nicely played, nicely mixed and produced so you’re never “sludged out” as with much Stoner…but “Niche and Samey” will inevitably sum up Ishtar Gate – fans will love it, others will listen once perhaps……