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That concept of finding solace in chaos can be likened to the yin-yang dichotomy found in Confucianism. This contrast seems to be a recurrent theme running through Chasny's work. On the one hand, his music is heady and serious, but in interviews he presents himself as a guy who simply writes and plays guitar. He denies any connection to a deity, but he makes soul-cleansing tunes. He aims to make albums that reflect his personal dreariness, but they exude peace and calm as a result. Even his Comets on Fire bandmate, Noel von Harmonson, recognizes these disparate themes.
"Having known Chasny for as long as I have, it's impossible for me to think that all of his music is dark," says Harmonson. "It's similar to the theory of how half of us is bright and light while the other half is darkness. Recognizing this is complicated and rather abstract. Furthermore, there is darkness in light and vice versa."
We wouldn't be applying such heavy thought to the guy if Chasny were a simple singer-songwriter. There is more substance to Chasny and people seemed to notice it early on. His previous record, School of the Flower, put him at the forefront of the new weird folk scene, and his work with Comets on Fire has allowed him to take a back seat and explore the more unhinged regions of his guitar playing. Not only that, but he has been one of the most prolific musicians coming out of Comets. Constantly creating, he has made music with Hiroyuki Usui as August Born, collaborated with Current 93, and joined forces with Charalambide's guitarist Tom Carter as Badgerlore. These myriad projects allow him to stretch his limbs before returning to his foundation, Six Organs of Admittance, the purest distillation of his multifaceted personality.
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Six Organs of Admittance's new album, The Sun Awakens, is out June 13.
Nowhere in his work has his inner dichotomy been more present than on The Sun Awakens. Even the title suggests something both positive and eerie. Produced by Chasny and Tim Green at Louder Studios, the record is immediately intense, with moody tunings and ominous song titles ("Torn by Wolves," "Black Wall"). From the opening guitar strum, the tracks move like a muddy creek, ebbing and flowing with subdued natural grandeur, ending with a final 20-minute drone exercise aptly titled "The River of Transfiguration." The textures are acoustic, but washed over with electric guitar, more so than any of his previous efforts, which Chasny says was a main intention with this disc. "I'm starting to get really sick of the acoustic," he says. "I don't play it live anymore. It might change in the future, but right now the acoustic guitar makes me wanna puke."
He also notes that it is his least friendly disc to date, presumably for its weighty gloom, but for this he loves it.
"It comes closest to my state most of the time," he explains. "I wanted to get back to a little of the darkness of the Dark Noontide, while exploring some of the heaviness of the new electric sounds."
Given the prominence of the acoustic guitar in the freak-folk craze of late, it's a wonder Chasny didn't just stick with it and cash in. But his secret is always staying ahead of the curve, making music that exists inside his own world with huge indifference to trend or fashion. As Al Cisneros points out, by listening to Ben Chasny, we are watching a great artistic unfolding.
"I think the different projects he does add to his conviction of his own core of what we're gonna be treated to in the years to come," says Cisneros. "We've already witnessed the evolution and it's just a privilege that we get to listen to music from someone like him. He's a rare soul." Brian J. Barr
Within the thickets of Comets' textures, you can subtract the work of most individual members (Flashman is the only one not currently at work on another project) and find very different songwriting ideas. But with many acts, divergence equals death. Give a band member enough rope and he'll hang the group that spawned him, with side and main projects battling for time and public recognition. Which begs the question with Comets on Fire have the members spread themselves too thin? Ethan Miller opines that the freedom to work on other outlets actually makes the band healthier as a whole. "Things don't come easily to Comets, we have to work for it," he says. "But I think that does pay off because there isn't a lot of fat and hot dogs on the albums; they're pretty mowed down to precisely what we want to keep or have represent us." That process means the band works as a democracy, which takes more time and effort than creating a solo-driven project with new people.
Comets' upcoming full-length, Avatar, was easier for Miller than earlier efforts. "My stress level about playing music, producing good albums, or making things happen musically went completely back down off the charts when my eggs weren't all in Comet's basket," he says. "Because Chasny has Six Organs, Comets can never be number one; Six Organs is his thing, that's his living. So for us to have Comets be our heart, blood, and soul of what we do artistically and to have people with other priorities greater than that artistically, there's a misbalance that's hurtful for your path and desires." Miller can now funnel his excess and instantaneous ideas into a new act. "And with Noel, Utrillo, and Ben [Chasny] doing their things, there's a balance in artistic stress and artistic importance," Miller adds.