Jambinai is a band to be reckoned with. They effortlessly blend gugak with the twist and snarl of metal and have allowed those who may know absolutely nothing about Korean culture to experience what I truly believe is an amalgamation of the country’s rich musical history. With the band’s latest collaboration with the Bella Union, A Hermitage, we are confronted with the brilliance and scope of their sound. The music is unabashedly human, expressing raw beauty, light, power, and vulnerability.
From the very first note the listener is grabbed by the wrist and spun full-bodied into the thickness of Jambinai’s imagination. They are masters of sonic storytelling, each song given sincere and accurate aural representation. As “Wardrobe” melts into “Echo of Creation,” I get a very Björk post-Médulla vibe: a little bit “Crystalline” with a hint of “Nátúrra.” As with the Nordic pixie’s decade’s-long ode to nature, A Hermitage is aggressive, just as the natural world is aggressive, soft and tender just as the goddess of Earth taking all of creation into her bosom.
Track “Abyss” has a sleekness to it that belies just how powerful it actually is. With the band’s foretold collaboration with hip-hop artist Ignito, “Abyss” adds new depth to both Korean subgenres. Though there are those who would disagree, the aggressiveness of heavy metal is very similar to the raw brashness of its older cousin hip-hop. The genres match pretty seamlessly, especially in message and intent. When Run DMC sampled Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” for their crossover track of the same name, the entire musical landscape shifted for the rebels out there. Fast forward thirty years later, and a band like Jambinai, who predicates their very existence on pushing the envelope, has again intertwined the genres, adding a new layer to their collaboration and further stirring the proverbial pot of Korean traditional music.
A Hermitage is like an intensive course of Jambinai’s style. With all the heaviness of the guitar and pounding drums, there’s a serenity, an easy-flowing river of sound. The music is exceptionally direct, but just as you’re recovering from the boldness of each statement, something softer comes in to soothe the blare. Tracks like “Wardrobe” and “Deus Benedicat Tibi” punch you in the gut, then on the same extended exhale provide sensory reprieve in the following tracks (“Echo of Creation” and “The Mountain,” respectively).
A Hermitage is more than just a seemingly random collection of raucous sounds. It’s a music book of ancient fables. For instance, track “The Mountain” is rife with sonic metaphor, each movement representing part of the mountain for which the track is named. We find ourselves first at the basin of the mountain, fear and excitement, tinged with a bit of tentative curiosity before we begin our journey. The climb is slow, it builds and twists. There are marks of nature’s elegance along our path, but the rock is alive. It is old and steadfast; it will outlast you, but it doesn’t insist upon its existence. It is aggressive because it was cut that way, thus we do have to fight with it to reach our destination. Once we get there, however, we see the world for all its decadence and unfettered beauty: the river as it continues to dig the the rock we stand atop out of the earth; the trees as they reach their limbs to the sky; the clouds as they sway like brushstrokes through water. Jambinai captures this scene and others, A Hermitage being at once an expulsion of emotion and a richly metaphorical look at the world around us.
That’s what’s so utterly intriguing about this band. Though 90 percent wordless, there’s a definitive voice to the music. Though there’s certainly a cacophony of sound, there’s a story written within the screams. It’s music that’s meant to ignite something within you. Rather than being completely hard or soft, there are peaks and valleys, dips and curls, a tapestry woven that speaks to tradition and history while very boldly blasting the listener into the future. And while the experience of each song is very human, A Hermitage is a terrestrial album, being an extended love poem to the earth and the sea. It’s a painting in watercolor of the richness of nature, while splotches of pastel dot the canvas with each explosion of sound.
- Echo of Creation
- For Everything That You Lost
- Deus Benedicat Tibi
- The Mountain
- They Keep Silence