Here’s proof that you can create a record of phenomenal weight without cranking the guitars right into the red. For the most part, tonality lurks through Scarab as either a buried, tectonic implication or a thin stream of desert breeze, acting as the murmuring by-product of the album’s onward stomp rather than the primary fruits of Queen Elephantine’s slow churn. In fact, it is percussion that acts as the predominant fuel here – it coaxes “Veil” into being as a circular ritual of chimes and wood block clacks congregating round the standard kit, and dictates the stop-start stumble that makes the latter stages of “Chrone” so giddy and malfunctioning. The band leave ample space into which each smack and string can reverberate, and where I’m often coaxed into dreaming of desert earthquakes or midnight tribal incantations, I’m never completely detached from the mental image of players and their instruments, where Queen Elephantine splash their searing doom mirage onto white rehearsal room walls.
As a result, what really comes through on Scarab is the labour of its creation. The toil of process is illuminated for all its inner grunts and muscle flexes, and rather than use the studio as a means of sheathing the album’s making within the spotless casing of an immaculately presented end product, Queen Elephantine make it sound as though they have to painfully recreate the record from scratch each time the listener chooses to play it. It’s a sound of friction and strain – guitars feel like big stone blocks being hauled across the sand, while the vocals groan wearily as though wearing the rest of the band’s sound round their neck as some sort of solid bronze pendant. With the end of the record comes not only silence, but also Queen Elephantine’s bodily collapse; the alleviation of tremendous physical pressure and searing heat, which evaporates, most liberatingly, into the pure and infinite sky.