Let me preface this by saying that up until I decided to pick this particular review assignment, I had NEVER DONE YOGA. I had long been repelled by what I thought would be required stillness, or perhaps it was my perception of the yoga stereotype and awful outfits. Really, though, I had just needed the way in, which this concept of yoga marketing certainly is. Just make it dark or metal, right? OK. Black Yo)))ga with instructor Kimee Massie, I’m gullible enough to play along. (Editorial Note: Caryn’s outfits are, regrettably, horrible. But we assure you that her fashion choices were meant to mimic her Yo)))ga abilities.)
The Ritual Music:
Musically, about half of the record floats by as though it were meant for doing yoga to! Hey! It is! The soundtrack on its own consists of unremarkable droney soundscapes that you could probably breathe/meditate/yoga/sleep to, with some low-key wordless vocals during the first four tracks, and some scrapey cello here and there. The music was recorded by the BLACK YO)))GA Meditation Ensemble, which is headed up by Kimee’s husband, Scott Massie, and contains members of a number of local Pittsburgh doom, doomcore, experimental, and psychedelic bands – a cabal of self-dubbed “metallic hippies and doomlords.”
Perhaps this isn’t the right record for meditation or sleep, however, (unlike Max Richter’s excellent new release, “Sleep”), as a drum fill on track 5, “Negative Confession,” announces that we’re in for some smashy doom with low volume shouted growls. I could have done without churchy feel of some Loreena McKennitt-esque wordless vocals on “Lament,” and the co-ed wordless vocals that go on too long toward the end of that cut. The pulse-driven seventh track, “Nest of Thorns,” was a frustratingly static fourteen minutes of my life that I can never get back; drums pounded on the quarter note, the same note, over and over, with a tiny bit of variation from a cello entrance and a repeating 4-note guitar lick, punctuated by a cymbal crash every four bars or so, until things degrade back to a drone and irregular jarring drum fills. The last track, “Loopholes in the Universe,” consists of slow-motion sirens, light saber-esque electronic clashes, or perhaps a Van de Graaff generator. Hmmm. I bet that’ll prove agitating.
(Black) Crow – the Yoga:
Since I had no idea about the yoga portion of the stuff on offer and wanted a more professional perspective to augment my virgin one, I invited a certified yoga instructor friend of mine to try the screener with me. Rebecca DeRosa teaches in NYC at Human at Ease studios, and holds a pop-up outdoor practice in Brooklyn called “Shining Rock Yoga,” in the warmer months of the year. She also trained in India and is a drummer, who is part of the editorial staff of Tom Tom Magazine.
The BLACK YO)))GA routine, as promised in the press release, was your standard traditional Vinayasa style, or “Flow,” in basic poses, and there is movement. The instructor Kimee Massie goes through many poses, which Rebecca agreed would be good for beginners, (unless the practitioner is injured), such as “Cat” & “Cow,” “Mountain,” “Crocodile,” “Pyramid,” “Downward Dog,” and “Warrior.” As someone who knows a good yoga flow, Rebecca also added that the order of poses was different than the way she would have chosen to lead, with a few more concessions to those who might not have very much upper body strength. (Perhaps this was what should have been inferred from a focus on “safe body mechanics,” in the accompanying marketing materials.) Since I had never experienced a yoga class, Rebecca also confirmed that the teaching banter was the standard calming stuff, you know, letting go of the anxiety and depression, releasing tension, letting the force flow through you (who is excited for “The Force Awakens”?), instead of what we had both expected – praying to the dark lord. DAMMIT.
After the routine was over, Rebecca questioned the lack of some familiar poses, like “Tree” pose and “Warrior 3.” She then demonstrated more advanced arm balance stuff with me like “Crow”/”Crane.” Luckily, with teacherly foresight, she put a pillow down for my head as I attempted (Black) “Crow,” and promptly collapsed forward. Awesome and HIGHlarious. Rebecca also demonstrated one of the latest poses that she’d been working on, “Flying Lizard.” It was seriously perplexing and impressive to watch.
I AM THE LIZARD ( The Yoga and Music):
Well, as a concept, I was all over this kind of pairing. Candles. Darkness. Doom. Heaviness.
However, the synchronization of music to yoga on BLACK YO)))GA Asanas Ritual, Vol. 1 is actually a distraction in many places. For that, it seems we have either Eyes to the Sky Films or the BLACK YO)))GA Meditation Ensemble to thank.
There was dinner bell-like percussion somewhere between the “Cat & Cow” and “Crocodile,” poses which was anything but dark. It was just out of place. There was also the scrape of an ill-considered cello, just as I was getting a great hip flexor stretch in a modified “Lizard” pose. The cello broke my concentration and actually made me so frustrated that I started intoning “I AM THE LIZARD,” and giggle-snorted a lot, which definitely was not at all in keeping with the feel of the darkness.
Honestly, most of the vocals completely rubbed me the wrong way and made the music seem more like doing yoga in a small-town haunted house. Even more upsetting was this wanky guitar that came in, just as Kimee was telling us to let go of the anxiety in our lives. Then, there was still another moment, where the timing of the entry of drums was a ball of confusion as we were supposed to go into “Pyramid” pose.
There was an overall feeling from both Rebecca and me that the music was merely in the way, especially at crucial moments – like when the vocal yowling reached an apex as I attempted to do the most complicated balance pose of the routine, “Half-Moon.” It was harder to tune out the music than to achieve the pose, for the record. I just can’t abide doom done poorly and was embarrassed that this might be an introduction to dark and heavy music for Rebecca.
The music with the drum pulses would have been better paired with a more powerful position – like “Warrior”- from earlier, which just had the innocuous drone soundscape as its score. There was also overall disbelief from Rebecca that the instructor Kimee didn’t throw devil horns at any point, so when we were nearly done with Black Yo)))ga, I was led into what she calls “Rockstar.”
The flow finally ends in what Kimee called “Dead Man’s” Pose*, which is supposed to be the final relaxation – an utter fail for me, since I suck at being quiet and still – but also because there was again more disruptive droney dive-bombing music playing.
*Side-note on the Yoga: strangely, Rebecca said that most folks call that pose “Corpse” pose, directly from the Sanskrit (Shavasana or Savasana). Another missed opportunity for a metal moment!
The final scene, as the class is in “Corpse” pose, cuts back to Kimee back under her Jedi hood/holocaust cloak, dispensing wisdom that you “can’t fully appreciate the light, until you understand the darkness.” Nice tagline. I guess I get it. It’s much less expensive to create original music for a yoga film, instead of licensing a stasis metal soundtrack of Earth, OM, Boris, Sleep, or Sunn o))). I would hope that getting the music to make more sense with the flow of poses and attempting to be less of a distraction would be something for their next round.
As a personal afterthought, I might have enjoyed the yoga part. So much so that I was also inspired to try out our local “Metal Yoga,” held at Saint Vitus and Cobra Club in Brooklyn, with instructor Saskia Thode. I would highly recommend checking out a class with her, if you enjoy “raising your horns high,” during every sun salutation, therapeutic barbaric yawps, and a good-natured embrace of dark and evil as you pretzel, balance, and stretch. Saskia is just my kind of mean -in a strict instructorly German way that I find appealing in a class setting. She helped me through any embarrassment and body limitations to achieve better stretches in the more difficult poses, and then made me hold them for FOREVER until I gave up screaming (which I did, in a very death metal way, which is totally welcome.) Plus, the playlist was much better! Taake, Blut Aus Nord, Bathory, Sabbath & Venom, from someone with metal plates in their shoulder. Now that’s metal.
– Caryn Havlik