THIEF is the brainchild of live Botanist hammered dulcimer player D. Neal. Not unlike that band, he also affects a curious construction of sound to create a work that is dark, mysterious and deliciously otherworldly. The live line up includes another Botanist player, R. Chiang, and Chris Hackman, but on record Neal plays and splices all the sounds together in order to create an effect that is not unlike a futuristic mass. THIEF’s biggest selling point is the use of sacred music and choral soundscapes, which are cut up and interspersed with modern technology and tripped out beats.
There’s a darkness that settles over Thieves Hymn in D Minor’s first track, “Tympanum,” with cyclic structures and distorted sounds pulsing and weaving towards each other, pushing forward and instilling themselves into “King of the Lepers” and the pitch black voices that move upwards from the beginning.
Gorgeous chants are laid over electronic beats before Neal allows his own voice to stalk from the shadows with a delicate tone that is reminiscent of Portishead, WIFE and even post-punk at times. It’s an unusual approach to music, meshing the old and profound with new techniques, but it’s one that pays off and imbues Thieves Hymn in D Minor with an edge that is disturbing and gothic in its execution.
The dense, droning howls of “Ambulatory” sit after the haunting message of “Hung From a Tree,” and in stripping back the sounds to swirling winds and shadowy Gregorian chants, Neal manifests an aura of terror in a piece that seems simple at its core, yet desolate in its progression. It’s a track that seems a little out of place, considering the lush, expansive sounds that surround it, but further listens will peel away layers that will reveal a much harsher output than that initially absorbed.
“Skin to Jade” is ushered in on rhythmic beats that are made up on repeated chant lines while Neal infuses the track with a gorgeous vocal that leans towards the ethereal yet is cloaked in a darkness and ghostly whispers. The pace is measured and the eerie atmosphere is allowed to develop organically, revolving around the sacred voices beneath. Layering filters of electronic bliss over the medieval pulses below, Neal creates a song that is defiantly modern despite the old world base.
“Crack an Eye” goes further down the spiral and closes out the record on tripped out, spacey beats that constant rotate and fall into formation before breaking apart and spinning out into the ether. THIEF has a unusual, intriguing manifesto, but it’s one that feels so natural when you’re bathed in its radiance.