Essence of Mandala

24th March 2006
Artus Színház

The Essence of Mandala performance was the first concert by this legendary Hungarian formation on their home soil since their special tenth anniversary concert in 1997. This exclusive platinum performance was presented as a special two-hour audiovisual show divided in two parts; first the complete Mandala performance and then a large selection of remade versions of songs from all the past albums. Organised in an Artus theatre, a refurbished factory that usually hosts contemporary dance troupes, that was entirely redesigned to accommodate the band's specific stage set-up, a panoramic projection and a top-range sound system provided by Meyer Sound (i.e. the best equipment in Hungary that is usually reserved for world-famous performers like Pavarotti and his ilk), this unique Essence of Mandala performance promised to be the most interesting concert on offer in a well-filled season.

The Artus theatre was much easier to find than expected. When we arrived, ACTUS had not yet finished their sound check and the music could be heard from the courtyard below. The time to climb a candle-lit staircase and we could enter the venue situated on the first floor of the old factory building. It was still early so we had time to sample a few of the fine local wines and browse through the records on Last Exit's stand while waiting for the concert hall to open. It was also good opportunity to greet some of our Hungarian friends and meet some of the other foreign fans in attendance. Little by little, the bar and the foyer began to fill up with an eclectic audience comprising eminent members of the local post-industrial mafia, goths, ordinary-looking thirtysomething fans, media guys and even a few grey-haired hipsters.

The concert hall had a spacious standing area in front of the stage and, at the back, several rows of elevated seats, set at eye level with the three big screens fixed behind the stage. Given the atmospheric nature of the 'Mandala' album, it was from this elevated position that we decided to follow the forthcoming performance. No sooner had the three hundred or so persons entered the hall, than the first notes of the introduction sounded out whilst the room was plunged into darkness and swirling mandalas appeared on the screens. It was time for the Essence of Mandala performance to begin...

The calm, repetitive introduction slowly turned into the beginning of the first song... an old favourite of ours "Manifestation - The Light Emissary", only in a completely new version. For a while the stage remained in complete darkness, until four spotlights revealed the musicians; a singer/keyboardist, a female vocalist, a computer-player/guitarist in the background and the ever impressive-looking drummer up front. But to tell the truth, I didn't really pay that much attention to the musicians during the performance, my attention was elsewhere...

For nearly an hour the 'Mandala' tracks ('Centre', Spiral' and 'Spinning') merged into each other, forming a constant flow of ACTUS's unique blend of experimental new-age music, trance, prog-rock, tribal percussions, cosmic groove and more. The music was complemented with an elaborate video projection combining different images on each screen in an endless stream of fractals, clouds, landscapes, medieval battles, strange cartoons, close-ups of mechanical devices… The intense light show, the projections and the music were perfectly balanced and for a while I was completely immersed in this impressive audiovisual performance; completely detached from my immediate surroundings... And, it was only on the dying notes of Apokalipszis, another old favourite in a remade version, that I realised that the first part of the performance had already come to an end.

A short break was announced before the second part of the performance; a selection of remade songs from all the previous albums. I decided to stay put and enjoy the show from above, but Nathalie was itching to get closer to the action up front. So, I'll let her continue this report...

Yes! The curiosity to get closer to the epicentre of the show is as strong as the desire to experience a part of the performance standing in the audience.
So, with a view closer to the stage, it is obvious that the visual projections cannot be apprehended in the same way... Overhanging the stage, the three screens mainly flood the actors and the first rows of the audience with a mix of twirling colour tones… The effect is grandiose thanks to the remarkable work of the two hidden VJs who, on the controls of the light show, add dynamism and create an interaction between music and visuals, without which the performance would not be the same. These things said, it would be honest to add that the attention at this distance from the stage is mainly focused on the overall feeling that floats over the scene and on the musicians.

Still as impressive as he was in Leipzig last May, the so-called 'impressive looking drummer' stands this time as a front man. Needless to say that the large part of the audience will remain mainly focused on his person, his presence and his particular and efficient percussion technique (a natural alchemy of agility and robustness) playing simultaneously electronic pads and classical toms, chimes.

It is not really a surprise to discover the mysterious singer/guitarist (acoustic and electric)/computer player on the left of the stage almost hidden behind various equipments. On the contrary, the female singer came back on stage with a pair of black wings... the silhouette of a black angel standing out against the pictures projected on the central screen like a Chinese shadow will for sure remain one of the strongest images of the show, from an aesthetic and poetic perspective. On the right side of the stage, behind his keyboard and microphone, aQuA seems to gather all the positive energies assembled in the venue and reflect them to the audience... with a wise but incredible energy himself ... and with a demonstrative and convincing attitude that was hardly revealed at the WGT concert.

After a first part experienced as a powerful cosmic audio-visual performance, the second set promised to offer lots of earlier songs in never before heard versions… what an enticing promise!… and how delightful it was to enjoy all these hits simply flowing one after the other for over an hour...

'Riding the Tiger' lead by the familiar sound of the keyboard and parsimonious chimes opens the set, followed by a strong and dynamic version of 'Babel Pit' with hammering metallic percussions and metal guitar riffs... Just the time to recover your mind (on the short ambient atmospheric loop played between each track) and your attention is drawn to the very suggestive and hypnotic visual animations showing some kind of mannequins falling from the top of a building mixed with international diplomatic protocol footage)... Then, a new track ('Inferno') slowly starts on a very minimalist and electro-ritualistic base where aQuA's shamanic voice eerily emerges... A very impressive long track that progressively incorporates all the elements (acoustic guitar, female vocals, drums, metallic percussions, cymbals, keyboards...) with an undeniable psychedelic touch brought by the keyboard sounds. An excellent live preview of the new material that will feature on the forthcoming 'Transmutation' 10inch.

The mind soothed by the familiar atmospheric sound loop... the first notes of a very familiar track from the past resound... 'Az Egyik Test Bomlása, A Másik Test Születése' ('The Decay Of A Body Is The Birth Of Another One')... Like for 'Apokalipszis' (played during the first part of the show), the curiosity and excitation are high to discover how this strong 15 year-old song sounds today and which treatment the quartet reserved to it, tonight. The reply quickly comes... with a bombastic and powerful re-worked version.... very progressive again.... where sonic uppercuts and tense moments (marked by metal guitar riffs, electronic percussions and strong vocals) succeed to more atmospheric passages, with a trance-music background... A stunning and astonishing experience that makes you feel part of a real sound spiral... aided in this by the remarkable light show again and the construction of the track in itself that seems to never end. The energy deployed on stage and mirrored to the audience rises to its firmament and makes this moment definitely one of the high points of the performance... and the second preview played this night of the new material in preparation.

After such a devastating and powerful revisited hit, the quiet but heroic 'Spiritual Imperialism' is at this moment of the show more than welcome... especially as the following song 'Introduction - Rome' offers from the very first and of course recognisable organ notes. Another magical and memorable moment... strong and precise percussions and chimes present all along the track and still the beautiful symbiosis between female and male Hungarian vocals swathed in the alchemy of the acoustic and electric sounds, naturally entwined. Astounding!

Then, the first atmospheric keyboard notes of 'Solipsismus Magicus' are heard, mixed with aQuA's spoken words and punctual metal guitar riffs... before leaving the vocals and guitar of the mysterious guitarist singer, precise percussions and the 70's keyboard sounds lead magnificently the second part of this hit! A pure pleasure! Quickly followed by another pearl 'Lílâ' announced once again by the recognisable keyboard sound and the floating chimes… Once again proof (if needed) that ACTUS master perfectly the combination of acoustic and electronic elements together with the strength of female and male vocals, since a long time... This song did not loose one ounce of power and beauty, along these years!... We cannot reproach them to leave the stage and end this flood of re-invented hits on such a beautiful and magical moment but... the audience asks for more! A few titles have not been played yet and it is probably the idea that turns in the hard-core fans mind...

So, it is with an intense and real satisfaction that the audience acknowledges the return of the enigmatic quartet on stage... who offer a heartfelt and fair version of 'Botschaft Aus Hyperborea'... The performance finally closes on a powerful version of 'Total Mobilisation' that will leave a good number of people speechless. The Hungarian quartet can deservedly leave the stage under the nourished applauses from the audience, aQuA can raise his arms... in 2006, nine years after their last performance in Budapest, they showed that no other band in the neofolk-industrial sphere are able to offer anything comparable and such a professional show. Some people will say that their show is actually 'too big' for 'our scene' but who could reproach them to be too professional, to want (and to offer) the best, to be demanding for quality… especially since the audience and fans still remain surprised and touched by the sincerity of this mythic formation, on each (rare) occasion they play.

It is a vain task to try to describe such a performance... since there is no convenient words to express the unique feelings you have when you hear live the best of the discography of such cult formation, especially when played on their own soil… as well as the feeling of your mind and body filled with positive and inalterable energies a long time after the lights have been switched off. You just have to experience it for yourself, once in a life...

text: Ian C. & Nathalie F.
photos: Nathalie F.
Spring 2006


You can find a photo gallery of this performance on
Some superb photos can also be viewed on Sweet and Deadly and an illustrated live report (in Hungarian) is available on