ACTUS - Mandala - CD - 4 tracks - Naturally Organised Element - 2005

First of all, it would be honest to say that this review might well be influenced by the fact that I first listened to the new ACTUS material, when they presented 'Mandala' at the recent WGT in Leipzig... and that their performance (including the impressive visuals) remains one of the highlights of this festival, for me.

Whatever, after years of absence, a new ACTUS's album is an event that could not remained unnoticed (except for the newbies who have probably never heard of the Hungarian cult band). Especially, because they only released four albums (and a film) during their eighteen years of existence (which easily resumes the perfectionist and perseverant character of this formation) and that along the years they established a solid reputation for being an uncompromising and unique formation.

Seven years have passed since the release of the last opus 'Sancro Sanctum'… seven years spent on working on 'Mandala' that was finally recorded in Spring 2004 and completed last winter. The musical elements that made ACTUS a unique and recognisable formation (hence, difficult to classify) are still present on this new opus based on the concept of the 'Mandala' (which is also the personal symbol of ACTUS) and four as the number of wholeness (cardinal points, seasons, elements, colours...).
The four (long) tracks actually invite the listeners to meditate on the ACTUS symbol... it's the audio support to the meditation that begins with 'Középpont' ('centre'), the beginning and the end of all possible paths, 'One point, One tiny flame burns That was inherited to us By the Universe'...
On a cold minimalist/ ambient base aided by repetitive percussions and male vocals, different elements (such as soaring keyboards melodies, ethereal female vocals singing in Hungarian, drones, Tibetan percussions, a choir...) are progressively included and make the track gain in intensity (just like a symphony) to reach a perfect harmony at the end...

The second track 'Spirál' begins with the sound of a fire crackling that quickly leaves place to short shamanic incantations mixed with beats and slow ambient waves of keyboards... from this labyrinth, the sound of an acoustic guitar emerges to form a subtle combination with the Tibetan percussions, a multitude of little electronic sounds/beats, electric guitar, enhanced by the arrival of the duo of singers (the female and male vocalists as the two poles, the two serpents of the ACTUS symbol), then replaced by the monumental Hungarian choir on the chorus, intersected with sporadic shamanic incantations... ACTUS definitely excel in the art of fusing acoustic and electronic elements... as 'Spirál' proves it.

Sounds of running water (similar to a torrent) open the third track 'Körforgas' ('Spinning')... built upon a repetitive keyboard melody that reflects the 'Ceaselessly spins the wheel of the world'. Here again, the acoustic guitar emerges and liberates Hungarian male vocals, drums and Tibetan percussions, electric riffs and an impressive and protective symphonic choir. The breaks in the composition of the track (that relaunch the song at certain moments) give the impression that the song, like a spiral, could be endless... The track finishes as it started... with the repetitive keyboard melody and if the sound of the water at the beginning evoked the Spring and the melting snow, the sound of footsteps in the snow suggests that the Winter has arrived... the cycle of seasons has passed.

Resounding horns open the last track 'Ösvények' ('Paths'... those that the meditation will have revealed to you)... The atmospheric keyboard introduction is just beautiful and once again the same symbiosis is reached between electronic, acoustic, vocal elements and caesuras... A truly impressive track again, lead by the constant rhythms and the almost omnipresent percussions and that closes on a winter north wind sound.

This outstanding album (filled with a multitude of sounds that all participate to a global harmony) has to be apprehended in its whole, since you can't visualise separately the different elements of the ACTUS symbol/mandala at first view either. I assume that all its magic, strength comes from the fact that it will act on the listener's psyche whatever his spiritual advancement may be.

Despite all the expectations that years have naturally created, I must say that this new ACTUS album was definitely worth waiting for. The theme is treated with the seriousness we can expect from a formation that works with no deadline and with a constant concern to present a work of quality to the listener.

It's also worth mentioning that, like for all the previous ACTUS releases, a very complete and informative 'four' panel sheet comes with the cd (including lyrics in both Hungarian and English and a presentation of the 'Mandala' project). Some very nice photos depicting different landscapes at different seasons also feature on the sheet; as for the cover... would it be the Invisible as it appears after such spiritual journey?


Nathalie F.
Spring 2005

ACTUS / Naturally Organised Element :