TODAY I JOINED a cult*. Before you look at me that way, please understand that this isn’t one of those dodgy cults like Fly Buys or those people who really, really like Tom Cruise.
No, I joined a cult that offers something worthwhile, something more than impenetrable symbolism and a charismatic leader – although The Church of Sarrean Alignment has all of that and more, including cool masks and wonderfully bizarre music.
The Church’s spiritual leader is Mandek Penha, or more specifically The Current Earthly Embodiment of Lord Mandek Penha, who is both the Father and the Mother. You see, like the Dali Lama, Mandek Penha manifests himself on Earth from one generation to the next (in fact, The Next Earthly Embodiment has already released an EP of her own material).
And much like the Buddhists, who use chanting to prepare the mind for meditation, The Church of Sarrean Alignment uses music to move the people and join them together in spiritual reverie. Mandek Penha more than delivers in this regard. His debut full-length album, Our Present: The Current Earthly Embodiment of Lord Mandek Penha (2018), is at once inviting and deeply mysterious, drawing you in while hinting at a wider body of spiritual knowledge that one might tap into with focused listening and mindful contemplation.
From the brief, orgasmic choral opening of “I Love My Father, Lord Mandek Penha”, which sounds like the universe unfurling, Our Present takes the listener on a spiritual journey as well as a musical one. “I Love My Father” segues seamlessly into the first track proper: the instrumental “We Children Dream”. Both funky and symphonic, it’s a progressive odyssey that combines bleating synths and heavenly harmonies with all the excitement of a martial arts soundtrack, providing the listener with the perfect backdrop to imagine a brighter future. “Must Reach IMZ”, which closes out the album, is more specific in its message, reaching out to the ancient race of alien beings who hold the secrets to humankind’s salvation, among them The Deity Filter: a device that will allow humans to one day merge with IMZ. “Must Reach IMZ” marries the sort of eerie tones Angelo Badalamenti might compose for David Lynch with chirruping electronics before unleashing triumphant horns, a bitchin’ sax solo and an uplifting chant of ‘hand in hand’, hand in hand’, painting a picture of humankind and IMZ marching together as one toward the promised land of South Sarra.
In between these tracks lie an assortment of songs with inspiring messages for those willing to listen. The sultry sounding “What Do You Call Two Men?” teaches us about the positive relationship males can experience together under the benevolent umbrella of The Church, while “My Father (Circa 1975)” is a live recording that demonstrates Mandek’s power, as he wins over a sceptical crowd with little more than his voice and his organ. The palette here is mainly electronic, but a rich variety of acoustic instruments add timbre and texture, such as the tenor and baritone saxophones that smoulder and soar throughout. This expanded instrumental palette is particularly engrossing on “A Village Story”, which weds flute, violin, trumpet and the voices of the official Child Choir of The Church of Sarrean to its fat synths, as it progresses from a bucolic atmosphere to militaristic assuredness.
Mandek is adept at a wide variety of styles. But it’s in the realm of electro-pop that he’s at his most bracing and immediate. Mandek reveals his vision for the Next Earthly Embodiment while also sharing the correct way to open tinned goods in “This is How She’ll do it in Japan!”. With bright and cheerful verses that jump headlong into its dark banger of a chorus and back again, this is a tune I’ve been singing in my head for days (I cannot say the same for the music of religiously motivated troubadours such as Cat Stevens or Guy Sebastian). The moody and melancholic “When I Touch My Leg”, which gets my vote for best song on the album, features a smooth saxophone solo that turns into a feral free-jazz explosion by song’s end. While these tracks are certainly accessible, they betray Mandek Penha’s conflicted nature both in the music and lyrics. Rather than detract from his message, however, this ambivalence simply makes Mandek’s music more relatable, as do his impassioned vocals. And much like the arcane secrets of the mystery plays of Ancient Greece, there’s an air of menace lurking at the corners of many of these tracks – the glitchy “Man and Machine”, with its cheerful children’s voices, is particularly unsettling. This and Mandek’s flair for the absurd and the theatrical will keep this listener coming back for more.
Mandek Penha has brought his message from North Korea to Melbourne, Australia, and I was blessed to witness him launch this album at The Workers Club in Fitzroy a few weeks ago. Everything that’s great about the recorded artefact is blown up in high-res when you see this Mother-Father in action. His stage show, a revival of sorts, was supported by new act Hypnosono and Phantom Panda Power Wizard Master Smasher, a troupe well worth further investigation for their frenetic metal-meets-Looney Tunes sounds. Mandek pulled off the one-man-band act with the panache of Jim Thirlwell (Foetus), while his multimedia performance – complete with projected videos, choreographed dance moves and guest musicians – is like a streamlined version of The Residents. But while Mandek Penha may remind us of the earthly music of other Ugly ‘n’ Weird legends, he is a true original, and his dedication to his craft needs to be seen to be believed. On that night, I was saved from the negative influence of the Hish’ry Cosh’ry, and my life will never be the same.
To that end, I am now an Equal in The Church of Sarrean Alignment. Joining was easy; all I had to do was answer a couple of questions and tick a few boxes and I was done. You can do the same over at the Church’s website: a thorough and thoughtfully curated resource of spiritual knowledge. I don’t want to give too much away about how this simple act has already benefitted me, because I believe each individual must discover their path for themselves. All I will say is that I have now let Mandek Penha enter me with his infinite love, compassion and knowledge. You owe it to yourself and the future of humankind to let Mandek Penha do the same for you.
* I have just been informed that The Church of Sarrean Alignment is, in fact, not a cult, which is made abundantly clear by this excellent and informative video by the group Reptile Tile featuring Mandek himself:
I am now being escorted to an as-yet-undisclosed location for what I’m told will be ‘purifying measures’. I have much to learn.
Our Present: The Current Earthly Embodiment of Lord Mandek Penha (2018)
- “I Love My Father” – 00:22
- “We Children Dream” – 06:16
- “This is How She’ll Do It In Japan” – 02:36
- “What Do You Call Two Men?” – 03:03
- “A Village Story” – 03:28
- “My Father (Circa 1975)” – 04:33
- “When I Touch My Leg” – 04:29
- “Man And Machine” – 06:01
- “Must Reach IMZ” – 05:23
“Livin’ on a Prayer” (Bon Jovi cover) video (2016)
“When I Touch My Leg” video (2015)
Live excerpts from Mandek Penha’s residency at The Toff in Town, Melbourne (2013)
Listen to the new album, Our Present: The Current Earthly Embodiment of Lord Mandek Penha, and more on Bandcamp.
Follow Mandek Penha on Facebook.