In this disastrous time for the Middle East, with so much tragedy and misinformation cruising the information superhighway, it’s worth remembering the cultural bounty that Western Asia has on offer. The Middle East has always been a cultural force to be reckoned with, and its latent exoticism still has the ability to enrapture the Western imagination, giving us something of ‘the other’ which is both enticing and desirous. Shifting Mirrors, the third album for Franco-American ensemble Blaak Heat (formerly Blaak Heat Shujaa), sees the band taking Turkish and Arabic folk influences and weaving them, with relative aplomb, into ’70s psychedelia with a neo-prog/stoner twist, and though it sounds a potential recipe for disaster if done incorrectly, they manage to succeed with impressive conviction.
Shifting Mirrors is a curious title and one which has both artistic and political connotations. Even though the Middle East continues to deteriorate largely due to Western engagement, politically it’s worth holding the lens up to ourselves to consider the arrogance of our assistance and innovation. Artistically though, the Turkish/Arabic influences are both mirrored by – and merged into – Shifting Mirrors‘ prog and stoner rock, with rock music and metal being the voice of transgression, youth and freedom for many bands from the region who crave liberalisation whilst attempting to retain traditional values. This trade-off of influences between the West and Middle East is also mirrored in the artwork, which once more panders to somewhat skewed Western dreams of libidinous slave girls, albeit this time looking reaper-esque with a burqa and a halo, a potential nod to the Christian/Islamic attributes of the region and the mutable nature of power. Fantastically, the depiction works rather well as a piece of art, but factually it’s risible, though no more than the 19th century Orientalist art of Jean-Léon Gérôme or Frederick Arthur Bridgman. Shifting Mirrors‘ artwork employs a far more Aesthetic over Orientalist paradigm in the vein of Aubrey Beardsley, again highlighting Western stylistics over Middle Eastern cultural influences – Turkish, in this case – with the ascenders of the band’s logos seeming to form the suspender cables of the Bosphorus Bridge behind Ortaköy Mosque.