Wow! Talk about growth! I enjoyed Pencarrow’s debut four years ago, but I wouldn’t say I raved about it. It was a solid album, with a lot going for it, and I don’t think I ever read a negative review about it. But this year’s follow-up is just amazing. Interestingly, harking back to the reviews of the previous release, one member seemed to get both both the brickbats and bouquets. Tonnie ten Hove’s guitar playing was generally given as a highlight, while his singing wasn’t so universally liked. Both his guitar playing and his singing take a backseat for Growth in the Absence of Light. It makes me wonder just how much the fans of the last album might enjoy this. Personally, I never had a problem with Tonnie’s vocals, which struck me as reminiscent of other Kiwi vocalists with potentially such Marmite vocals – Tristan from HDU, Richard from Runt, and Andrew from Look To Windward.
While every track on the debut had lyrics, this is cut down to only five of the eleven on Growth in the Absence of Light, and Anthony Rose’s keyboards are far more the dominant instrument this time around. Anthony provided one of the greatest musical moments on the debut for me, so I love how much he shines throughout the album. But, while it no longer dominates, Tonnie’s guitar playing is even more impressive this time around. Some sublime, almost Gilmour-esque playing proving that old chestnut that quality trumps quantity, and that aesthetics and melody can be more effective and affective than technical precision and shredding. Dawn Simulations was by and large a progressive metal album. It wasn’t your standard, generic, Dream Theater prog metal, but it was still an album that one wouldn’t have any great difficulty in assigning to that genre. Growth in the Absence of Light has left almost all prog metal tropes behind. Ultimately, if pushed, I guess that’s still where you might have to pigeonhole it, if you must, but it seems a little unfair, as Pencarrow show with this release that they are so much more than that.
Starting an album with two instrumentals is a brave move, but boy does it work, and it sets out the stall very effectively. There is no doubt that what the listener is in for is a very different musical journey from what they might have expected, if they were familiar with the debut. One band that Pencarrow continue to remind me of, even though their sound has changed markedly, is fellow Kiwi band Look To Windward, the reason being, I guess, that Look To Windward have covered considerable musical ground themselves. But I would imagine that fans of one, would likely be fans of the other.
In any case, within the first two instrumental tracks, we get hints of Floydian grandeur, metallic breaks, and some sumptuous symphonic sounds – all of which will be returned to, in one form or another, throughout the remainder of the album. It’s a quite wonderful mix, and before you know it, has led into the first vocal track, A Meeting of the Shadows. An unexpected treat in this song is the saxophone, played by drummer Justin Chorley, on his late Grandad’s old instrument. And also very special is the way the track falls away into ambience at the end. I love the way the band plays with dynamics, and the quiet sections are easily as impressive – if not more so – than the louder ones.
But, as much as I like all that’s gone before, the following Time Dilation is where the album really starts to take off. This is a fairly energetic instrumental, which although it’s far from my favourite, never fails to get my feet tapping. Its one of the more prog metal moments on the album, but it’s far from standard or stereotypical. As with the debut album, Pencarrow are clearly influenced by classic ’70s prog as much as they are by ‘90s prog metal, and Time Dilation manages to pit the two against each other in a sometimes combative and sometimes complementary manner, ultimately leading into one of my favourite tracks on the album, Stasis/Flux.
Stasis/Flux has a sort of jazzy noir vibe similar to early Steven Wilson solo material, Storm Corrosion, or post-growl Opeth. In no way would you mistake it for any of those, but that’s the best comparison I can draw. Once again, some of the quietest moments prove to be the strongest. I absolutely love Justin Chorley’s drums on this track. The rhythm section of Justin and Todd Thompson is tight throughout, but Justin really gets a chance to shine on Stasis/Flux. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, Anthony Rose sounds amazing, and Tonnie ton Hove plays some more gorgeous guitar.
Stasis/Flux is followed by another favourite, Silent Beauty, which definitely provides some of the most beautiful music on the album. There’s little other way to describe the orchestration on this track. It’s just beautiful. Again, I’m struck by the bravery of putting what amounts to a seven minute piece of classical music into a prog metal album. Then again, if any fans of the first album are still listening at this point, they’re already in for the long haul. I love the rolls of what sounds like timpani. The percussion in general on this track is awesome, and seems to flow into the following New Light, before that track takes a retro pop turn, full of gorgeous keyboards, and finally some muted vocals. It becomes increasingly frantic, building and building, but rather than a climax, it’s simply taken over by the opening notes of Memory Terminal. This is the shortest piece on the album, and also the simplest. Alone, and out of context, it wouldn’t be so enjoyable, but it’s absolutely perfect where it appears in the album. The sequencing and flow of Growth in the Absence of Light has obviously been well-thought out, and makes the whole so much greater than the sum of its parts.
Twins Paradox is another heavier instrumental, with possibly my favourite guitar playing from Tonnie on the album. I love his tone on this track. This leads into Deep Abandon, which is almost the sort of song that would normally have me cringing and skipping – but two things stop me. One is, once more, its placement is perfect – so that something which otherwise might not enthral me, just works. Second is some absolutely wonderful piano. I’m a sucker for some lovely tinkling of the ivories, so this does it for me nicely. I realise I’ve not said much about these two songs, which may lead you to believe I think less of them. That’s not the case, so much as I’m aware of how lengthy this review already is.
And so to the following, and final, track, The Approaching Shade – which starts surprisingly and magnificently, with some acoustic guitar. It’s an absolutely stunning close to the album, and undeniably one of the highlights of the album. Stunning in its subtlety, that is, which is what this album excels in. The debut hit you in your face, but this album hits you in your affections. If Pink Floyd were a prog metal band, they might have made an album like Growth in the Absence of Light. I liked Pencarrow’s debut album, but I love this.
01. In Medias Res (5:26)
02. Portrait Of My Intimate Frailty (5:42)
03. A Meeting Of The Shadows (7:20)
04. Time Dilation (6:13)
05. Stasis/Flux (7:58)
06. Silent Beauty: Bittersweet Memories Or Embrace (7:01)
07. New Light (4:33)
08. Memory Terminal (2:05)
09. Twin Paradox: Confessions Of A Capitalist Lover (5:10)
10. Deep Abandon (3:55)
11. The Approaching Shade (5:14)
Total Time – 60:37
Anthony Rose – Keyboards
Todd Thompson – Bass
Justin Chorley – Drums, Saxophone
Tonnie ten Hove – Guitars, Vocals
Theo Sekeris – Flute
Sophie Bennet – Clarinet
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: New Zealand
Date of Release: 15th August 2020