In this update we feature:
• Cult Of Luna – The Raging River
• Sturle Dagsland – Sturle Dagsland
• Timo Kämäräinen – Blink And You Miss It
• Bending Shapes – Uncomfortable Songs About life
• Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End
• Fearful Symmetry – Louder Than Words
The Swedish band Cult of Luna is one that’s been on my horizon for many years. I’ve been aware of them, and been recommended them, but have always kept my distance. I’ve never had a liking for harsh vocals; for most of my musical listening life, I’ve had an aversion to them, and while I have a growing tolerance, I still generally need a bit of a nudge to give a band that utilises them a fair listen. The nudge in this instance was the presence of Mark Lanegan on one of the tracks. Lanegan has been one of my favourite vocalists since the early ’90s, and generally makes anything he appears on of interest to me. I would guess I’m not alone in this, in which case (providing the collaboration works) it was a shrewd move for the Swedes to get Lanegan onboard.
But before we reach Inside of a Dream, we have some bridges to cross. Three, in fact. And the bridge is important to Cult of Luna, as the press release states that this EP works as a bridge between the sound of what they were and the sound of what they want to become. I guess that’s why, despite being longer than some bands’ albums, The Raging River has been branded an EP. The problem for me, then, lies in that I have no real idea of where the band has come from, so I’ll just stick to describing the bridge. And it’s a solidly built bridge. If we consider that post metal generally is built from (and I’m simplifying greatly here) atmosphere, melody, noise and groove, then Cult of Luna have it all. The Raging River sounds as if it is raging towards The Ocean, and that’s fine with me as I rather like a lot of The Ocean.
But, man, that track with Mark Lanegan. That’s what this release is all about. And as much as I actually enjoy the rest (and far more than I expected to), this collaboration is sublime. Cult of Luna fans will probably hate it, but I love it. Cunningly, the track is not available to purchase separately from the band’s Bandcamp, so I suspect they may sell a fair few copies to people interested only in the one track. A trick so cunning, you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel. (Or maybe a newt. That seems more appropriate for a river…)
Sturle Dagsland is a band, and also the name of a singer, who lends his name to a group that co-stars his brother Sjur, whom as far as I can gather, composed and arranged the wonderfully varied instrumentation on this Kosmische trip through Norwegian tradition and Sami shamanism, brought bang up to date with mesmerising electronica. In the live iteration, Sturle and Sjur are joined by a few others to take this show on the road, visiting festivals all over the world. From what I have read elsewhere, the live show is something of a life-affirming experience.
This album is deeply psychedelic, and Sjur’s surging soundscapes take in everything from folk influences to ambient cinematic swathes of sound, and all the way out there with elements of rock, pop, even drum’n’bass. He uses all manner of exotic instruments along the way including the Norwegian bukkehorn (aka billy goat horn), Chinese guzheng, Armenian duduk, nyckelharpa, (a Swedish fiddle) on the eponymous track, and many others. This truly is world music!
Front and centre is Sturle’s amazing voice which goes from a whisper to a scream, swooping across the music like a huge black raven across the big white Moon set in a darkest blue twilit sky. Mischievously, the first track Kusanagi is one of the most extreme on the album, and almost dares you to get past it, but once you do, a strange, enticing world awaits. My one complaint, is that at less than half an hour long, the album (or EP, come to that) is over way too soon.
Sturle Dagsland is a name I shall be keeping tabs on, both for gigs and future releases. Bloody marvellous!
The press release for guitarist Timo Kämäräinen’s Blink and You Miss It informs us that Timo is perhaps best known for work with a number of Finnish rock artists, all unknown to me and presumably to most outside Finland, so I won’t list them. However, as this album came through independent label Eclipse Music, noted for the high standard of its varied releases, there’s always an anticipation of quality, and Blink and You Miss It does not disappoint. The album features twenty three short pieces split into three suites: REVERIE, NIHILISM and AFFIRMATION – and at four seconds duration, cough and you may well miss the three suites’ title tunes.
As might be expected, the six-string instrument dominates, however Blink… is many a mile away from the numerous twiddlesome guitar-centric releases offered to TPA on a regular basis.
The first suite, REVERIE is a series of vignettes covering a diverse range of genres, performed on acoustic guitar. From the Delta bluesy Scarecrow, we meander through classical meets jazz in Wrong Time, Wrong Sex. Melting Heart on the other hand adds flavours of the East to the classical, and as might be anticipated Lifelong Tango brings in the essence of Spain. A veritable travelogue, with the seamless crafting of cultures and genres, employed across the album, giving it a strange but beguiling continuity, and one that works equally in all three suites.
Although the guitar is Timo’s main choice of weaponry, the album is embellished throughout with subtle ornamentation, from piano, pipe organ and Theremin, to mention just a few.
A splendid album, which despite early reservations, flows quite organically from start to finish and never feels like a collection of doodles. Well worth investigating…
“I am the Great Extoller, carry the world upon my shoulders” are the powerfully sung opening lines of the first track from this slice of modern life soundtrack, reflecting life lived under heavy manners. The singer is Libbertine Vale, and her voice is a sometimes forceful, sometimes quietly expressive, but always tuneful presence that carries with it high emotion, and a deep connection to her heartfelt lyrics. “Grounded she stands, roots deep in the ground”, indeed.
The music is supplied by Neil Spragg, who I believe started out as a drummer, and that shows in the taut rhythmic propulsion of these excursions into percussive electronica, particularly on a track like Slide, which expresses minimalist funk and unsettling beats. Strung Out finds the duo in a smoky corner of an alien Berlin jazz club, while Squashed ventures into dub, with some fat bass notes underpinning Libbertine’s tale of quiet desperation.
Everything builds up to the album summit Rise, a justified and righteous call to arms. “Rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable numbers”, sings Libbertine, as a Jerusalem for our times unfolds before us in a heady mix of pride and defiance. It is lyrics like these that make one realise that we are not alone, much as it often feels that way in this current vile phase of flag shaggery and belicose intolerance from our glorious leaders. Blake would approve. After an intro that might be disenchanted crowd noise on a demo, some tribal rhythm and scratchy plucked strings back Libbertine’s chant-torch song, visiting an edgy place not dissimilar to Jeannette Lee’s PiL, building the tension. “We are many, and they are few” is the pay off, and we all need to be reminded of that!
“We make ‘modern electronic folk’ music with a dark underbelly”, it says on the Facebook page. Yep, that about sums it up, and a damned good job, too!
The Greek band Need is one that I used to get a great deal of pleasure from, so when this album was passed to me for review at the beginning of the year, it was one I was looking forward to both hearing, and reviewing. And here we are, almost half a year later, and I’m still struggling to find words. I don’t think it’s a bad album, by any means. Rather, I think it’s more a combination of my tastes having moving on, and Need having made no real moves at all. This really doesn’t sound greatly different from 2017’s Hegaiamas: A Song for Freedom, which I really enjoyed at the time. It didn’t trouble my top twenty list for the year, but it was still an album that had a lot of playtime. So, in that respect, if you liked Hegaiamas, there’s a good chance you’ll like Norchestrion too, so long as you’ve not moved on (like me) to other sounds.
The band’s press release states that Need are influenced by Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation and Nevermore, and this is a little unnecessary because one only needs to hit play to hear those influences. Not so derivatively that they might be called a clone of any one of those bands, but the influences are definitely clear, and worn on their sleeves. Need definitely make their own sound, though, and it’s confident and accomplished. There’s a great deal of technicality and complexity, and it’s quite ambitious in scope – but even if it aims high, it does reach its goals. Everything I’ve written might make Need sound the sort of clinical wankfest that so many prog metal bands fall into, but they certainly are not. Their proficiency is obviously, but Norchestrion is easy and enjoyable to listen to – invitingly so. I would have lapped this up only a couple of years ago.
One last thing. I have to mention V.A.D.I.S., which I’m sure will be a track that confuses, or even frustrates listeners. For me, this was one of the most enjoyable tracks – not just for how it sounds (which is great), but for the relief it provides. Norchestrion is a long album, and without V.A.D.I.S. I think I would call it too long. This track comes at the perfect point, to cleanse the palate, and start afresh with the next course. It’s just the right length too. It would appear Need have a very good idea of what is too much, and what it just right. Norchestrion is just right.
Regardless of how much you strive to stay ‘on the ball’ when it comes to new releases, it’s inevitable that some will still slip through the net. This little gem, released in mid-2019, highlights the point.
Fearful Symmetry is basically multi-instrumentalist Suzi James and musician, vocalist and lyricist Jeremy Shotts, ably supported by a number of guest vocalists and musicians. The band name comes from William Blake’s poem ‘The Tyger’, and Blake’s ‘influence’ is apparent across the album. In fact from the very outset – strident church organ, instantly recognisable melody and the familiar, “And did those feet in ancient time” set the scene. The title track quickly ditches those dark satanic mills in favour of atmospheric guitar before the vocals, which recall The Beatles with backing vocals courtesy of Pink Floyd. It’s an infectious start, and at seven minutes and with several changes in direction, there’s more than enough to pique the interest. Suzi James plays some really melodic guitar here, something she continues into track two, Form and Substance. There’s more of Steely Dan boogie vibe going on here and that can’t be a bad thing.
Following the acoustic ballad Innocence we have one of the standout tracks from the album, Ceaseless Strife. Kicking in with a nifty jazz/rock flurry before taking us into a whacky, unexpected but totally delectable vocal section. Brilliant! And variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes – not one of Blake’s 😉 – each track bringing something new to the pot. Along with four different vocalists, there’s quite a variety of styles going on here, so a few runs through were needed to bring it fully together.
On a down beat, I wasn’t enamoured by the production, however I doubt there was an ‘unlimited budget’ available. Regardless, great tracks and for me it is always about the music. Before drawing to a close, mention of Suzi James’ guitar work across the album, which I found to be versatile and quite special.
The Difficult Second, the aptly titled sophomore album, is earmarked for later this year and I shall endeavour NOT to let this one slip through the net…