Solar Halos – Solar Halos (20 January 2014, Devouter Records)
When halo rings the moon or sun, rain’s approaching on the run.
So goes the old saying. The atmospheric phenomenon known as a halo (which could be solar or lunar) involves the refraction of light through ice crystals in the air; as a beam of light strikes the crystalline structure at just the right angle, it is refracted as if passing through a prism, and the rays end up being bent into an arc shape that appears (to the viewer on the ground) to encircle the source of that light (i.e. the sun or moon). Traditionally this has been seen as an omen of approaching bad weather — which makes sense because, as people discovered when they started learning more about the science behind meteorology, the conditions that produce this optical wonder involve a certain amount of moisture being in the air as well as the approach of a warmer front which would generally precipitate (pun intended) impending rainfall. A quick Google image search shows that these halos are beautiful to look at, even though they may be foreshadowing that things could soon turn dark and unpleasant.
There’s another truism that says an email that comes from Devouter Records is a sign of excellent music on its way. Although not nearly as old or well-known, I’ve found this statement to be 100% accurate, dating back to the 2012 LP Trephine by MAKE and through every release since then. Added just a week ago to this impressive list is the debut album by Solar Halos, who just happen to come from the same North Carolina town (Chapel Hill) as their labelmates.
Almost a year ago, I got the chance to see Royal Thunder while they were on tour with Enslaved and Pallbearer. At that show, I was impressed by the depth of sound achieved by this southern three-piece, with definite elements of gravity and doominess imbuing their bluesy hard rock sound. And yet, I have to be honest — later when I went and listened to the album versions of those same songs, I felt pretty disappointed. Some sort of studio trickery, or so it appeared to me, had cleaned up the sound too much, particularly in the vocals, where it seemed like they had tried too hard to achieve a more “perfect” sound at the expense of much of the band’s character. Anyway, when I recently heard the brand-new album Solar Halos for the first time, the reaction I had was very much comparable to how I had felt seeing Royal Thunder live; here, finally, was an album that seemed to capture that essence in a way that CVI had failed to do.
In recent press, I’ve often seen words like “stoner rock” thrown around when describing Solar Halos. It isn’t far off the mark, and I believe they ought to appeal to fans of that genre, with long songs (all are over five minutes long, most are closer to seven or so) full of (sometimes repetitive) sequences of heavy riffs. But tonally and thematically, the band has at least as much (if not more) in common with doom and psychedelic rock.
Some of the more memorable highlights over the course of Solar Halos‘ forty-minute running length include: the “sunrise, sunset” mantra that occurs several times throughout “Tunnels”; the general feel and structure of the song “Wilderness,” which (to this listener, at least) is eerily reminiscent of Joy Division‘s “Dead Souls”; the imagery of a “blood-red sky” in “Resonance” — and in fact, there are numerous references to colors, lights, and reflections, and electricity and lightning; powerful words that evoke images of mysterious natural forces at work.