MAKE – Demos & Outtakes (self-released, 26 January 2013)
MAKE – The Golden Veil (Black Iron Records, 17 July 2015)
MAKE – In Pursuit (self-released, 30 December 2015)
Okay folks, lots of ground to cover today, so let’s just jump straight in. Cool? Cool.
The last time we talked about MAKE, the Chapel Hill band that combines blackened atmospheric doom with blackgaze and drone/ambient elements (for lack of a more concise description), it was a little over three years ago, and the band had just put out an EP of material that didn’t quite fit on their previous album (one which had ranked among the best albums of 2012), but also wouldn’t quite match the direction of their next one — which they had said they were beginning to work on around that same time…
Well, within a couple months, these recording sessions had spawned a new track, “Sisyphus,” which they made available as a free download — this was soon joined by a second, and eventually a third, which are collected at Bandcamp (see below) under the title Demos & Outtakes. Somewhere in there — I believe it was sometime between Christmas 2012 and the January digital release of the first of these Demos tracks — I finally caught up with 20th century technology by owning an MP3 player. The reason I remember this, and the reason why this trivial fact is relevant to our discussion, is because “Sisyphus” was one of the first things I added to my new Walkman — and though hundreds of other albums may have come and gone since then, that song (along with its later companions) still remains there to this day.
The name comes from King Sisyphus of Greek mythology, who according to legend was punished for his craftiness and trickery by being condemned to eternally push a boulder up a hill, which would perpetually escape him and roll back down just before he reached the top. I would also like to point out that I refuse to acknowledge the title’s similarity to “Sysyphus,” the composition by Richard Wright from the album UmmaGumma, because the last time I wrote about MAKE I think I had exceeded my allotment of Pink Floyd references. Anyway. We start off by being punched in the face by that shoegaze thing where everything is overwhelmed by a wall of like a thousand layers of guitars and cymbals (and a blackened roar) — but the whole thing is compressed to hell and back, so that the overall volume level is much more moderate and subdued. About two minutes in, “subdued” is defintely an accurate descriptor, as the remaining five minutes are spend trudging through a much more minimal arrangement of the preceding, with many variations on melody and countermelody interweaving throughout, in a distinctively echoey and jangly post-metal style.
“The Inevitable Circle” is built nearly in the opposite direction: opening with several minutes’ worth of exploration in a similar vein to “Sisyphus” but then abruptly swapping post-metal for growly, shouty metal. Later addition “Damocles” (another reference to an ancient Greek character) eschews vocals altogether, and dwells in more of a standard blues-rock guitar style (with the rhythmic background dripping with “Walk of Life”-esque oldschool tube amp reverb/delay) than the post-metal sounds of the prior two tracks.
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When I wrote about MAKE‘s previous album Trephine, a lot of time was spent discussing how the whole thing felt like a journey — inward and downward — like a descent into depression, or a similar state, with its title serving as a metaphor for the means by which one embarks on such a voyage into one’s own psyche. The Golden Veil, on the other hand, does not feel like taking a trip at all. From beginning to end, it doesn’t quite go anywhere, grow or change in any way. And before this starts sounding like negative criticism, remember that this album overwhelmingly landed in the top slot of last year’s best releases. I’ll try to explain what I’m talking about, and hopefully this will eventually make sense.
“Everything’s blue in this world” is a line from the title track of The Downward Spiral, a song that’s ostensibly about a suicide, framed as an escape — a solution, if you will — to “a lifetime of fucking things up.” Despite its title, “The Downward Spiral” (the song, not the album) really has nothing to do with a downward direction, but rather focuses on someone inhabiting the bottom of that spiral. In fact, on the remix album Further Down the Spiral is an alternate version of the song, subtitled “The Bottom,” in which the “Everything’s blue” line is much more prominent (and repeated several times). I’m not trying to make a direct comparison between MAKE and Nine Inch Nails, but the general vibe of The Golden Veil is not unlike that of “The Bottom” — following a harrowing journey, we’ve reached the lowest depth, and here at the bottom level we’ll remain, exploring our dismal surroundings, until we ultimately figure out what comes next. Overall, this album feels very blue. Not like sad, or “the blues” as a musical style, but the way it hits your senses is like hearing various shades of the color blue.
Following a mood-setting introductory track “I was Sitting Quietly, Peeling Back My Skin” which features a bit of gentle, repetitive guitar picking that emerges from a bunch of static and noise (the sonic equivalent of slowing gaining consciousness after the rough landing that was the ending of Trephine), the first song “Breathe” is the heaviest of the bunch (relatively speaking): layers of snarled and rasped vocals come and go, amidst a wall of guitars and etc., but regardless of the additions or subtractions, the whole thing remains fairly static in volume and intensity (like we had discussed a few paragraphs ago). The lyrics here seem especially important (longtime readers may recall that the way something sounds is typically much more important to this writer than the actual content of the words, but occasionally some will jump out more than others): the main idea here seems to focus on concepts of awakening or a rebirth.
Much of the material presented here seems to have had its genesis with the exploratory tracks on Demos, such as the echoey guitar figure on which “The Absurdist” is built; “The Immortal” with its trudging, plodding tempo seems even more directly inspired by some of the repeated motifs during the latter part of “Sisyphus” — but expanded, and with vocals added in between the various melodic bits; and likewise “The Architect” which starts out more plodding (and minimal), becoming even more so over the final minute or two.
Throwing in the dreamlike, repetitive, instrumental segue “We Are Coiled” and the lengthy denouement “In the Final Moments, Uncoiling” (neither of which appear on the LP version of the album, but which are included in the downloadable version that comes with it), the band has produced something which is relatively rare these days: an album that feels like an entire cohesive work, with overarching concepts and motifs that reappear throughout, rather than simply a collection of several songs. And what’s more, an album that has its own vibe and sound, instantly identifiable with the artist, but also unique and distinguishable from the previous album.
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Finally, in the waning moments of 2015, the band announced that a bit more bonus material was now available: In Pursuit is a free EP consisting of two instrumental tracks totalling 16+ minutes. The longer of these, “Always Waiting for the Bigger Axe to Fall,” is very droney and ambient in nature during its first half, giving way to some rather plaintive, introspective guitar parts over a foundation of soft drums. This leads nearly seamlessly into “Between the Ocean and Your Open Vein,” which takes the basic idea of the latter half of the opening track and runs with it in various directions at various times, coming across very much like the title track of the Trainspotting soundtrack. These two pieces of music seem like an appropriate way to put a cap on the treasury of material that went into the band’s sophomore album, while leaving us anxiously anticipating whatever brand-new direction things may be headed the next time we hear from them.
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You can grab a copy of The Golden Veil on vinyl here, which also comes with a download code. If you prefer, you can simply buy the download through Bandcamp below. Demos & Outtakes and In Pursuit are available to download for free using the respective Bandcamp players.
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