Menhir – Hiding in Light (Tartarus Records, 17 April 2016)
Sunwølf – Eve (self-released, 18 April 2016)
Good afternoon, and a very happy Friday to you all. I don’t know about you, but for me this week just couldn’t end soon enough. It’s been kind of rough around here. Of course, for those of you reading this in Europe, it’s already late Friday evening and your work week has probably been over for several hours by now. And for those who are way on the other side of the world, it’s already Saturday morning and maybe you’re hungover by this point and already totally forgot about this week. I don’t know. But for me, the day is just about over and I’m totally ready to head home. Before I do, I’d like to share a bit of music with you, though. After all, that’s what we’re all here for, isn’t it?
After yesterday’s whopper of a review, I figured it might be nice to scale it back a little today, and only focus on two releases. The two that I’ve chosen to write about actually have very little in common with each other apart from the fact that they’re both scheduled to come out within the next few days. But I found them both quite enjoyable, and I suspect several of you might also like each of these — or at the very least one or the other just may be your cup of tea …
Our first stop today will be in Groningen, NL — home of the bass/bass/drums trio Menhir, and also home to Tartarus Records, the label that has gone to great lengths to inject some creativity into their releases. Like their cassette version of Menhir‘s Uberlith II, back in 2014, which (possibly as a play on the band’s name and/or the album title itself?) they sold completely encased within a plaster brick. Fortunately each order also includes a free download, because unless somebody was really skilled at deftly and delicately using a chisel and hammer, I suspect not very many of those actually made it into a tape player.
This time around, sticking with a similar theme but perhaps trying to keep things a little less destructive, the band’s new album Hiding in Light has been made available with the cassette moulded inside a silicon rubber brick. There is a strict limit of 100 copies; the first twenty were done in an assortment of colors (and sold out instantly, before the label’s official press release had even been sent out), and the remainder (of which very, very few are still available as of this writing) are in a black-with-gold configuration:
Hiding in Light, which should also be available in digital format via Bandcamp if you don’t manage to get your hands on one of the physical copies, includes three songs which total approximately sixteen minutes. Although the music is produced entirely by two bassists, much of the time it manages to sound like a heavily distorted wall of space-rockish synth chords and heavily accented bass rhythms, leaving me to wonder whether there’s a name for blending darkwave with shoegaze. Darkgaze, maybe? But then, as it turns out, I discovered that the band refers to themselves as “astrosludge” — a much more perfect description than anything I could have invented. I’m also not sure how that really cool theremin-like sound that takes an extensive “solo” right around the center of the first song “Scalar Field” was produced, but it resembles a record-scratching DJ completely going nuts. Astrosludge, indeed.
Vocally, these tracks generally employ a powerful hollering style, a deep bellowing/yelling that brings to mind certain aspects of southern (U.S.) sludgerock, sort of like early (Red Album-era) Baroness, or Black Tusk. In the second song “Image from Void,” the vocals are a bit deeper still, and rather echoey — like they’re emerging from the bottom of a pit — while later in that same song there is some nice harmonized singing that’s even more strongly reminiscent of Baroness!
The official release date will be Sunday the 17th to coincide with Menhir‘s cross-country trip to appear at this year’s Roadburn Festival. If it hasn’t completely sold out before then!
Only one song is currently available through the Bandcamp player below, until the official release — but you can stream the whole thing right now over at Cvlt Nation. Order your copy of Hiding in Light (MP3 download or rubber brick edition) here.
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Next our journey takes us to Aberdeen, Scotland — which is apparently where the band Sunwølf has relocated from Leeds, since we had discussed their last album Beholden to Nothing and No One nearly two years ago. The new one — due out on Monday the 18th — is called Eve, which I understand is also the name of one of the band members’ recently-born daughter. At nine songs and fifty minutes, this record is considerably shorter and a somewhat more focused than the band’s last release. But like its predecessor, Eve can also be viewed as being made up of two contrasting halves.
The first four songs each contain some form of vocals: opener “Gilded Heart” (which starts out with a gentle acoustic part, later adding layer upon layer until the finished product comes across almost like some sort of spaced-out post-rock) features some rather harsh hardcore-style shouting, in stark contrast to the peaceful nature of the music; similar screamy vocals make an appearance in “Haar” (set over a moderate-tempo rock beat). The second and third songs each build very slowly, starting out with dark-toned (although often pretty-sounding) guitar parts, but later in each song an echoey and tremoloey guitar floats above all the rest (bringing in the faintest hint of blackened-tinged-post-metal); the vocals in “A Rest Mid the Gloaming” are in a deep-bass register monotone, whereas “Quell” is filled with quiet talking — somewhat hard to hear over the music, but it sounds like telling a pleasant tale, like someone fondly reminiscing about an earlier, maybe more joyful, time.
The remaining five tracks are entirely instrumental, and generally very ambient and droney — often repetitive, each adding subtle layers and increasing ever-so-slightly in intensity after some time, but never really getting very far from where it started. In a way, these are more like gorgeous landscape paintings than narrative poetry. “Sun of My Soul,” for example, evokes an image of a rising sun on a cold winter morning — the sky gradually adopts a soft brightness, but it never does get much warmer outside. “Eve” and “Brother” each include pretty guitar parts, slow, ambient, and gentle, although the second of these includes some drums that have a bit of a lilting groove to them, and a bolder lead guitar part that comes in about halfway through, altering the dynamic of the song and giving the impression of picking up the pace a bit. “Frontier,” a very slow shuffle, also has lovely guitar sounds, almost shimmery in some places here; and finally, the closer “Winterworn” is very slow and minimal in a forlorn kind of way.
I imagine the understated vibe here — especially in the latter parts of the album — and the repetitive nature of the material might not appeal to all listeners out there. But this would be highly recommended for those who appreciate nuanced performances and the subtle shifts that take place, fans of latter-day Earth, for example.
There are currently two songs on Bandcamp (see below) as a preview of the album; Eve will be available in its entirety on Monday, but you can pre-order a copy right here.
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