So Hideous – Laurestine (Prosthetic Records, 16 October 2016)
So Hideous – Laurestine Orchestral (Prosthetic Records, 06 May 2016)
Back in October, Brooklyn-based blackened post-hardcore band So Hideous released their second album Laurestine. The group has described their writing process as beginning the structural components of each song on the piano, then fleshing out the composition for all of the orchestral/choral parts. Once each piece of music is fully composed, then they add the guitars, bass, drums, and vocals as necessary.
This seems a bit backwards from how most bands work: orchestral elements are usually sprinkled on top of otherwise fully-formed songs, as complementary parts or occasional embellishments. But here, the underlying compositions (performed by the 30-piece First Light Orchestra) are intended to be complete works capable of standing on their own. To drive that last point home, Prosthetic Records recently announced the release of an alternate edition of Laurestine consisting solely of the orchestra and chorus components, and — guess what! — it totally does hold up, independent of the rest of the band. Keep reading to learn more about both versions of this incredible album …
Laurestine is based on the idea that there is a period of seven minutes where one’s brain remains active after death — part of which is the proverbial “life flashing before your eyes.” This concept is represented in the first of seven tracks, “Yesteryear” — which opens with a pretty piano melody (in 7/8 time, by the way) accompanied by the sound of a beating heart, but that heartbeat quits about thirty seconds in; the full orchestra (and drums) join in at this point and build upon the piano part (eventually turning faster and heavier with the addition of tortured yelling/shouting/screaming vocals) over the seven minutes that remain in this song.
Everything that follows represents what happens to someone after death — the transition he experiences and whatever he might see there. The official narrative of the album indicates that our unnamed protagonist meets a woman named Laurestine (just like the flowering evergreen shrub), who leads his way — like a guardian angel, perhaps, or Ghost of Christmas Past style. As we witness this progression through the afterlife, each track abruptly segues into the next, with each scene shifting somewhat, and gradually building up in intensity to a final grand finale.
“Hereafter” opens with a quiet guitar part, arpeggiating in 9/8 and accompanied by strings, but when the drums join in it switches to 7/8 (though occasionally 6/8 for a bar here and there). These unusual time signatures are important — not only because the frequent use of seven-beat meters fit in with the overall theme revolving around the number seven, but also because they set up a picture that is just a little bit askew and out of the ordinary; we, the listeners, never quite know what to expect next. This song builds slowly, similar to how “Genesis Ch. 1 V.32” slowly adds more and more parts, then quietly dies away. “Relinquish” too builds up slowly; its slow melody with fast drums interspersed at regular intervals eventually gives way to a chord sequence (mostly in the guitar/bass, but with augmentation from the orchestra) that closely mirrors the latter parts of “A Saucerful of Secrets” — and right where you would expect the (wordless) singing to enter in that song (the transition from “Storm Signal” to “Celestial Voices”), in this one we find the addition of some rather intense (post-)hardcore-style shouting.
“The Keepsake” starts out sort of like a slow march, but then veers into blackened territory — still supported by the strings/orchestral parts all the while, so that it winds up sounding like a grand revelation by the end. The instrumental “Falling Cedars” seems almost folk-dance oriented, with the drum rhythm driving the beat heavily forward; “The True Pierce” builds on the themes introduced in the previous piece, but with the addition of semi-blackened hardcore yelling. Vocally it’s easy to see the source of the band’s name, but the angry/confused/emotional voice is completely surrounded by so many beautiful and wondrous sounds. On that note, despite the name of closing track “A Faint Whisper,” the vocals that start out this song are really belted out, on an even grander scale. Through alternating bars of 7 and 6 beats, we gradually come to a conclusion wherein it feels like our narrator has accepted and begun acclimating to his new reality, as the sound just fades away in the end.
Released about a week and a half ago, the orchestral version of the album includes the same seven tracks, but in edited forms — “Hereafter” has had the guitar introduction cut out, and ends up about two minutes shorter overall, but most of the other tracks were anywhere from thirty seconds to two minutes longer than the original versions, as the orchestra is allowed to expand on some of the ideas and themes presented before. Absent the guitars, vocals, and (nearly all traces of) drums, the individual parts (cello, violin, etc.) are allowed stand out more; each detail can be experienced more fully and clearly, with some sections of songs sounding more introspective or serene, and others coming across as a bit more stately or elegant than the original. The choir also feels more present and more dominant here; these vocals would be equally at home in either “Atom Heart Mother Suite” or “The Planets Suite”.
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