One of the real tests of instrumental music is its ability to convey narrative. Stripped of lyrics, and the natural focal point of a vocalist, the importance of the music actually putting across something concrete and captivating either comes to the fore; or, in the case of ambient music, is all-but disregarded. With Ceremony in the Stillness, the latest album from A-Sun Amissa, that challenge is not only embraced, but met in superb style. The combination of doom-drone influenced auras, post-rock soundscapes, and haunting dark ambience is loaded with emotion, and moves with a sense of story-telling that is too rare in instrumental music. Most records of this style hint at the idea of having a running theme; but on Ceremony in the Stillness, that sense of narrative is impossible to ignore.
And so, another month, another selection of short reviews. As always, it’s an eclectic selection, taking in a dark abmient soundtrack by Guillermo Pizarro; classic speed metal from Wardance; a reissue of some occult black metal, courtesy of Shaidar Logoth and Sentient Ruin; retro-rock from Wheel in the Sky; stomping hardcore from Peace of Mind; and some crushing death metal in the shape of Skeletal Serpent‘s self-titled EP. Enjoy!
There were points when I was listening to The Great Lake Swallows when I couldn’t help but question what the point of music is. A lot of music that is made can be lumped in to fairly large, understandable categories when it comes to motivation – the desire for self-expression, whether with or without words; the simple joy of playing with friends; or dreams of becoming a rock star or impressing someone you’re attracted to. But then, there is music that feels more serious, where motivations and meanings run deeper than what can easily be expressed. It is to this last category that The Great Lake Swallows belongs, with the collaboration between Canadian cellist Julia Kent and Belgian guitarist/tape machine manipulator Jean D.L. being a record that speaks of great things, that taps in to that sense of true meaning, expressing something universal that transcends words and culture. It is beautiful; it is captivating; and it is emotionally devastating.
Matt Finney has, through sheer hard work and determination, become something of a genre unto himself. His spoken word style is distinctive, both in its delivery – straight-forward, matter-of-fact, recounted almost without emotion at times – and also its subject matter which is, invariably, dealing with the bleaker parts of life. Such is the case with Clawing, which also features Austin Gaines and Jeff McLeod, and their debut release Spectral Estate. Over the course of forty minutes, the trio craft a record that is never anything less than unsettling, with its industrial/dark ambient soundscapes shifting and morphing in disturbing fashion, as if they were an expression of broken lives trying to piece themselves back together without success, all topped off with Matt’s spoken words. It’s horrific in its bleakness, but also deeply impressive and hard to look away from.
Originally released seven years ago, the split between sonter/drone/doom legends Conan and psychedelic doom explorers Slomatics is seeing a reissue on vinyl in June. It’s a fine split, and one that has been reissued several times before, but it still has a lot to offer, given that it’s the kind of record that’s perfectly summed up by the cover art of a warrior riding a snail – it’s slow, it’s heavy, and it’s incredibly powerful.
Gospel is the third collaboration (though second to be released) between Siavash Amini and Matt Finney, and the combination of ambient/drone soundscapes and confessional spoken word is every bit as emotionally devastating as you’d hope and expect. It’s not a record to be enjoyed in any conventional sense of the word; instead, it’s music as therapy, as a means of confronting one’s demons and trying to put the past behind you, no matter how Sisyphean a task that may seem. It picks up the thread (both musically and emotionally) from Familial Rotand not so much runs with it as it does stumble forward, hands reaching desperately for safety, fighting off demons and trauma that are more spiritual than anything else. It is a haunting, uncomfortable listen; but also compelling in its own way.
The music contained on the split between Brianna Kelly and Sympathy Pain is the kind of thing that we all need within our lives; something to unwind with, to let go of our cares and worries as we try to find some sort of inner peace. Warm, and comforting, this is a split of soul-soothing ambient and emotional post-rock, that possesses a human touch and tenderness that can so often be lacking in the genres, making this a release to recommend both to those who already appreciate said styles, but also those who aren’t usually fans.