I have, over the years, enjoyed a wide variety of neo-folk music. The gothic anthems of Ataraxia led me to the medieval monumentality of Corvus Corax, which in turn dragged me to the deep, dark pits of Sopor Aeturnus and the Ensemble of Shadows’ nihilism. Current 93 and Sol Invictus made themselves known along the journey, avant-garde punctuation marks along the way towards the contemporary revival of ancient tradition spearheaded by the likes of Wardruna or Heilung. But it’s through Dead Space Chamber Music and their latest record, The Black Hours, that my initial forays rear their nostalgic heads, as Ataraxia’s neoclassical, minimal compositions best bear resemblance to this Bristol-based outfit.
The Black Hours a difficult creature to master, and this is fueled as much by the weird ambiance of the music itself as by the theme: an arrangement of medieval prayers to mark the Office of the Dead (or Liturgy of the Hours, if you prefer) drawn from a richly-decorated antique manuscript of the same name. Grief, in all its forms, is never something easily expressed or dealt with and this careful – painstaking, even – attention to the minutiae of honouring the passing hours as one would the passing of loved ones is a strange and even stereotypically Catholic one. A drawn-out process of internalizing guilt and sadness before reframing and reshaping it as a ritual celebration thereof. And drawn-out is an apt description, with twinned songs like “The Pit / Dissolved In Ashes” slowly filtering across nearly a quarter of an hour.
Holistically, the recording feels as if some sensory element is missing: the best description I can muster is that listening to the record is like standing outside the venue where an immersive live performance is taking place, adding a visual spectacle to the whole. And, while this may come across as a criticism, it is one equally applicable to a far better-known pioneer in the experimental and avant-garde – the seminal industrial/noise-rock collective Einstürzende Neubauten. Both acts present us with lofty, far-reaching themes that translate far more effectively within an intimate live space than on a disconnected, isolated recorded format. “Ion I,” for instance, could easily have sprung from a forgotten Halber Mensch session from the mid-1980s.
As such, The Black Hours is not some easy access album, not what a classical snob like the fictional Alex deLarge may have labelled “fuzzy warbles,” but rather one requiring a concerted effort and attention to fully appreciate. Here, again, a favourable comparison would be with yet another long-running name in alternative circles, that of Dead Can Dance. Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry’s dark art-rock project is also something that, at the surface level may just be semi-classical soundscape pandering, but requires undivided attention to truly grasp its complexity. And while Gerrard’s unmistakable vocal prowess may outmatch that of Ellen Southern, the Dead Space Chamber Orchestra are still in their larval form, with The Black Hours being only their second full-length release. The deceptive simplicity of “Mari Lwyd / Morfa’r Frenhines (Grey Mare / Queen’s Marsh)” – or even the radio edit thereof, included as a bonus track – echo the cathedral-like hymnals on Dead Can Dance’s second album, Spleen and Ideal, very convincingly.
While not the album version, this remix of “Liement Me Deport” is still a fitting balance of experimental audio and visual sources.
Furthermore, both these associations underscore precisely the target audience that will best appreciate The Black Hours – and sadly, it is a small one. While it does cross boundaries, the core fanbase is still deeply rooted in the goth and alternative world, but the artistic aspect of the project will bring in a more bohemian front on top of that, one more interested in the dark academia/historical ephemera facet of the music and its compositional and recording processes as much as the result. Overall, it is an ambitious album and as a collective Dead Space Chamber Music has achieved something impressive – but it is definitely not for everybody’s tastes, especially not if you suffer from a short attention span.
The Black Hours Track Listing:
1. Liement Me Deport
2. Bryd One Brere (Bird on a Briar)
3. Ion I
4. Mari Lwyd / Morfa’r Frenhines (Grey Mare / Queen’s Marsh)
5. Ion II
6. The Pit / Dissolved in Ashes
7. Douce Colombe Jolie
8. Radio edit: Mari Lwyd / Morfa’r Frenhines
Run Time: 48:22
Release Date: December 3, 2021
Record Label: Independent / Avon Terror Corps
The Eighty Six Seas – ‘Scenes from an Art Heist’ [Album Review]
Overall, this album does exactly what it sets out to do in encapsulating a fictionalized version of a famous art heist. Well done, The Eighty Six Seas!
On February 23, 2024, The Eighty Six Seas released their first 11-track full-length album, Scenes from an Art Heist. Each track on this album is meant to represent a fictionalized story of the paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.
The first track sets out an eerie aura that aligns with the track’s title, a dedication to Isabella Stewart Gardner. The next song is a quick switch up from the first, with flighty strings and a whispered voice from lead singer Nick Stevens.
Moving on to track number three, “Coffee and Art,” you’ll hear a faster-paced, nearly techno piece that feels like caffeine hitting your bloodstream for the first time in the morning. Their next song, “Jenny,” is a piano-led ballad spotlighting Steven’s melancholy voice. With “Lonely Afternoon,” the track transforms back into the techno feel of “Coffee and Art,” but with a darker twist.
The next song, “Cat/Mouse,” sounds exactly as you’d expect—like a tense cat-and-mouse standoff, with the music accenting this push-and-pull dynamic. “Hey Little Bird” is more or less an instrumental, with occasional lyrics included, but it is clearly meant to be the interlude.
Moving on, we arrive at a track called “The Day I Die,” a techno piece with a fabulous crescendo after its quiet beginnings. Following that, “The Eighty Six Seas” provides its track, “Portrait of a Smuggler,” which quite literally encapsulates the feeling you have while walking through a park on a sunny day.
Next, we come to “Ghost in the Cityscape,” which has darker undertones, a sorrowful cello, and a slower tempo. The final piece is titled “Frames,” which will remind you of a love letter saying goodbye or a beautiful lullaby. Overall, this album does exactly what it sets out to do in encapsulating a fictionalized version of a famous art heist. Well done, The Eighty Six Seas.
Scenes from an Art Heist Track Listing:
1. For Isabella, March 1990
2. Scenes from an Art Heist
3. Coffee and Art
5. Lonely Afternoon
6. Cat / Mouse
7. Hey Little Bird
8. The Day I Die
9. Portrait of a Smuggler
10. Ghost in the Cityscape
Release Date: February 23, 2024
Record Label: Independent
Blind Channel – ‘Exit Emotions’ [Album Review]
While ‘Exit Emotions’ (Century Media Records) contains many of the tropes from the golden age of nu-metal, it still feels refreshing. Blind Channel continue to move from strength to strength.
Cast your minds back to 2021; it was a dark time for humanity, with the entirety of the world still gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, countries going in and out of lockdowns, and the entertainment industry being brought to its knees. Yet, in the midst of all of this, mankind fought on, with some events managing to take place. One of these was Eurovision, which has delivered, over the years, some incredible winners and given lesser-known artists global recognition. 2021 saw Måneskin take the crown, but on their heels was Finland’s own Blind Channel in sixth place with their song “Dark Side.”
The Finnish nu-metalers already had a handful of records to their name but it was Lifestyles of the Sick and Dangerous that contained their aforementioned Eurovision entry and made the world really sit up and take notice. With its mix of metal, hip-hop, synth and a touch of glam, it was a breath of fresh air from the European region better known for its output of, let’s say, the (much) heavier side of metal.
With Exit Emotions, Blind Channel now have their eyes focused on bigger things. Whilst they have broken through to the mainstream beyond their borders, it’s not enough for the six-piece, as they explore what it means to truly be on the global stage.
Exit Emotions kicks in hard with “Where’s the Exit,” with its distorted nu-metal beat laced with some techno elements followed swiftly by distorted vocals mixing rap and metal styles seamlessly. Dual vocalists Joel Hokka and Niko Moilanen bounce off each other in a symbiotic way, indicating how in tune with each other these guys can be. “Where’s the Exit” feels like it throws everything the band can portray at the wall from their varying influences, and while, on paper, a mix of metal, rock, hip hop, techno, and synth, if difficult to get right, Blind Channel nail it with absolute precision. Several songs on this record follow this formula, like “Deadzone,” “Wolves of California,” and “XOXO” (amongst others), and if the entirety of the record kept to this, whilst fun to listen to, it would run the risk of becoming samey. Thankfully, Blind Channel does mix things up throughout.
“Keeping it Surreal” maintains a relatively heavy approach but dials it back a tad to give the hip-hop elements more of a chance to shine and deliver a more emotional element with the band, highlighting the surrealness of their current position. This is followed by the extra-emotional “Die Another Day.” The tune opens with a piano melody and slows the entire pace of the record, and moves into ballad territory. Hokka and Moilanen are accompanied by RØRY, ensuring the sensitive lyrics portrayed are emphasized to the max. Despite the relative negativity of the lyrics, the trio somehow makes this extra melancholy tune drive forward positive feelings.
Exit Emotions is a great follow-up to Lifestyles of the Sick and Dangerous, and although it contains many of the tried and tested tropes of what was delivered in the golden age of nu-metal, it still feels refreshing. The band has gone from strength to strength since their respectable placement at 2021’s Eurovision, which demonstrates they have lots more to offer than just their hit song “Dark Side.”
Exit Emotions Track Listing:
1. Where’s the Exit
W3. olves of California
5. Keeping it Surreal
6. Die Another Day
8. Happy Doomsday
9. Red Tail Lights
10. Not You Bro
12. One Last Time… Again
Run Time: 35:15
Release Date: March 1, 2024
Record Label: Century Media Records
The Western Civilization – ‘Fractions of a Whole’ [Album Review]
The Western Civilization delivers expressive vocals and a wealth of stylistic aromas with an existential richness on ‘Fractions of a Whole.’
It was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Applied to Texas-based indie-rock outfit The Western Civilization, the adage refers to the chemistry between Rachel Hansbro and Reggie O’Farrell, a chemistry on display in their recently released album, Fractions of a Whole.
Speaking about the album, Hansbro says, “The new songs were inspired by the amazing people who are part of my chosen family. Reggie has always been good at reminding me of the positive things. (He is) another voice saying, ‘Hey, it’s going to be okay.’”
Reggie O’Farrell and Rachel Hansbro first met while playing in separate bands. A friendship developed, resulting in two albums and performances at the Vans Warped Tour, SXSW, Halifax Pop Explosion, and, most importantly, an artistic alliance that survived a variety of obstacles.
Revolving around Hansbro and O’Farrell, The Western Civilization is a collaborative project with a rotating cast of musicians and collaborators who expose the actuality of Aristotle’s dictum.
The album opens with “Noctambulism,” a floating, folk-rock song with hints of Americana flowing through it. Driven by a sparkling piano topped by the voices of Hansbro and O’Farrell merging, the melody wafts and undulates like drifting clouds across the sky.
High points embrace “Bible Verses for Kids,” which reveals elusive Celtic flavors, a bit like The Cranberries. A rolling snare gives the rhythm a galloping motion as layered harmonies infuse the lyrics with choir-like textures verging on grandness.
A personal favorite because of Hansbro’s deliciously casual vocals, “Fool” resembles a child’s nursery rhyme reimagined as indie-rock – dreamy, drawling, almost discordant vocals riding over loose, garage rock harmonics. The imperfect, raggedy feel of the tune makes it wondrously genuine and gratifying.
“Proselytism,” the closing track, travels on light, migrant surfaces as Hansbro’s soft, breathy vocals imbue the lyrics with subtle, eccentric whimsy, a kind of didactic reflection.
Expressive vocals, along with a wealth of stylistic aromas, invest Fractions of a Whole with an existential richness.
Fractions of a Whole Track Listing:
2. Stitches (read our song review)
3. Bible Verses for Kids
4. She’s by the Sea
5. If You’re Lucky
7. My Mess
8. The Snake and The Saint
9. The Ocean’s on the Rise
Run Time: 42:18
Release Date: February 16, 2024
Record Label: Independent
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