Category: Current listening

Per ardua ad astra


Lustre / Elderwind
Through the Ocean to the Stars
Russia Kunsthauch CD digipak (2014)

Lustre may be familiar to quite a few TSP readers with his dark ambient / black metal instrumental soundscape work – he has released a number of EPs, split recordings and albums – but Elderwind is a fairly unknown Russian entry into the world of BM.

Lustre leads the way with the two parts to “Follow Us to the Stars” – these are completely synth-dominated instrumental pieces of long droning sounds based around sparse minimalist rhythm loops and best heard together as one track – which in a way they are. Right from the start the music settles into two opposing camps of repeating swooping drones and pointillist tones, over which effects such as a pounding background beat or atmospheric wash might add some texture or depth. The second part is as repetitive as the first but in a darker vein.

The whole thing sounds mournful though possibly this wasn’t the intention. I find no sense of wonder or anticipation of the glories of the cosmos and the chance to be at one with the universe and to know something of its purpose (and by implication, the purpose of humanity and our individual purpose). Both parts are flat in sound and feeling, and with repetition being the only way these tracks escalate tension and feeling, the music becomes a tedious affair. The droning lacks subtlety and is very heavy-handed in comparison with the rest of the delicate music.

Elderwind grabs just over half the split release’s playing time with four separate tracks. The difference between Elderwind’s side and Lustre’s tracks is immediate: the Elderwind tracks are highly atmospheric and seem more attuned to the concept of the split recording, with a sense of awe at humanity’s contact with the infinite. The tracks naturally roll from one into another which enables the momentum and the ambience (and the soothing feelings they generate) to pass smoothly into succeeding tracks without the disruption of abrupt changing repetition loops. The final track “Polaris” suggests some kind of unity or communion is reached with the combination of spiritual organ-like tones, background wave sounds and strange whistle effects that seem to encourage listeners to reach out and contact denizens of the farthest galaxies.

It’s clear to me which side is the winner by a long distance: Elderwind hands out a punishing lesson to Lustre on how to create atmospheric space mood music that respects the concept and implications involved in voyaging to the stars. Both acts proceed from a depressive / atmospheric black metal background which comes with a baggage of existential contemplation of the human condition. Listeners might assume (mistakenly perhaps) that with such a background, these bands investigating space travel would bring along a curiosity about how such travel could reflect something to us about our purpose and place in the universe.

I don’t mean to question or criticise Lustre’s sincerity or motivation but his pieces are clunky and amateurish against those of Elderwind. In all probability these fall far short of his ambitions. This split recording could have been something great, a classic of its kind in spacey black metal psychedelia. As it stands, it’s uneven and awkward.

At this point I should mention that Elderwind, according to his entry on Encyclopedia Metallum, formed in 2009 and spent a few years exploring and perfecting his sound before releasing his first recording in 2012. The careful and studious preparation is evident in the quality of the work presented on this split release.

Contact: Kunsthauch
Van Records

Five Easy Pieces


Scantily Clad
Volume 5
Self-released CD-R (2012? 2013?)

No, this duo of home-recording synth pop-rock improvisers aren’t targeting that crucial Page 3 photographic spot of some lowbrow British tabloid rag, they aim straight for the even more important space between your ears with their collections of eccentric lo-sci-fi synthscapes taking in a variety of sounds, melodies and rhythms from different musical genres. Greg Manata and Preston A Nunez celebrate their fifth release with 23 tracks (‘cos 2 + 3 = 5, geddit?) in a run of 55 copies selling at US$5.55 if you live in the States. Unfortunately there was no information available about these guys when I Googled their names and the project name so I have no idea if they’re followers of Discordianism and the Law of Five.

All tracks are quite short and bleed into one another so the entire album is best heard as one continuous tapestry of wildly eccentric mini-soundscapes of sometimes crazed sounds with a distinct sunny and slightly sultry atmosphere and a sometimes lush or bleached feel. You feel like an observer on a boat ride through some of the more kitschy tourist must-see towns and landscapes that might have been rejected by Disneyland for being too psychedelically wild and colourful and not commercial enough. Greens are that jarring lime-green shade and yellows are bright flurorescent lolly-pop yellow, the kind that tastes sweet and yummy but which later makes your stomach turn a sour leap from all that artificial over-colouring.

The music delights in jarring percussion and blaring tones and drones as if deliberately trying to get a reaction out of you. A strong dominating influence is jazz of a sharp, almost garage kind. Cool space ambient tones seem insouciant and jaunty percussion bounce about without a care in the world. Whatever sounds, rhythms and melodies are deployed, irrespective of their origin, Manata and Nunez wield them confidently and nonchalantly yet expertly: nothing is out of place no matter how strange and eccentric it all seems.

Some tracks hark back to the period of Seventies disco (“As Lonely as the Moon”) and rock and pop music from California of the same vintage with a hot acid-tinged ambience. Others have a very strong cosmic space vibe in spite of the odd titles they have (“Double Shot Sweet Envy Love” being an outstanding example). One track, the strongly melodic “Ego Ego Ego Ego Ego”, references the theme of the number five with all that figure may imply.

There’s hardly any let-up in the proceedings: everything breezes along at a steady clip which can leave a listener a bit bewildered and somewhat lost. There’ll usually be a track that a tourist can home in on and use as a landmark from which to navigate the rest of the album. Most pieces, however short they are (they are often not much more than layers of looping sound put together to achieve certain moods), will have something for everyone.

Probably by the time you read this, all copies of this album will have sold out – there are only 55 copies after all – but you can always contact Aquarius Records to see if they still have a copy or two.

Inside Outside: a soaring ethereal voice above psych-folk electronica and abstract improv


Aurora Dorey Alice, Inside Outside, Sygil Records, cassette 013 (2013)

A gorgeous if sometimes slightly sinister and deranged psych-folk offering with a split personality  is to be found on this release from the increasingly eclectic Sygil Records which among other things has proffered black and doom metal recordings and industrial drone art. The first half of the album, the “Inside” part partakes heavily of glitch and fuzz electronica and woozy, zonked-out wash effects; the second “Outside” half drinks in found nature sounds and sparse abstract improv. Whether you like your music to be outdoors or indoors, one thing you’ll surely fall in love with is Aurora Dorey Alice’s voice which at times is floaty and ethereal, and at other times assertive and soaring above the often intangible and dreamy music.

I have to confess I’m more of an “indoors” gal here: the electronic soundtrack is gentle and slightly fizzy in sound and texture, dreamy in mood, and very other-worldly and shimmery overall. “Master / Apprentice” is a strong opening track that sets the tone for the rest of “Inside” to follow; indeed, it might just be the strongest piece on the whole album. The rest of the cassette is no bunch of slouching footnotes though. “Rain” is as close to country-western as ADA comes with its fast chugging-train rhythm and ADA’s own enraptured faux-Nashville vocal.

On the “Outside” half, the music is more acoustic and does not showcase ADA’s singing at all which is a bit disappointing because it’s her voice that really stands out on this recording. Here, the music could almost be one of many hundreds of live instrumental improv releases with flutes, found sounds and a not-too clear idea of where all the musicians are supposed to be going. It’s as if having found themselves out in the warm sunshine, the musicians decided to have a party and a snooze as well but not necessarily in strict alphabetical order of making music, partying and snoozing.

Nevertheless what we do get from ADA is to be treasured indeed: in range her singing straddles the divide between reality and the universe beyond, which already is far, far more than can be said for the current crop of mainstream female pop singers. I’m going to risk lying my head on the guillotine block and say ADA will be a significant influence on future female singers to come, even if her career does not turn out the way it should.

Womb C: a wide range of genres searching for communion with dark sinister cosmos

Womb C, self-titled, Bestial Burst, CD BeBu-059 (2013)

Dark space ambience, post-industrial percussion, sinister electronics, black metal and trance psychedelia combine to form this quartet of instrumental pieces that trace an individual journey into communion with the cosmos. The musicians responsible for this unique if weird and wonderful set of soundscapes include members of Finnish BM bands Dead Reptile Shrine and Ride for Revenge as well as musicians from bands I don’t know: Blutleuchte, Cloama (who share members with DRS) and Will Over Matter (the brainchild of the man behind Ride for Revenge). This looks like a Finnish-Russian affair which might mean (in a good way of course!) plenty of sparks flying here.

We begin with “Satan Universe Moloch”, a long sprawling track that takes in glitchy electronics, noise-lite textures, trance guitar work and atmospheric soundtrack music effects among other things. At times you fear the music might travel down some very dangerous paths menaced by black devils itching for a chance to ride the sounds and drones out of the loudspeakers or headphones and into your ears and head. Second track “Bug Humanity” is no less adventurous, daring to tread through some very low-key sections of darkness where a heavy atmosphere reigns or inhuman distorted voices make pronouncements in the far distance. A monster percussion rhythm, its edges fuzzed over with acid noise, thumps through the track. Later moments include some very odd and deranged robot voices in an apparent emptiness and some bombastic industrial metal knees-up bashing.

The music enters underground metal territory proper with “She Male Vegetation” which is dominated by a repeating series of harsh textured drone guitar riffs over a shambolic drum pattern. As the album continues into the fourth track, we enter a strange universe of beings that are partly organic and partly mechanical living among environments that are at once beautifully space ambient and terrifyingly machine-like in their natural rhythms. Increasingly the record acquires a more interior and precious feel, as if it were retreating into some hallowed space where only a privileged few may be allowed to enter: it could be a shrine to unseen gods or it could be the cell of a deranged prisoner. A kind of tinny chainsaw black metal whine forms the backbone of the music over which drills whine, a melodic country-western guitar melody plays and a sorrowful clarinet-like sound follows the chaos that gradually develops. The album’s conclusion is rather ambiguous: unity with the universe is achieved in a way that suggests a return to the cosmic womb and therefore death promises a slim chance of rebirth, leading perhaps to another tortuous journey back to the darkness of the womb, risking one’s identity and sanity again. (The CD sleeve offers a prose piece which listeners can follow to make sense of the music and what it’s aiming at – but I can’t promise that the prose makes any more sense than the music does.)

The recording does feature a dry atmosphere typical of those Ride for Revenge albums I’ve heard which is no surprise as the fellow behind RfR and WoM plays a big role in creating and assembling together such a wide disparity of musical elements and genres. For all its musical expanses, the album is actually well ordered rather than full-on blatant and intense. Though it can be heavy-going in parts due to a heavy black atmosphere, the music is often very minimal and every bit of sound, no matter how far back in the distance it seems to be, can be discerned. Quite a lot of polish and care must have been applied here even though the music has its demented moments.

For fans of the bands whose members participated in creating this work of dark twisted soundscapes with a mystical message, this album is a must-have that showcases a more varied and experimental side of their heroes.

Vast Chains: a mighty mammoth microtonal missive of intense derangement and moments of silent terror


Jute Gyte, Vast Chains, Jeshimoth Entertainment, CD-R JEO65 (2014)

Holy heck, here comes another mighty microtonal music missive from the one and only Jute Gyte, the one-man avantgarde black metal wrecking-ball who smashes apart all the stereotypes and constraints that keep metal in a conceptual straitjacket and reveals the boundless potential of the genre for original, intense and batshit music. Miley Cyrus don’t know nothin’ about real wrecking-ball music, that’s for sure! JG man Adam Kalmbach recorded this 2014 release at about the same time as he did “Discontinuities” and if you listen to both albums casually, you’ll be hard put to discern much in the way of progress, musically anyway, from “Discontinuities” to “Vast Chains”. On closer listen to both, the earlier album is a smoother ride and sounds comparatively sane.

Repeated hearings are necessary for albums like “Vast Chains” and “Discontinuities” because their textures are incredibly dense, the jangly chords have a weird, almost malign glitter tone, and the soundscapes created seem to shift constantly even as the riffs and melodies lurch about their business. There is nothing familiar for listeners to latch onto and use as a guide to explore this music. All 24 microtones of the scale Kalmbach uses are treated as tones in their own right and all the guitar chords and other sounds utilise the microtones fully with very few exceptions (and mostly ambient exceptions at that). You really have to go along with JG on the project’s terms. Guitar chords slide about or launch abruptly into something quite unexpected. The music usually has a suffocating and demented air. Yet each song does have its own structure and riffing patterns and eventually after going a few rounds with the recording, you realise Jute Gyte’s albums are very ordered.

The startlingly memorable intro “Semen Dried into the Silence of Rock and Mineral” – we can always rely on Kalmbach for head-scratching titles – is a lumbering beast of discordant chugging death metal with awkward and angular riffs, made more so by the microtonal scales used. Jarring riff and melody loops, gruff bass grunts and a vocal that simply tears your endurance apart cover over a reality of black emptiness – “the silence of rock and mineral” – that is revealed in brief interludes during which raindrops of guitar might sometimes be the only thing present. By contrast, “Endless Moths Swarming” is a speedy number that imitates the frenzy of the eponymous insects as they hover over unspeakable sights. Every so often, Kalmbach pulls away the curtain of music to show what really lies beneath: the desolation and deep solitude, too dark and deep for words to express, of a universe indifferent to the presence of humans.

We never get much rest between tracks: as soon as one ends, we’re thrust straight into another as if even Kalmbach himself is afraid of the closeness and finality of death. Even the title “The Inexpressible Loneliness of Thinking” suggests that for all our attempts to thwart the inevitable with elaborate mental and social ruses and technology, we will ultimately fail due to our nature and feeble genetic inheritance. “Flux and Permanence” is a seesawing lurch of nauseous riffs and rhythms with choppy low end and disorienting mood. As it continues, the guitars become ever more shrill (as if they weren’t already bonkers) and bring you close to the edge of insanity. The same could be said of the entire album overall actually.

Each track has its distinctive riffs and melodies and thus its own identity yet they are all united not just by the particular style of demented music with its stress on jagged bass lines and the most awkward and uncoordinated riffs – there are also those quiet moments within each track that peel away the apparent cacophony and show you the real chaos of unending darkness and the silence of non-life. One odd thing about this album is that for all the dense delirium of the music, it’s all surprisingly steady and even, and no one track is head and shoulders above the others: as a result, there’s no real stand-out track to point to as typifying the album. Also for all the music’s apparent “heavy” quality, the percussion on the album is surprisingly light; the heaviness comes from the bass and the extreme range of the guitars in tone, volume and riff / melody structures. All tracks represent the entire album in microcosm, in slightly different ways.

This album is definitely for the fans; those unfamiliar with Jute Gyte are best directed to hear out earlier recordings before tackling this one.

Cults Percussion Ensemble (self-titled): a mix of kitsch and sublimely dreamy music


Cults Percussion Ensemble, self-titled, Trunk Records, JBH046CD (reissued 2012)

A very obscure release from 1979, copies of which were usually sold privately by the group itself, this is a charming set of mallet music made by a group of 14-year-old girls working on xylophones, glockenspiel, marimbas, vibraphones and timpani drums under the guidance of their percussion teacher and conductor. The group got its unusual name from the girls’ home suburb of Cults in the city of Aberdeen in northern Scotland. The only thing that may be a little sinister about these lasses is the hypnotic and sometimes dreamy music that pours forth from their hammers which the youngsters apply to their instruments with a light and skilful touch.

Although a lot of the music on this album can be very cartoony and kitsch, there are some very beguiling pieces worthy of a band with a name like Cults Percussion Ensemble. Early track “Baia” is a gorgeously languid glide through shimmering lush tropical forest and turquoise-blue waters gently lapping sandy crescent beaches hugging the edges of palm-fringed islands. The ambience enchants the senses with jewelled raindrops of sound. Diamond tones seduce the mind into floaty journeys over coral reefs in tropical waters. “Circles” is an urgent hyper-energetic spin through a twinkling kaleidoscope of fragile tones. Amazing that young teenage girls could play music with such a light airy touch and delicate feel that landscapes they would have little or no familiarity with could spring fully formed from their hands and mallets. “The Little Dancer” must surely be the last word in music describing the lonely and melancholy path taken by a lone unnamed protagonist in her life’s journey.

“Two Jubilee Pieces” comes close to abstract experimental darkness as the girls race up and down the bars or carefully trace the orbits of planets circling a lonely red dwarf star in an atmosphere of stark introspection. After the halfway point, the music goes down a cloyingly kitsch direction and this part of the album, emphasising technical virtuosity and playing to its audiences, is the least satisfying section for this listener. The album picks up and ends on a high note with “Polymers”, a soulful atmospheric piece that features singing.

For such an old recording, the sound quality is very good with very little hiss, and the instruments seem fairly soft in tone. While I wish that the selection of music in the album’s second half could have been better and could have demonstrated more of the girls’ feel for and sympathy with their material, as opposed to merely exploiting their technical skills and speed in playing popular sentimental tunes, I’m aware that the material chosen may be all that has survived of their work.

A tidbit of historical interest is that the ensemble includes the virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie as a member.

Kwjaz (self-titled): lush soundscapes of Sixties / Seventies psychedelic nostalgia


Kwjaz, self-titled, Not Not Fun Records, CD NNF 238 (2012)

Originally released on cassette, this self-titled debut from one-man project Kwjaz had to be issued on vinyl and CD due to the attention it garnered in the musical underground. Easy to see why too because even on first hearing I was instantly transported away into a hidden universe of strangely soft-glowing ambient colours and lush forests of shrill glittering sound and light textures. Kwjaz is the brain-child of San Francisco native Peter Berends so one presumes that this is the music project he was called upon by Kismet to direct; with his background steeped in the popular music and culture of that fair city, and that cornucopia of fine sounds Aquarius Records located not far from his neighbourhood, he really had no choice. The CD version of the album comes with the original two 20+ minute tracks plus two bonus pieces. (Dontcha just hate that when you’ve already bought the cassette?)

“Once in Babylon” ranges far and wide in musical inspiration and influence but the most interesting part comes about the 8th minute with a languorous beach-combing rhythm strolling by while space-lounge tone effects flutter about and a trumpet trills overhead. Our beach-comber soon reaches a discotheque and from there on it boogies sedately along the dance-floor. Little spaceship noise squiggles wobble high in the pulsating atmosphere and trumpet tones parp-parp by. Next think you know, you’re underwater in a funny sub trawling along the sea-floor while gloopy green currents of water slide past the port-hole. The track seemingly describes various experiences that inhabitants of a Golden Age of Mass Culture and Consumerism enjoyed over 40 years ago: there’s plenty of muzak and elevator music to pig out on.

Needless to say, “Frighteous Wane” is the flip-side to “Once in Babylon” in concept as well in the album’s original cassette format: it’s queasily psychedelic, a bit cold and clinical in parts – it’s the music that might delineate the hangover that comes from too much consumption of the most banal and mediocre experiences and material goods of the decades in which restraint, good sense and taste, and foresight were prominent by their absence. Nightmarish drones of a deliriously deranged kind are beguiling in their own way and even though you know you’re going to feel a bit sick, you can’t help but follow the music where it will. Withdrawing would give you anxiety attacks. You know you’ve made the right decision because the music does take you into some wondrous dimensions of jewelled sound and mood melody, all veiled with a slightly sinister atmospheric veil. The best moment comes about the 15th minute with a detour into an odd world of childhood tinkle toy jewellery box nostalgia and kitsch Oriental gardens of neat pagodas, little bridges over artificial streams of goldfish and carp, and cherry trees in perennial blossom. The whole vista is a little nauseating.

Of the bonus tracks, the unexpectedly short “A Certain Sprout” dallies in Sixties lounge nostalgia with analog synth melodies made a little creepy with touches of cold ambient space tone. “Elevation: Elation / Jah Wad” consists of a chain of various musical snapshots that might have come straight from an old-time late Seventies radio station playing songs straight through with no station announcements or commercial breaks. Overall though the bonus pieces don’t add anything new to the album that we don’t already know from the original pieces and some of the music on “Elevation …” echoes “Once in Babylon” with its mixture of beach-holiday ambience, lazy tropical rhythm and wistful nostalgia.

This album is the most intriguing of journeys into a realm that initially seems very familiar and nostalgic but threaded through with uneasy-listening elements that force you out of your comfort zone to confront perhaps some very uncomfortable truths about what the world you grew up in really was like. The best moments of the album are its most alien, the darkest and most ambivalent.

Akkord (self-titled): pulling in a huge range of influences for a spacey dark techno album


Akkord, self-titled, Houndstooth Records, HTH015CD (2013)

If you’ve been following my reviews obsessively – in which case, I would advise you all to get a life or see a shrink – you’ll know that I have a soft spot for dark minimal techno electronica and anything that comes close to it. This self-titled debut by the Manchester duo Akkord (who also DJ separately as Indigo and Synkro) falls within the event horizon of that genre with its mysterious and perplexing mix of sinister space ambience, tribal rhythms, dance grooves that turn out not to be very dance-y at all, trance-like loops, jazzy skitter, techno, house and dubstep among other genres.

The scene is set by “Torr Vale”, an amorphous piece of abstract space-atmosphere drone that draws listeners into a black hole with a beguiling rhythm, low-end bass wobble, a delicate beat that transforms into a booming second rhythm loop. It’s deep and ominous, reminiscent of some Lustmord ambient space recordings I’ve heard in the past, though with a nod to the musicians’ dance club backgrounds. In “Space Circle”, we find ourselves observing a ceremony paying electronic dance homage to dark gods who demand a bloody sacrifice from their worshippers. It’s a spooky music tour and you start to wonder what the folks back at home will make of your travel souvenirs. Worry not, “3DOS” and “Folded Edge” bring some familiar techno-dub sounds and stop-start electronic rhythms of the kind Techno Animal and Porter Ricks might have patented 20 years ago.

Subsequent tracks are a sop to the more hedonistic dance crowds touring with us: they’re very strong on undulating rhythm loops and weird wobbly noise effects. “Navigate” has some interesting flubby noise effect loops that conjure up an image of an alien jungle oasis grooving to its own insectoid noises on a lonely asteroid. “Undertow” marks our return to space base “Torr Vale” (track 1) with its heavy breathing and clanky industrial rhythms.

It’s an interesting debut with a huge variety of influences and input from different music genres, some of which I’m not at all familiar with or have only the vaguest idea about: techno, jungle and dubstep are definitely present and there may be some grime as well. All these styles are pulled together with a definite shadowy and sometimes forbidding if airy atmosphere and a remote attitude. Parts of the recording have a very unearthly beauty and hint at something much greater than what is actually heard.

Honky Tonk Medusa: an unassuming gem of dark and bittersweet folk pop


Donovan Quinn, Honky Tonk Medusa, Northern-Spy Records, NSCD 019 (2012)

The title of this album, the third solo full-lengther from Donovan Quinn since he left The Skygreen Leopards, suggests this work is going to feature light and dark in equal amounts. Certainly the tone throughout hints at melancholy and a slight sense of foreboding on what would otherwise be sunny and bright folk pop songs. There may be a theme dwelling on aspects of modern life in a post-industrial world where the American Dream is proving to be more nightmare than dream and people must struggle just to keep sane coping with the pressures of daily living.

The songs all have quite a distinct flavour though I can detect the influence of Bob Dylan in Quinn’s style of singing. (I’m not familiar with the history of American folk music from the 1960s on so readers will have to forgive me for my sketchy knowledge.) “Night Shift” is an early highlight for its deep droning near-industrial rhythms and the use of spoken word recordings in the background that reference the busyness of modern urban life. “My Wife” is a dream-like wistful piece, forlorn and sounding a bit nostalgic in its mood, with a sinister darkness at its core. (The song references the Who song of the same name and David Lynch’s TV series “Twin Peaks”.) “Dying City” comes across as a gentle, sorrowful elegy. “Love in an Evil World” is the most poppy-sounding track with its catchy melodies, slow though they are, and its unexpected twists that capture perfectly a sense of uncertainty and passive acceptance of whatever hardships may come.

The music can be challenging in its ambiguity and its attitude of seeming resignation and observational distance. Although Quinn is a good song-writer, there is something lacking in these songs: they seem so introspective that they don’t reach out to their audience and the listener must try to find a way into Quinn’s world and concerns. Of course, whether Quinn is interested in making a direct emotional connection with his audience is another thing; he’d certainly sell more records and become famous but he may not want the attention, expectations and pressures that fame would bring. Honky Tonk Medusa is a very unassuming little gem of bittersweet quality that with time may gather its own small group of devoted fans.

North: heralding a gorgeous nature-themed project of folk ambient black metal


Crown of Asteria, North, Red River Family Records, CD 025 (2013)

Crown of Asteria is a one-woman black metal project headed by one Meghan Hill that plays a mix of black metal, ambient and folk. “North” is CoA’s debut full-length instrumental meditation on nature and its wondrous, transcendental mysteries. This is a recording worth hearing in its entirety without regard for individual tracks: it’s a gorgeous work of atmosphere, acoustic folk and thrilling BM riffs and melodies.

After a brief introduction of nature-themed field recordings that transport us listeners in an instant to the CoA universe, we’re wrapped in shimmering keyboard / guitar tremolo drone wash. It’s as if we must undergo a ritual bath to cleanse us of the toxins of the urban world we left behind, so that we are ready to receive more of what CoA has in store.

“Through the Birch and beyond the Lakes” is perhaps the first real black metal track: it starts out with a shrill spiky tremolo guitar lead and has a dreamy, trance-like quality. Clear reverberating guitar-tone chords duet and perhaps duel with the black metal guitar background. There is a sunny feel that I usually associate with shoegazer BM and fans of that genre might be interested in checking out this album. The track develops into something more crunchy and hard-edged and the introduction of percussion adds a sharp crispy edge. A lead guitar solo is a late crowning glory for this piece.

The title track gets off to a slightly slow start but makes up for lost ground quickly with warm shimmery guitar noise textures and a pounding percussion beat that is all but swamped by the guitar work-outs. Licks are thrown out here and there. The real highlight of the track comes with an extended passage of folk acoustic guitar melody, accompanied by a faint but interesting rhythm in parts. The music is soft and has a strong hypnotic effect; the mood is at once dreamy, a bit lonely and melancholy, naively hopeful perhaps and uplifting overall. The transition from quiet and soft folk ambient back to assertive BM is gradual but once this is complete, the music has an exhilarating, triumphant attitude. This is one of the most intense and exciting moments I’ve experienced in listening to BM. CoA lets the moment linger for listeners to savour to the full.

Four minutes of mostly monotonous strumming acoustic guitar with a late melody follow: “Wildflowers” is a pleasant pause for breath but for what it does, it’s too long and could have been slimmed down to 2 – 3 minutes. Final track “These Stars hang from the Boughs of Firs” is a great finale, though again there are parts that are just a bit too long and repetitive. Admittedly the percussion throughout this album isn’t great but on this track its deficiencies are amplified: the drumming is too soft and needs to be a bit more upfront in the mix with a strong thumping sound. On the other hand the acoustic guitar melody loop is a welcome warm contrast to the generally grim black metal.

Without a doubt this is one of the most beautifully atmospheric BM recordings I’ve had the privilege to hear, a tremendously immersive musical experience with deep sincere emotion. The first half of the album has a slight edge over the rest, being more attentive to creating a definite atmosphere of beauty and wonder, inspired by the artist’s contact with her woodland surroundings. The later half of the album has rather less emphasis on maintaining atmosphere; maybe the work seems that way because there’s much more acoustic music and how it just absorbs Hill’s attention (and ours) to the full, but some of the early lushness seems to disappear. The production is crisp but not too clear: it allows a dream state, in which meditation and inner journeys of exploration become easy, to dominate.

The drumming is the main weakness here – it’s soft when perhaps it should be loud, hard and energetic. There are long passages on this record that cope very well without any drums and perhaps an entire album done only with guitars and atmospheric effects is something CoA should try.

The album is a rich audio experience of folk, ambient and black metal elements and natural field recordings, all the more so because the music is not heavily layered: by that, I mean there are no strata of guitar textures overlaid with excessive effects, Nadja-style, yet what few ambient effects CoA deploys seem to be used to their utmost, with all the nuances of meaning they bring to the recording. Pure-toned music is crisp and brimming with feeling and context. This debut album deserves to be better known and in time might be considered a classic of its kind.