Label: Truthseeker Music
One of the most important – and difficult – parts in creating beautiful music can be in getting the contrasts right. Too much beauty and serenity can produce a kind of emotional numbness, where everything is too nice to actually feel as glorious as it is. But at the same time, it can be difficult to properly mix harsh, ugly moments with contrasting grace, as evidenced by the hosts of bands aping the likes of Neurosis without coming close to their grandeur. Judging by Blackflower, Sonance have spent plenty of time learning how to mix the ugly with the beautiful to great effect, and the result is a superb album of varied doom/sludge that expertly mixes the heavy with the light.
Beginning with a wonderfully restrained introduction, “Belgium/Blackflower” sets the mood perfectly – not to mention the scene. I mean that in the same way a book or film would do so; there is something cinematic about this record, and as if it were connected to some greater whole. The tension (and volume) slowly build, and when the distorted guitars and screamed vocals kick in, it’s a moment of pure catharsis and wonder; an outpouring of grief and rage in a ruined land. This impression is only aided by the lyrics, which give away just enough to paint a clear picture without revealing all of the details (“Tread that dead land forever/Silent lies the hunter”). It’s unashamedly heavy, both musically and emotionally, and when the tempo slows to a funeral doom crawl it’s just as effective as when the band play at (relative) speed. And as the song sinks its claws in to you, pulling you in to a deathly, violent embrace, it is difficult to resist as the flow pulls you along, aided by strong bass and feedback used as much as an instrument as the guitars are. There’s a hugely dramatic and effective pause as the song reaches its conclusion, and as it does, it will leave you battered and bruised, exhausted and elated.
And this, bear in mind, is just the first track.
It’s followed by “Belgium” which stands in stark contrast with its beauty and sense of space. The use of strings brings the feeling of sorrow to the fore, and the mix of serenity and melancholy is absolutely wonderful – after all, the most beautiful things in life are also the most tragic, as they are destined not to last. Third track “Attachment” reintroduces the musical heaviness with distortion-heavy guitars, though a real sense of space – or rather, of emptiness – is present, as emphasised by the lyrics (“The cold of the soil/You lie here now). But it’s the way the song builds to its end that provides one of the real highlights of the album, as strong strings build up in the mix, reinforcing the cinematic feeling of the album, utterly beautiful and devastating in a way that reminds me, of all things, of deeper cuts within the Ghost In The Shell soundtrack.
Lest things run the risk of becoming too beautiful, “Conical” brings back the ugly guitars and vocals, as heavy and slow as sludge can be, yet possessing just the right amount of melody and movement in the riffs, as weighty as they are. Subtle piano in the background only emphasises how vicious this track is, and it’s no surprise that it ends in a burst of feedback. “Tearce” brings the journey to a conclusion, with a long, spacious intro of almost unsettling ambiance, before ominous, bass-heavy synths kick in, bringing a feeling of dread, and this is only enhanced as things break down in a growing wave of distortion and noise that comes to a sudden end, suggesting an unhappy ending. Because more than anything, Blackflower feels like an album that is telling a story, albeit one pieced together in nightmares and regrets. And like all the best stories, it leaves you wanting more – to fill in the details, to ask what happens next, and what came before to brings us to this point. But no easy answers are forthcoming, so the band invite you to fill in the blanks yourself, which is part of the appeal of this album.
Even if you’re not looking for something that leaves you inventing the rest of the story, though, Blackflower is a powerful, beautiful, haunting album, that pulls at your emotions as much as it does the more animal aspects that sludge taps in to. It’s all the more remarkable for being recorded in a single take, and such raw energy is evident throughout. Combined with their upcoming appearance at Temples Festival in Bristol, the release of Blackflower should see Sonance’s profile raise considerably, and deservedly so. This release marks them as one of the more exciting British bands I’ve heard in some time.
Author’s note: The vinyl release is due to feature a ten minute long version of closing track Tearce. The version reviewed here is based upon the digital version, which contains a shorter version of that track.