Alma is not a record to be taken lightly. Some records are designed not so much to be listened to as they are experienced, and the latest from Lisbon trio Löbo falls firmly in to that category. By turns it is mournful, beautiful, crushingly oppressive, and liberating. As contradictory as those descriptors may seem, when taken as a whole they make sense. What is life, if not a host of messy, contradictory elements somehow coexisting? Approached from this viewpoint, Alma makes perfect sense. It is music for those reflective moments when you are forced to weigh up your life, and ask if you have been found wanting. As musically heavy as it may be, that is nothing compared to the emotional heft this album possesses. You have been warned.
Over the course of these four instrumental tracks, Löbo present a version of drone-doom that is far removed from what is conventional within the genre. The songs are built not so much on riffs as they are on movements, glacially slow and often achingly beautiful, bringing to mind both Sunn O))) and post-reformation Earth, without ever sounding like either band. There are enough familiar elements here for those familiar with the style, whilst having enough innovation to seem fresh and new. Third track “Carne E Sombra” is a perfect example of this, with droning feedback providing the backdrop to the song, whilst gentle electronic elements and melodies come to the fore, adding texture and light to an otherwise bleak environment. It is handled with a grace and restraint that ensures that, when the melody hits around the three minute mark and the guitars begin to rise, hearts are sure to break and souls will be crushed beneath the beautiful, glorious, desolate intensity; though there is always the sense that redemption is there, if only you could reach out and touch it.
Alma is, without doubt, the kind of album designed to wrap yourself up in, shutting out the outside world and closing your eyes to all realities but the one in your head. Despite it being entirely instrumental, there is a very human heart and soul present throughout, and upon reaching its end, a sense of catharsis is all-but guaranteed. The journey to reach that point is not easy though, taking in some very dark moments, and Alma feels much longer than it actually is (35 minutes), such is the depth and weight of the record. It’s certainly not the kind of album you can just put on as background music – it demands, and is sure to hold, your attention. It is rare for a record to simultaneously be so musically and emotionally heavy, but that is just what Löbo have achieved here. The press release for the album states that members of the band have used Alma as a kind of starting point for a host of other acts and projects. If they possess even half the majesty and power that this record possesses, then I cannot wait to hear them. It may only be January, but Alma is an early highlight for 2016.
Alma is due for release on cassette on February 13 2016; and on vinyl on April 6 2016. For ordering details, keep an eye on the Facebook pages and websites for Signal Rex , Ring Leader, and Löbo themselves, as well as on Bandcamp.