Clichés are important parts of language: they carry an inherent truth, something so right that it was repeated enough times to become commonplace. We should certainly take them with a grain of salt but we would also be mistaken to completely disregard them. So, readers, allow me a cliche: sometimes, less is more. This idiom becomes powerful when it allows us to understand something better. This is exactly the case with A Swarm of the Sun‘s latest release, The Rifts. Somber in disposition, modest in execution, terrifying in penetrating power, this album is the epitome of that turn of phrase: less is, sometimes, more.
Perhaps it stems from the fact that A Swarm of the Sun are a duo, lending to a minimized atmosphere. Or, perhaps, there’s a grander scheme at work, a meaningful artistic direction that knows and plans to utilize the small, unassuming sound in order to dive into emotional depths. In any case, The Rifts is like Isis without the bombastic riffs, Minsk but with an even chiller atmosphere and Katatonia without the heavy-handed lyricism.
From step one, the paragon of this toned back style are the vocals. The first spoken syllables on ‘Infants’ are so full of despair, so barely there, that they immediately shatter the heart. In the coming tracks, they are never coaxed into screams or growls, even when the powerful synths or extolling riffs demand it. In tracks like ‘Incarceration’, where other post-metal bands would immediately resort to screams, A Swarm of the Sun stay the course with their vocal performance, striking a resounding contract between them and the rest of the instruments.
Nor are the instruments lacking in their simple aesthetic. All the way up to the end of the fifth track, ‘The Warden’, they are classical for their genre, expected but perfectly achieved. However, at the end of that track starts the true genius of this album: synths and guitars give way to the somber piano that already populated several areas in earlier tracks, now giving it full reign, all the way into the eighth track.
That track, ‘These Depths Were Always Meant For Both Of Us’, is nothing less than one of the most important post-metal achievements of the last few years. Utilizing a more post-rock structure, it is characterized by a slow build up towards an inevitable crescendo. However, that tipping point arrives earlier and more majestically than we could have imagined, somehow distilling the simple stylings of the rest of the album into this singularly powerful moment.
Quickly though, that aural mount shatters to the ground, giving way to the main theme of the track. A decidedly chilling melody plays on synths, while the bass, drums and guitar slowly spiral closer and closer to the bottom. And then, those ocean-dredging lyrics from the beginning make their reappearance and this time, they carry the entire weight of the album behind them. As they give way to the last, instrumental track, ‘All the Love and Glory’, they perfectly spell out the intention of this album: sadness is not always epic. Post metal shouldn’t be as well. Less is more, certainly with this album. It’s a creation powerful and depressingly permeating in its simplicity.
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A Swarm of the Sun’s The Rifts gets…