We here at Heavy Blog love many things. We love it when bands take risks and aim big. We love it when disparate artists collaborate to create something magnificent that neither could dream of achieving on their own. We love scouring the internet, countless promotional emails and record stores to find that next great album that nobody knows or talks about. And most of all, when we find such an album, we love telling you all about it. Touchstone has satisfied each of these desires and more. An audacious 60-minute concept album brought to life by almost 50 musicians, indulge us as we regale you with tales of a remarkable record you won’t be forgetting about anytime soon.
Touchstone is a collaboration between thrash four-piece The Burden Remains and the ad-hoc 42-piece orchestra The Horns of the Seventh Seal, led by Manfred Jungo. Whilst it’s not uncommon for metal acts to collaborate with orchestras, the artists doing so are generally large acts capable of selling out arenas or even stadiums worldwide, not some obscure band from Switzerland. On this occasion thrash plus classical seems to equal post-metal, and from the very first note of the opening track “Spitting on Stones” we’re engulfed in a dark and brooding atmosphere. The production is immaculate, each nuance clearly audible as the track effortlessly ebbs and flows between subdued, eerie and introspective valleys and glorious, bombastic peaks. Nor band nor orchestra dominate, the mix superbly balanced as the two groups work perfectly in partnership, ceding, demanding and sharing the spotlight based upon each passage’s needs. So well do they work in tandem that it is difficult to believe they were only brought together for two exclusive live shows in September of last year, playing entirely new material which was later recorded and released to us as we know it.
The following track, “Seven Veils”, begins with a simple guitar riff and slowly builds in intensity, gradually weaving in classical elements before an eruption of brass signals we’re in for a similarly imposing composition. Midway through the 11-minute epic the band break into a barrage of sludgey post-metal riffing that The Ocean would have been proud of, showing us why they consider their work to be ‘Metal without borders’. “79Au” is another standout track, its melancholic latter passages showcasing another aspect of their sound, lending balance to the album as a whole and earmarking what is yet to come. Lyrically, the record introduces a parable of the myth of King Midas. When offered the opportunity to have any desire met by the gods, King Midas asked for the power to turn anything he touched into gold. It was granted, and the King rejoiced in his newfound powers, only to turn his own daughter into gold in an embrace and face starvation when food and drink turned into gold at his touch. Thus the band use this to invoke themes of existentialism and the consumerist greed and materialism of modern society.
As good as this record is, it is not perfect. Some may find the vocals off-putting and, whilst they are not poorly executed, they are not at the same standard as the music. Despite this, upon repeat listens they grow on you and the emotivity and conviction in their delivery mean they feel right at home. Further, whilst the record lacks a prominent orchestral string section, it must be said that it does not feel worse for it. Throughout its 60-minute runtime we get everything we could hope for from this symphony of distortion: walls of guitars, rumbling percussion, grandiose horn sections, beautiful wind music and both introspective and aggressive vocals. Touchstone is one of the surprise records of the year, having truly come out of nowhere, and it’s available for Name Your Price on bandcamp. Enjoy it out below and support this fantastic release.
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Touchstone from The Burden Remains & The Horns of the Seventh Seal is available now on bandcamp courtesy of Cold Smoke Records.