When browsing through a large amount of music, as presented by our inbox or one of the many online music sources out there, it’s easy to develop fatigue. You give each track some time but, governed by the inexorable power of Sturgeon’s Law, most of what you hear is uninspired and both your ears and fingers go into a sort of monotony of “next”, a languishing mood of complacency. And then, sometimes after hours of trawling, that track starts playing and everything in your body perks up and pays attention. That’s how we found Soldat Hans, a band from Switzerland who play an intoxicating meld of doom, dark jazz and post rock. On their second release, Es Taut, the ensemble brings their ability to craft and wield emotions to perfection, producing one of the most crushing, depressing and beautiful albums we’ve heard in a long time.
As Simon, one of our editors, described it, “it’s like listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor after drinking a bunch of cough syrup” and there’s really no more apt description. The basic structure that moves the album forward is a molasses-like slowness, a pouring of thick, aural liquid over your ears. Guitars, haunting synths and brass instruments all crash around you, slowly engulfing you, like Earth‘s The Bees Made Honey In the Lion’s Skull after years of being lost at sea. Those brass instruments are more than the usual “guest spots” reserved for them in these kinds of releases, instead serving as part of the backbone of the track, baked right into the composition. This allows them to work to make the music more robust rather than simply embellishing it, changing the basic timbre of the work. They lend thickness to it, a solidity at its base that’s very much needed.
Much like on Earth’s aforementioned release, the drums serve to slowly puncture the entire thing with its cymbals and to fill up those wounds with the kick. They’re like pebbles in an avalanche, each individually betraying the whole that is descending upon you. The last element of the unfurling onslaught that is Es Taut are the vocals; on the first passage of “Story of the Flood”, the twenty seven minute epic that opens the album, they are hardcore influenced screeches, another brushstroke in the canvas of pain that the track paints. Later on, as the track leans more heavily on its synth influences and gains a somewhat progressive rock trait (like a slowed down Camel or King Crimson, right around the nine and a half minute point), the clean vocals are all the more crushing. They blend beautifully with this “calmer” passage, making it all the more depressing and crushing for it.
There’s so much more we could say about this album. We didn’t even mention the incredible strings that appear throughout the album, tugging on whatever heartstrings you have left. It explores doom and jazz in ways we haven’t heard many bands do in the best, both very much convinced of its direction and not afraid to do new things with it. It’s honestly a revelation and one of the best releases to come out this year so far. It envelopes you, utilizing all its instruments and influence for one purpose: to draw you in deeper into its embrace of poisoned honey, of a calmness that is deceiving, of a depression that’s all the more real for being subtle and nuanced rather than over the top. It’s an insanely accomplished sophomore release and one which will, hopefully, put Soldat Hans on the map. Excuse me, I’ve been listening to this album while writing and now must go wipe my eyes.
Es Taut releases on March 30th. You can head on over to Wolves and Vibrancy Records to pre-order it.