Combining atmospheric sludge and doom, featherweight post-rock and lashings of black metal come Latitudes with their most recent outing Part Island, a meditation on the elemental link between the natural world and the self, moor and mind if you will, and the slow but sure disintegration of one, and by extension, the other as well. There is something oddly British about the melding of this conceptual focus and the sonic palette they choose to indulge in. It creates this sensation of the music dragging you across windswept plains, through thickets of bramble and heather beneath the funereal skies of the English countryside. Not only is there this naturalistic yearning in the music of Latitudes, but there is a more tangible political angle to the album too with tracks like “The Great Past” alluding to the messy untethering of the UK and the European Union with an aching sense of mourning that cannot be ignored.
I managed to bag an interview with the band’s bassist and co-lyricist (along with vocalist Adam Symonds) Jon Lyon who was able to provide nuance on how the band came to broach such metaphysical yet essentially societal qualms and the effects these have on the teetering psyches of the people that inhabit these systems.
Nan Shepherd’s book The Living Mountain is an existentialist musing on nature – specifically the Cairngorms mountain range – that hones in on a mountain as almost its own being with nooks and crannies representative of its nuance as a being. Shepherd always said that you didn’t walk ‘up’ a mountain, you walked ‘into’ them as if the mountain itself was an appendage, an expression of the self. Is this part of what you approach on Part Island? Nature being intimately tied to self?
Yes for sure, Shepherd’s personification of the mountain and especially man’s symbiotic relationship with nature is one reading of the album-title, which posits pessimistic aspects of the human psyche – which society dictates remain hidden – as a body of land, an ‘island’.
When the physical and political future of the land seems to be in rapid decline – climate change, austerity, Brexit – it’s no surprise this can be mirrored in the mental deterioration and increased anxiety of the individual. The vast, seemingly immutable infinity of the natural world was always a safety blanket, but increased knowledge and publicity of the quickening effects of climate change have crushed this view into yet another anxiety, another terror, into the ultimate layer of insecurity. When the ‘solidity’ of nature is breaking down, so is the sense of self.
The relationship between your geographical surroundings and self is incredibly complex. Just like musical and cultural ‘taste’, like political beliefs, these things emerge in random permutations from the tapestry of memories both cherished and repressed, the nostalgia for early experience, childhood touchstones and ‘awe’, and what an individual feels to be places of security. It is incredibly difficult to articulate just what these things ‘mean’, evidenced by the inability of politics and especially capitalism to provide satisfaction. The disconnection from this sense of place, in a rapid-fire, digitised world, can result in brooding silence and unshared black thoughts.
Part Island somewhat reflects that individuals leaving things festering in the unsaid can result in so much dissolution and breakdown, whether that of a personal ‘island’ such as a marriage/family unit, the UK or even the entire planet.
I have read that the track “Dovestone” is based on the despondent tale of a man who took his own life near to Dovestone Reservoir in the Peak District in England. Remarkably, it took over a year for the man to be formally identified. What does this say about 21st century Britain? How come, in a vastly interconnected and technologically advanced society, a man can take himself off to the wilds of the countryside and end his life, seemingly without anyone noticing?
In one aspect, the story of David Lytton was very sad and seemed to reflect how people become almost superfluous to modern-day society once they reach a certain age (maybe the upshot of this is the strike-back of Brexit). In another way, there was almost something defiant about this act – climbing to the top of a dark peak, a solitary mission, a return to source and this need to belong to something or someone, to nature, again.
‘Dovestone’ is about mental health, about the fear of becoming unloved and forgotten as you age, about being unable to articulate your depression to anyone properly, but equally as importantly, about still maintaining a strong overriding connection to the natural world regardless of the effect society has had upon you.
The fact this case stands out shows just how interconnected so many of us now are – this was such a stark exception to the rule that every movement must be logged, tracked and ‘liked’. So many depressives learn to hide behind a mask, for Lytton, instead of carefully curated social media posts, it appears to have been stoicism and silence.
As far as I’m aware the album title is a tip of the hat to 16th and 17th century metaphysical poet John Donne who famously penned ‘No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe’ in his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. How have Donne’s writings influenced the thematic scope of the album?
Donne’s writings on mortality produced the famous line you quote, so closely aligned with the folly of Brexit – in basic terms it could imply that humans are better equipped when united together than when individualist, isolated and defiant. Part Island is an expression of sadness about the referendum result, the conditions that led to it, and the regressive act of pulling up literal and metaphorical drawbridges. But whereas Donne states “no man is an island” the album title plays on this to comment that every person is ‘part’ island, part solitary, part isolated, part remote. Again, this relates to depression and mental health.
In the album’s title track Adam (Symonds, vocals/guitar) sings ‘No kings have I / No borders holding me’ in an ironic expression of wishful thinking. Part Island refers to that which was once solid becoming divided, this applies to the illusion of eternal progress we were taught to believe in as children whether through religion or otherwise – the fallacy that all things will advance, improve, get better over time. Brexit and so much else has put paid to that notion.
There are sections of the album that herald a notable black metal influence. Black metal artists often use the conceit of the harmonious natural world in their music to suggest that our current state of affairs is tainted and/or corrupted and we must “return to” our natural state in order to be content. Is Part Island in part commentary on the UK’s current socio-political state?
Black metal is part of our sound because no matter which scandal permeates the ‘scene’, it continues to feel like the most transcendental rock music there is. To me it has always been dream, drone and drama – and like nature, the best of it contains harmony and disharmony in equal measure.
Brexit has awakened the same dichotomous feelings – a hatred for bigotry crashing against the ultimately bittersweet pleasures to be found in nostalgia. My ongoing love of metal while aging is the perfect representation of this. The first album I ever bought was Warlock’s True as Steel and I still listen to this album more than monthly nearly 30 years later. In some ways, the idea of Brexit seems to tap into the same receptors for leave voters. Maybe.
While I understand some of the feelings, I just don’t agree they should be pursued in any way that disadvantages other people. Album track ‘The Great Past’ is about this mass nostalgic yearning for simpler times in the face of lightning-fast change and includes the following lyric: “Tear the skin / From the earth / To the great past / That bore our dreams”