Perhaps some of you have noticed that I’ve been a bit less loquacious in these intros of late. At the very least I’ve noticed it and feel a bit guilty for it. Truth be told I simply have not had nearly as much time to dedicate to this column as I did when we started it. Back when I was freelancing and even for a time after starting a new full-time gig I had ample time each week to scour Bandcamp for the best in new releases and find hidden gems, and I had time to think about topics surrounding the genre that I wanted to discuss and open a conversation over. That simply has not been the case for a while unfortunately. As with many things, life gets in the way. Thankfully this column is no longer just myself and Eden though, and in fact it’s everyone else who contributes to here that truly keeps that spirit alive. I’m mostly just here these days to make sure the trains run on time and nothing explodes.
One of the few exceptions I’m making to that though is the upcoming Post. Festival, which is happening in less than one month! Are you going? If you’re reading this, live in North America, and are not planning on attending you are making a huge mistake. I will point you again to our preview post to get a taste of what’s in store and why we’re so excited. Heavy Blog will be represented by myself, David (as usual wearing multiple hats between that, representing his pr outfit Young Epoch, and helping out with the fest in general), and the original blog founder himself, Jimmy Rowe. If you follow us and are there, be sure to come up and say hi. I know most of us are shy, introverted nerds, and we will just need to accept that we’re awkward and these sorts of things are naturally weird and get over it. I’ll be wearing our nice-ass Heavy Blog shirts on both days, and I’ll likely have a camera on me for easy identification. Seriously, I want to meet as many of you as I can.
I will have many more thoughts and feelings about all of this come time for next month’s column (and beyond that you should keep your eyes out for an extended feature), but for now let’s get to our favorite albums from the previous month. There were some truly great ones.
Post-Topper: WRVTH – No Rising Sun
Swan song. The phrase is one of the most evocative cliches in the English languages (and it even spans beyond the bounds of that somewhat-limited lingua franca). It is based, like so many great expressions, in absolute myth, the supposedly beautiful song of a swan as it dies. Beauty in death; elation in sorrow. These ideas are enough to turn the referred and the referent on their head. It doesn’t really matter if the swan actually sings a masterpiece upon death; all our senses are waiting for that song and we will hear it regardless of reality. Thus, meaning makes reality and linguistic tools, and the ideas behind them, create our perceptions.
Likewise, it doesn’t matter if No Rising Sun, the brief-lived WRVTH’s last release, is merely augmented by virtue of being their last release or if it’s really just that good. These two states intermingle, creating one fact which stands above all: this album hits, and it hits hard. It skews the balance towards the more post-metal and ambient influences that worked in the background of the band’s previous release. In doing so, it accentuates the emotional impact that lay hinted at by previous technicality, laying bare the dying veins of the band as they pump one last surge of blood through the shambling corpse of the band.
If I seem melodramatic, it’s the influence of the album itself. One only needs to listen to tracks like “Pirouette of Hysterics” or “Headstones” to gauge for themselves the extended gestures and flourishes which the album is built on. Like a more technical and furious The Ocean, or a more ambient and haunting Fallujah, these tracks mix hardcore, atmospheric death metal, and post-rock into one heady mix which encompasses the listener on all sides. Are the chills you are feeling made by “authentically” great music or is the narrative of a dying band amplifying the effect? Frankly, who cares? The bottom line is that WRVTH, once again, have delivered something which sounds quite unlike anything else (I mean, I just referenced both The Ocean and Fallujah on the same line) and their last excursion into these realms is nothing short of magnificent.
The Endless Shimmering (AKA Best of the Rest)
The Ascent of Everest – Is Not Defeated
The Ascent of Everest represent a triumph of optimism in an age where even well-regarded bands have a hard time sticking around amidst the uphill battles against the financial pressures and harsh realities that one faces with a life in the arts. The band quietly emerged all the way back in 2006 with the super-impressive debut How Lonely Sits the City!, featuring an enticing combination of the grim-faced dramatics of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and the lush melodies that would characterize the genre going forward with bands like Red Sparowes, Caspian and This Will Destroy You (bands with which TAOE are essentially contemporaries, despite the wide chasm between them in terms of recognition). Their 2010 followup From This Vantage didn’t grasp at grandeur quite so much, featuring more concise track lengths and less overwrought song titles, and is a more focused and affecting work overall. It was also a time in modern post-rock history when the rules were still being written, making TAOE less beholden to tropes than a lot of bands that have followed in this decade. But then, like many of their peers from this period, they were just gone.
That is, until earlier this year, when the Nashville quintet suddenly dropped back onto the radar with a fresh single called “Aimless,” and eventually the announcement of a new record. In the years between releases, the band had largely been kept alive, albeit pretty under the radar, by a collection of superfans that preserved and lauded their legacy in the YouTube post-rock rabbit hole. That’s where I learned of them; I recall always seeing the album cover for How Lonely Sits the City! during fits of research and discovery. Is Not Defeated carries on the trajectory of From This Vantage, featuring (relatively) shorter tracks and even more vocals, but this is then parlayed into the most expansive and elaborate musical statement of their career, a 16-song, 76-minute behemoth that is not unlike the figurative Everest this ambitious collective have been seeking to scale. .
Is Not Defeated is post-rock in the way that early genre influencers like Slint and Mogwai are, which is to say they are unclassifiable outside of broadly declaring them rock-based. This is the most vocals-laden record they’ve released to date, there’s no dependency on the soft build/loud release crescendocore that has characterized the genre for the past decade, and there isn’t much twinkly guitar stuff nor walls of sound plastered in reverb. As you’re working through it, you start to realize it’s largely more of a straightforward rock record than most anything coming out of the genre at the moment. But at the same time… it’s not. The album is all about intangibles; the way the vocals drift and splinter in the mix, the churning sea of strings, the perpetually heightened dramatic quality of the composition, the resistance toward conventional arrangements even as they put forth some legit hooks. The album-opening “Buried in Leaves” patiently works its way into a positively alluring vocal melody, then follows that up with a minute and a half instrumental finale that most closely recalls underrated post-metal weirdos Giant Squid. That might sound jarring, but in the context of the song it all flows together perfectly.
The band shows an increased maturity and diversity in their songcraft throughout the record. The upbeat, rhythmic stuttering of the cello and drums in unison on “Words Fail” bring a rare sunnier disposition to TAOE’s sonic landscape, while the pulsing midtempo on “Forest of Mirrors” brings a crucial vitality to its shadowy shoegaze vibe. “Aimless” gets more impactful with subsequent listens, exhibiting exquisite patience in building tension before finally allowing dramatic waves of guitars and strings to come crashing in. The quintet of instrumental tracks that close the album – which ultimately work as a continuous 16-minute song – are about as triumphant a finale as you could hope for.
Side note: the following is really just a series of coincidences, but I feel like I’d be doing at least myself a disservice not to mention the strange number of similarities between Is Not Defeated and Her Name Is Calla’s Animal Choir. They have roughly the same number of tracks (sixteen and fifteen, respectively), both run 75+ minutes, are absolutely stacked with quality content representing the best work of their creators’ careers, show an impressive amount of diversity, and involve an added layer of meaning in regard to the band’s timeline, with Animal Choir ushering Calla into retirement while Is Not Defeated represents a resurrection. The albums even share a tiny bit of sonic similarity, as the climax of “Awake Before Dawn” features a melody that shares melodic echoes with the similarly-placed “Robert and Gerda” on the Calla record. It’s not unreasonable to think that both will enter into the Album of the Year conversation for some folks in a couple of months. None of this means anything really, but it’s interesting to point out nevertheless.
ALL IS VIOLENT – Cartographers of Human Purpose
Surprise, surprise, more high-level post-rock/post-metal coming out of Australia. Not many regions of the world have such a strong track record in the past several years. It’s not the volume of artists, but the consistency of quality and the stylistic variation that most defines the Australian scene. Bands like sleepmakeswaves, We Lost the Sea, Meniscus, Dumbsaint, Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, SEIMS and Bear the Mammoth have all released spectacular records in the past few years, and none of them sound anything like the others. It’s a fertile artistic territory to be certain, and we can now bring another band into the conversation. The Melbourne group ALL IS VIOLENT share an obvious connection to the genre in their naming, instantly bringing to mind the classic God Is An Astronaut record, but that’s where the similarities end. Cartographers of Human Purpose features some really substantial post-metal power-trio material boasting a positively delectable balance of guitars that skillfully combine heavy riff worship with probing space-rock and bass that is equally rugged as it is melodically relevant.
ALL IS VIOLENT fit somewhere in the spaces between bands like If These Trees Could Talk, hubris., Meniscus and Dumbsaint, so if you’re a fan of any of those artists you’ll almost certainly find plenty to like here. Peter Papadimitriou’s drumming is punchy and moves along with purpose, providing the life’s blood of each track as Putra Sadikin’s guitars swirl around him, vacillating between shadowy atmospherics, crushing riffs and soaring melodies. As strong as the guitarwork is, it’s Brian Dominiecki’s bass playing that steals the show to some extent. His parts are adept at simultaneously holding down the low end while consistently providing additional layers and flourishes to each section. When they all come together it’s a thing to behold; check out that chugging progression about halfway to two-thirds through the title track, it packs a serious wallop. Not long after the band drifts into a more abstract, jammy segment that brings the track home to its upbeat, engaging finale. It’s an impressively top-notch track for a debut EP.
Cartographers of HUman Purpose is a balanced effort from three extremely capable performers coming together with clear chemistry. By the way, I know my other two contributions to this month’s post have lauded bands for resisting the urge to reach for that big crescendo, but now I’m going to go the other way, because when a band does it right it’s just so damn right, and the towering chord progression that concludes the record on “Memory Complete” is just So. Damn. Right. It’s a killer last impression that leaves me very excited to see what this band has in store next.
Dutch Elm – In Hindsight
It’s been echoed on this blog before that no music exists in a void, there’s always outside influences reaching in to the creative process of music writers. In relatively niche subgenres like post rock it’s inevitable that many bands will sound similar to another. However, there’s an important line when a band sounds a lot like another artist, but pulls it off so well that it can be both a homage yet have it’s own identity. This is the case with this young outfit from Newcastle, UK, Dutch Elm with their new EP In Hindsight.
I don’t want to dismiss their creativity as being purely homage based, from the first track “Nothing if Not Nostalgic” the comparison to the band I’m alluding to (And So I Watch You From Afar) is not entirely clear. There’s fast paced mathy riffing and usual cymbal crashing heavier post rock fanfare which turns into to a chilled out bridge that grows back into a breakdown. This track is an important tone setter along this short four track EP.
On track two, from the first gang “Woo!” that aforementioned influence is strongly apparent, and I’m totally hear for it. ASIWYFA’s debut self-titled LP is an extremely seminal album for my own music taste and was an essential step in me getting into post rock in general. The band would gradually slowly derive from that sound however into a more ‘danceable’, mathy, charismatic direction, and I’ve found few others to be able to replicate that introspective yet driving energy that their debut possessed. It’s largely only the middle two tracks that rip this sound, but it’s harnessed so well it makes me gitty.
The album closer “Destroy and Despoil” is a stand out on its own, taking on a much more dramatic, We Lost the Sea sort of vibe, with an increase in heaviness and general wall-of-sound-ness. I’m hoping we get a full length sometime soon from these guys because they clearly have the talent to do something special, but this is a worthwhile stop gap along the way.
Infinity Shred – Forever, A Fast Life
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: post-rock and EDM were made for each other. Both are frequently instrumentally-focused, and at their best both excel at crafting emotionally-charged and thrilling soundscapes that masterfully explore ideas over long periods of time. And yet there are surprisingly few bands who really excel at that marriage, with 65daysofstatic representing the current leader in that regard. With Infinity Shred’s Forever, A Fast Life though, the New York trio are making a strong case for their being spoken of in the same way. Eden has already made about as strong a case for the band as I ever could, so I highly encourage you to read his review if you haven’t already. From my perspective, what I love about this album is how it clearly it has its feet set in multiple musical worlds without losing the best aspects of each. Forever, A Fast Life is filled with classic synthwave tones, moods, and grooves, creating a technicolor atmosphere of vibrant lights and heroic guitars. Tracks like “Fractured, Focused” have that in spades.
But there’s another level of depth to these songs that often goes missing in so much in the synthwave genre. While many bands excel simply at creating atmosphere with simple structures, progressions, and instrumentation, Infinity Shred push the limit by pulling in emotional strings occasionally, and more notably by drawing compositional contrast through darker and more mysterious compositions. The sheer power and weight behind “Cranemaker” alone is far heavier and denser than just about any other synthwave act out there. It’s, as the cliche phrase goes, the full package, a true melding of various sounds and influences into a rich, mesmerizing, and at times flat-out gorgeous living, breathing futuristic world. This is the album you want to soundtrack your journey into the great unknown.
Walk Among Statues – Without Blood
Only two-thirds of the way through 2019 and it’s really been a year for the books, and what is most encouraging about the trends since the calendar turned has been the balance we’ve seen throughout every tier of the genre in every area of the world. Yes, this is a year of high-profile album cycles (Caspian, Russian Circles, Mono, Pelican, We Lost the Sea), but it’s also been a year of triumphant returns (Appleseed Cast, The Ascent of Everest), continued resurgence (American Football), epic farewells (Her Name Is Calla), and American renaissance (RANGES, Pray For Sound, PILLARS, Old Solar, Seeress, Minor Movements, the end of the ocean, Long Hallways, and that list literally goes on and on). There have also been seemingly countless exciting releases emerging from all over the globe (too many to continue listing but you need only look back at our June Post-Rock Post to get a nice look at the overall picture).
Which brings us to Wroclaw, Poland, hometown of Walk Among Statues, the most recent post-rock band to come from out of nowhere with a confident and captivating collection of songs. Without Blood is their second EP in less than a year, following November 2018’s self-titled debut. They tread those “cinematic/atmospheric” waters that have pulled more than a few of their predecessors under into the black tides of obscurity over the past decade, but they have managed to not only understand the nuances of the formula, but bring some welcome elements to the table as well. The key feature is melody; nothing is worse than a melody that over-rates its own power and then long overstays its welcome. Walk Among Statues dispel that worry early on in the opener “When” with a moving refrain that ensures instant impact that carries through even as the song moves on through a variety of ensuing sections. It shows up in the first two minutes of a 9-minute song and never returns, but it informs everything that comes after, gives the song the vibrant life it needs to sustain through its running time.
That leads to a point that’s well worth making about Without Blood – every song clocks in at around 9 minutes, and the tempo remains restrained and carefully measured throughout, but the songs still move, which is an important detail that is likely to go underrated. This is a patient record, a record that isn’t afraid to take its time to assert itself and say what it’s come to say, but it’s never boring, it never lingers longer than it needs to, and it makes its presence felt without ever overstating or understating. It moves in exactly the manner it needs to. There’s a maturity at play here that I greatly appreciate. I also think that my dear colleague Eden here will enjoy the strong presence of the bass guitar, which doesn’t get into any acrobatics but lays it thick under the mostly reserved guitar parts.
It also speaks to the strength of the songwriting that the second track, “The Last Man,” doesn’t ever force its way to the seemingly requisite crescendo moment, but instead remains focused on building atmospherics, establishing a sense of calm that carries over into the closer “Burst.” That song is another slow-burner to get lost in, gradually growing more and more muscular as it builds towards the finale, which again doesn’t feel beholden to the big climactic outburst but instead revels in the consistent creation of tension. Without Blood is dark without being particularly heavy, unyielding yet possessing a certain tranquility, and ultimately very satisfying if you let go of certain expectations and let the music do its work.