London our city! The place we live whilst loving and loathing it in equal measure. Or is it equal? Maybe not as I think of the emotions and descriptors it best sums up in me. Fear, paranoia, agitation, disillusionment, schizophrenia, anxiety, stress, alienation, loneliness, greed, despair; it’s easy to rattle them off. Not so the positives, beauty is hard to find but hidden in corners, history is rich and mainly on the hideous side. Urbanisation has made it a simmering pot that is constantly teetering on the precipice of boiling over. It’s a place where the 100%ers thrive and the rest of us cling on and try not to fall off. Would we change it though, probably not? There is little wish to up sticks and move to heroin by the seaside or nationalism and small town mindedness by the countryside really. This is our place and it will be as it shape-shifts until we die and are scattered as ashes here.
It is the perfect place for a conceptually written album especially when it is created by one of the most extreme and intelligent bands who reside within its quarters’ one who manages to put many of the aforementioned emotions within the burgeoning and tumultuous music. Voices are speaking and it is a tale that I felt truly at home with, not comforted as such but thinking that someone was talking to me in a way that perhaps makes sense of it all.
The second album by the band who contain ex members of Akercocke, Pantheist, Salem Orchid among others are no strangers, no outsiders looking in, often haunting the shows that I find myself at and playing in a variety of acts as stand ins. They have constructed a fantastic album here which is a real work of art and one that really deserves exploring, like the place itself, you never know quite what you are going to find around the corner.
It starts in a fragile state with the heartfelt ‘Suicide Note’ delivered as an acoustic ballad with really lush clean vocals to immerse yourself in from singer Pete Benjamin. Watch out though it’s dark as well as dreamy; just a step away from the utter destruction of ‘Music for the Recently Bereaved.’ It is here the extremity batters in for the first time as David Gray’s formidable blasts come raining down and the deathlike force whacks you like a gang attack on a nasty rain swept council estate. It’s full of choppy and ever fluid riff work that’s progressive as it sweeps you away. Vocals scream, yell and utter contorted distemper but are also at times clean as they coast along. There’s more ideas in this one 7 minute track than many bands have in their whole careers, as it downs tools flirts with some piano arrangements and then bludgeons with hellish vocal contortions and booming strident parts. After this deluge comes the first of several spoken narrative pieces, which flow through the album. There is a story along with the sounds of London to follow, it’s full of character but a tale I am not spoiling for you here.
Squealing guitars hit the nerves and vocals gurgle out as we are thrust headlong into the abyss of ‘Vicarious Lover.’ It’s a panic attack inducing frenzy of discordant tones but under the surface there are some gorgeous gothic etched glimmers from the guitars and again that clear passionate vocal refrain refusing to give up its voice amidst the confusion and calamity of this ruinous piece. Gray at full battery is simply jaw dropping, anyone who has seen him live will no doubt contest to this and here as he pummels away on numbers like ‘Megan’ you will no doubt find yourself in awe at the speed and precision of attack. The contorted work of both Benjamin and Loynes guitar work should not be overlooked here either as they go beyond any musical genre or linear acceptability in what they do wringing some incredibly strange and unfathomable shapes out of their instruments. It’s no wonder that Sam Loynes gurns like a man possessed on stage with some of the shapes meandering down on the listener and what right does a song like this have to diverge into a drum solo that wouldn’t be out of place on an experimental jazz album?
Fractured melody coruscates through ‘Imaginary Sketches of a Poisoned Man’ one of the albums shorter tracks making it one of the stand out ones on the album. Not that it is accessible by any means, in fact it’s one of the most frightening songs you are likely to have heard in a very long time, vocals (aptly) speaking in voices and a huge barraging death laden approach that puts many of the top names within that particular genre right in the shade. In complete contrast just wait till you hear the calming tones and melody of ‘The Antidote’ destined to send shivers down the spine and haunt you for ages. ‘The Fuck Trance’ is literally hideous, still I love it as it cleaves away and burrows its way in without mercy. It’s so full of pain and such a scathing unrelenting piece of work it strikes as only being possibly forged by the most fractured of psyches. The House Of Black Light (a film of this title I so want to be made) does not lighten the mood in the slightest and has been witnessed as fantastical and terrifying live as its name suggests.
This album feels like the most dangerous night bus journey ever undertaken and it still is rattling towards the end of the line with a tale of sexually explicit betrayal in the form of ‘Last Train Victoria Line,’ be it Brixton or Walthamstow neither place would I want to find myself stranded in late at night. There is finally something upbeat to be found, a diamond in the rough as it were in the melodic keyboard weave of ‘The Ultimate Narcissist’ although they are followed by stalking guitar lines it almost hits a happy trance beat, albeit a very skewed one. Finally we are there ‘Coldharbour Lane’ end of a journey and one that has been fraught and full of nerves
London you disgust me but being responsible for such a fantastic album that resonates so fully I have to thank you for doing that and fully respect you for doing so. As for those of you living elsewhere don’t let your different environment put you off checking out this album, it’s still easily going to be one of the best things you have heard this year!
(9.5/10 Pete Woods)