I’m not sure what I was expecting from the grammatically ambiguous Our Survival Depends On Us but safe to say it wasn’t this. Clues to the band’s obscure title are there to be found within Scouts On The Borderline… but these are spiritual explorers rather than gun-toting survivalists or environmental tree-huggers. At least I think that’s what they are. What you can also find here is a collection of dark folk hymns that would be perfect fodder for standing around bonfires in baleful contemplation or wandering through bare, leaf-strewn forests as the death of the year unfolds.
Anyone who likes a good old sing-a-long to melancholy songs composed for a world where pagan spirits linger on the edges and mankind’s future is beset with uncertainty will no doubt be pleased with this. Something to cling onto as well as sing-a-long to, then. Dual vocals, trudging doom bass lines and an unusual combination of Subway To Sally, Reverend Bizarre and Sólstafir. And, of course, none of the above. Because Our Survival tread not just on the borders of the spirit world but on the borders of metal too. At times the instrumentation strips away completely. The vocals are the thing here and the lyrics are sung like folk tales of nightmares, warnings of dark times to come and salvation owed to dark forces are what’s on offer. Winter carols for the spiritually bereft.
Our Survival Depends On Us is probably best described as post-rock with the initial rhythmic doom increasingly giving way to atmospherics, acoustic backing and deep drifting vocals as the album progresses. It’s no surprise that this sits very comfortably at the home of Ván Records – where heavy metal can sometimes play second fiddle to inspired folk meanderings. The melodies are sombre and comforting, often strangely at the same time, with melodies rooted in the 1980s or even at times in classic ecclesiastical hymns or carols.
The odd chanting vocal of Let My People Go is followed by Children of the Dawn – a powerful if highly accessible doom rock ode that will undoubtedly be one of the album’s main initial draws. Things get less metal, more challenging and perhaps more interesting from there on as the band embraces a more ethereal, 1990s post-rock vibe on tracks like The Bloody Path and Mountains of My Home.
Quirky ballads rely heavily on the vocals with the instruments, piano acoustic guitars, pinning down the melody and providing a backdrop to the sombre, wistful lyrics and choral elements. The epic Sons and Daughters then drifts well into Sólstafir territory – the only track on the album which really plums the musical depths and really frees the band from its addiction to putting the vocals in the centre of the ritual.
There’s undoubtedly something enthralling about Our Survival Depends on Us and their seasonally appropriate ramblings that will appeal to a lot of people who feel physically and spiritually on the side lines of life. At times Scouts on the Borderline… is a little too unsubtle, even clumsy, for its own good – using melodies and lyrics like a club rather than the fine rapier of many other post-rock bands. But there are also some fine moments here. Ultimately, band’s message is in its lyrics and its music and, if that speaks to you, then you may find this album is one of your finds of the year. If not, it’s still an entertaining listen.
(7/10 Reverend Darkstanley)