Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rwake - "Rest" (2011) [Relapse Records]

Rwake’s fearlessness has perched them at the forefront of a genre that’s sorely lacking in willful progression.  They seem willing to immolate the bedrock sound crafted over four previous albums in order to hone the edge of their creative force, and this unpredictability makes Rest a hard listen to put a finger on at first.  The moment you imagine you’ve grasped the slippery snakeskin that coats most of these songs and begin to probe into each, it slips and leaves you searching anew.  Honestly, it’s surprising that, as a whole, Rwake’s newest full-length feels at all cohesive.  Thanks to a subtle, compressed approach to recording from Sanford Parker all the sounds separate well in the mix and gel in the mind (headphones recommended).  The sound and pacing on Rest are distinctly more intricate than their previous outings and the band benefits from this attention to detail greatly.

 Rest is full of beautiful moments of contrast, musical set pieces that communicate the subtle menace that is Rwake’s trademark.  Opening with a melodic acoustic piece worked to great (if not slightly predictable) effect on their 2007 effort “Voices of Omens” and Rwake employ the same strategy of juxtaposition here.  “Souls of the Sky” is all layered melody, gently back-masked acoustic guitars melding with horns and echoed female vocals.  Buttressed against this opening track, the petrified heaviness of “It Was Beautiful But Now It’s Sour” and its riff framework seem even more oppressive throughout it’s nearly-12 minute ride.  CT howls like a mad preacher drunk on moonshine, extolling a stunning sense of loss that never seems forced or fake while Brittany counterpoints with her raw roar.  “It Was Beautiful…” shifts and lurches, morphing from strung-out sludge laced with a Skynyrd-tinged lead to stomping dual-guitar, dual-vocal attack and out through oppressive leaden riffs.   Each longer track is separated by one shorter (loosely speaking) track in a brilliant pacing that allows the listener some breathing room between epic walls.  Centerpiece track “The Culling” clocks in at over 16 minutes and at no point drops into predictable boredom, showcasing more variety in one track than most bands are capable of over an entire career.  The album closes with “Was Only A Dream”, which opens with one of the most subtly-epic guitar lines this side of Muse and blends aching harmony, double-stops, and twin-Lizzy guitar lines into full flare before everything falls apart in a blur of oppressive melody and sampled audio.

It’s this combination of oppression and melody that suffuses the album with a distinctly haunted flavor.  You can feel the Arkansas heat baking the soil and cold nights alone in the woods huddled around a bottle, worrying.  The sound of Rest marks an expansion, with all six members of Rwake working in a broad progressive interpretation of traditional “Southern Doom”, wrapping it in layers of psychedelia and brilliant instrumental work.  No longer focusing on heaviness, Rest allows the hefty songwriting chops of the band to transport the listener into the glimmer of a flawed diamond: clouded and unclear with heartbreaking moments of piercing clarity.


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