Cailleach - Aokigahara (EP) (2013)


Sometimes, we just miss the bus. Try as we might to stay ahead of the numerous waves of bands that come across the series of cats and tubes known as the internet, we are always sure to miss a few thousand. By the time the debut EP from new Zealand based Cailleach had landed onto our computer screens and mp3 players, the band had already been firmly ensconced in a self imposed hiatus. While their reasons are, of course, their own, it seemed that a promising new act had gone to sleep well before it was time. But after repeated listens to their only release, the three track EP titled "Aokigahara," there must have been clues left as to why Mike Lamb and Joe Russell, those responsible for the instrumental portion of the album, thought it was best to step away from their work to focus on other things. With a lyric sheet that reads like the best of horror fantasy tales, it would seem appropriate to find a voice to mirror that grave nature. But in Aidan Grau, they found something else entirely. With a voice that consistently distracts and detracts, it takes a Herculean performance to keep this EP afloat.

It is a marriage of opposites that makes "Here Among The Dead" such an interesting listen, as the intro section combines the beauty of acoustic guitars, an electric melody, and an unrestrained scream. While the latter may be unrefined, the rest of the mix is anything but. The sea of guitars and drums is seemingly never ending, padded out by a darting bass line that elevates the entire track. But it is the willingness to go outside the box that helps the process of momentum begin. A piano interlude is unexpected and wholly successful here, a transition from blaring blackened metal into something else entirely. The sweeping guitars that follow are a key part of the band's soundscape, allowing the progressive elements that were lurking earlier to become far more prevalent. The unfortunate truth, though, is that the vocals simply can not match the intensity of the instrumental here. When growls replace screams, there is a marked improvement. But the cries of the verse sections do little good, and quickly become a distraction from the beautifully constructed guitars. As the shackles come off on "A Plague Of Nightmares," you have periods of pure black metal, in all of its high speed glory. The precision of both guitars and drums is uncanny, the two coming together to form a foundation that would be ideal for any vocal style.

But as the as almost child-like screams wrestle for control of the song, it is obvious where the weak link lies. Unable to completely bury the vocal performance, the instrumental must do an unfair amount of the work simply to keep the track above water. While asking for a miracle might seem counterproductive, their prayers are answered, thanks to deft fret work and lightning speed on the drum programming. By now, the central theme of the album has been realized in full, and perhaps light shed on the nature of the hiatus. The closing track is more of the same story, for better and for worse. "A Sea of Trees" has a an interesting way of changing your perspective of the album as a whole, giving you flashes of vocal free prowess, all of which come through with skill and clarity. There are so many subtle and unique elements at play here, that it becomes a battle of good against evil, with the vocal layer taking on the role of evil incarnate. They once again infuse a piano melody into the mix, providing a reprieve from the unbearable scream fest that comes both before and after. It's place now known, the vocals leave before te track is over, allowing for a smooth ending.

Rarely do you find a band with such an uneven dispersal of talent as Cailleach. Mike Lamb and Joe Russell have put onto recorded media a firestorm of guitars, bass, drums, and piano keys. On it's own, it would be an album worth of instrumentals that we would look back on time and time again, as a "this is how it's done" reminder. They both boast the speed, attention to detail and abilities to create a staggeringly intricate album from the ground up. But with each vocal passage, their share of the weight increases and it becomes that much harder to recover. Maybe at the front of an emo band, vocalist Aidan Grau would thrive; when it is less about the sound and more about the feeling of it all. But here, with so much more talent on board, and a set of lyrics that are more rich and full of depth that mindless screams could ever portray, he stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. And his lackluster addition, for all of the troubles it causes within the mix and the album as a whole, still can't hold Lamb and Russell back. Whatever the reason is for the indefinite hiatus this act is under, a return could be monumental. With a new voice at the helm, "Aokigahara" would be a classic that would cement the name for years to come.

7/10

Bandcamp - http://cailleach.bandcamp.com/