There is a subtle beauty to the way music is made and the way bands repeat their production cycle. If all goes smoothly, you can count on a new album every two years or so, with the obvious exceptions to the rule. It makes sense, as fans, to constantly look forward to what is new, while also embracing that which came before. Arctic Sleep put out one of our favorite albums of 2012, with their ten track epic Arbors. Now, like clockwork, we are greeted with familiar and excellent news of a new release. Immediately upon viewing the artwork, something has changed. To call the cover art, done by the talented Jennifer Weiler, elegant would be a sore understatement. But in chorus with the music it so serendipitously represents, you have a combination of grace, beauty, and monstrous ability that is not to be trifled with.
Something that did translate over from the last release, however, is how easy it is to find yourself nodding along to the riffs constructed on The Staircase. While every drum beat pounds through your speakers, each subsequent transition remains smooth and well pieced together. It is, after all, these touches that allow the album to grow effortlessly and still come off as accessible. Keith's vocal are as good as ever, matched here with the occasional female counterpart. Emily Jancetic, who provides that sweet to his sullen, sees her voice become an essential additive to the mix, especially on Terra Vindicta. She gives contrast to both Keith's lower range, and the bruising riffs and drum beats that follow in the break. What is noticeable is how varied and yet cohesive the tracks become as time goes by, with the slow cascading Green Dragon inducing a slow nod with every kick drum. It almost isn't fair how far back the depth of sound goes, layer after layer put down on to one another, one piece at a time, until the doom sound shines through in the latter stages.
Not coincidentally, the shortest track on the album finds a renewed energy. At barely over four minutes, short for the genre, Hyperion relies on a sonic boom of percussion to drive things along, without every leaning too heavily on the rhythm section to carry the load. Both vocally and lyrically, there is a lot to enjoy, some of the best work to date. Guitarist Mike Gussis hits one of the catchiest riffs of their catalog as well, syncing up with the machine gun drumming for a big finish. It is on Antipode, though, that the duo, with the help of Jancetic find a post-rock groove to call home. Airy riffs, smooth, harmonized vocals, and a well formed sense of melody are almost too good, and too far reaching. It makes this track, even above the others, the hook for the album at large. By now, it would be almost impossible to turn around, but the title track surrounds you like only a well mixed, well constructed track can. Passage Of Gaia sounds full; not full as in stuffed, but full as in complete. There is nothing out of place, and nothing missing. Just a rolling sea of distorted guitars, drums and soothing vocal lines. When the track descends to a string bending rock epic, it feels slightly less organic.
The two sides of this band shine through clearly on Solar Lament. In the early stages, even the first half as a whole, it is a sullen song, draped with rich cello bows and vocals. You could find a home in its simplicity, albeit a quiet one. but when the eruption comes - and it does - you have a song almost re-envisioned in the second half; blasting drum beats, guitars blaring, and the now howling cello cutting through it all. Two sides of the same coin, both polished to a radiant shine. It stands out as one of the biggest, and perhaps the best transition of the album, highlighting the contrast so deftly. The finale, Destroy The Urn, does what a good album closer should; it ties up the loose ends, while also making you wish there was another chunk of the album tacked on that you hadn't yet reached. Keith and Jancetic strike some of their best harmonies here, two voices at their best pulling you further and further into their web. Gussis lays down a series of simple, yet somehow entrancing riffs underneath their voices, and washes over you one last time.
Like a calming ocean tide, the album doesn't focus on highs and lows to make itself feel more substantial. It is consistent in the best sense of the word, remaining strong and emotive from start to finish. You might say that that is a rare feat in modern music, or music in the digital age at least, but they accomplish that with little effort. Arctic Sleep is a name becoming synonymous with the music they make. There is a chilling effect here, while still relaxing and vibrant. The evolution of the group, in whatever form the leaders choose to make it, will continue with each subsequent release. But I suspect that we have gotten a glimpse as to the current collective thinking, and Passage Of Gaia is a progression of the highest order. And to think, it all begins with the artwork. Elegant, yet powerful.
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