Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Occultation - Silence in the Ancestral House (Album Review)

Album Type: Full length
Date Released: 14/10/2014
Label: Profound Lore

'Silence in the Ancestral House' CD/DD  track listing:

1. Intro (01:22)
2. The First Of The Last (06:21)
3. Laughter In The Halls Of Madness (05:06)
4. All Hallow’s Fire (05:39)
5. The Place Behind The Sky (07:37)
6. The Dream Tide (05:50)
7. Intermission (01:17)
8. Forever Hereafter (07:51)
9. Silence In The Ancestral House (0843)

Occultation is:

A.L. | Bass, Vocals
V.B. | Drums. Vocals
E.M. | Guitars, Organ, Vocals 


'Silence in the Ancestral House' is the second full length by New York trio Occultation, proudly released on the venerable Profound Lore label. Anyone familiar with Profound Lore's catalogue will be familiar with founder and main man Chris Bruni's taste in metal and his incredible knack for promoting groundbreaking and fearless bands of varying degrees of excellence. Occultation has joined this roster.

This then begs the question of what Occultation do to deserve a place among the freakishly inimitable bands they find are now their peers. Summing it up is pretty difficult without mentioning the unique vibe the band creates from its unassuming component parts. Ostensibly a power trio playing NWOBHM infused Sabbathian doom riffs that could have been written at any point in the last 30 years, the band coat their sound in a dense layer of reverb that proves to be a game changer.

This reverb feels as thick as fog on the Yorkshire moors, conjuring at once the scent of incense and sepulchral mould. While Acid Mothers Temple would use this to take you on a journey through space, Occultation lead you through torch lit subterranean catacombs at the deliberate pace of an arcane ritual. Seriously, this reverb is like looking into a crystal ball. It's an instrument unto itself, and if I had to choose whether the album would suffer more by losing the reverb or the vocals then I would be hard pressed to answer.

Not to knock the vocals, the band does them damn well. Main vocals are wonderfully clean and imperfect, sitting in the mix unassuming with femininity being used to add depth to the sound rather than define it. On this last point I should confess my prejudice against the over prominence of female vocals in my obscure metal. While bands such as Blood Ceremony and Windhand thrive with characterful upfront female vocals, in others the temptation seems to be to belt them out, presumably with the intention of blowing cobwebs from the ceiling, yet inevitably define the band to the detriment of the whole (see Royal Thunder, Witch Mountain). The difference is having a great band with a well fitting vocalist, to what sounds like an attention-hungry diva that brought her backing band along. Whilst not an entirely gender specific issue, in doom circles the tendency is to take pride in female vocal ostentation far more than male. Occultation join bands such as Subrosa and Giant Squid in demonstrating the use of female vocals to beautiful and subtle effect.

The band's characteristic schtick is its preoccupation with the occult, that which lies beyond the fringes of society and consciousness. Clearly harkening back a few decades for chief musical inspiration, Occultation manages to sound retro, modern and timeless all at once, aided greatly by the organic production courtesy of Converge's Kurt Ballou.

The end result is interesting; with its melody creating a mirage of accessibility that only briefly masks the character of 'Silence in the Ancestral House'. And what is this character? An intangible dread in the music, a lingering darkness that creeps into your peripheral vision yet disperses the moment you try to identify it. This is impressive, because if you strip away the reverb, the cover art, suggestive song titles, all those trappings of dark psychedelia, what do you have? An early 80's hard rock trio with a penchant for evil melodies.

It is at this point that I'll confess I don't believe the strengths of 'Silence in the Ancestral House' lie in its individual songs themselves; songs drift from one part to the next, rarely allowing the crescendos to punch or dynamic shifts to affect the listener. Here we see the all consuming atmosphere of the LP work as a double edged sword, with the cloudy reverb laden tones acting as both the foundations and glass ceiling of the album's success.

That aside, this album is worth listening to for its character alone. If Death's 'Leprosy' is the closest you can get to the sound of being eaten by zombies, then 'Silence in the Ancestral House' is the sound of turning to see the rictus of death slowly approaching. A dread not so visceral but one all the colder.

Words by: Jake Mazlum

You can pick up a copy here

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