Friday 23 January 2015

If These Trees Could Talk - Above the Earth. Below the Sky Reissue (Album Review)

Album Type: Full-Length
Date Released: Reissue 27/1/2015
Label: Metal Blade Records

‘Above the Earth. Below the Sky’ CD//DD track listing:

1). From Roots To Needles
2). What's in the Ground Belongs to You
3). Terra Incognita
4). Above the Earth
5). Below the Sky
6). The Sun is in the North
7). Thirty-Six Silos
8). The Flames of Herostratus
9). Rebuilding the Temple of Artemis
10). Deus Ex Machina

If These Tree Could Talk is:

Zack Kelly | Drums
Tom Fihe | Bass
Jeff Kalal | Guitar
Cody Kelly | Guitar
Michael Socrates | Guitar


The bands name properly denotes what one could expect from it, with the track titles beautifully playing along with that theme. As a whole, the listen feels like a very cohesive journey with the created textures suggesting vast open expanses or excursions through deep dark woods. At times there’s an ambience of Midwest longing and at other times it feels very focused and intent on taking you somewhere, culminating in a strong sense of some newly-discovered insight. The band has achieved all this with quite succint methods which is not to say that they lack any. Ultimately some motives are rehashed but on the whole the band bring plenty of variation in song structure and emotion via their diverse palete of riff tones that the ocassionally similar solutions never disturb the whole.

There is some patience asked on behalf of the listener, although even the lengthier tracks pass by unnoticed, none of them surpassing the 8-minute mark. The undercurrents heard never lead you on for too long though, and often you might be taken aback by the abundant delivery but the only option is to hold on for the ride. The textures are always quite thick and don’t give too much headspace.

The first track, ’From Roots To Needles’ is a perfect example of this, starting off by building anticipation for the upcoming turbulence and doesn’t leave you waiting for long, cutting right to the chase. A lot of diversity in sounds here, right off the bat. Bursting riffs here give a very strong foundation while some of the feedback beautifully sculpts the surroundings. The slightly abrupt ending leaves you feeling the song could’ve easily been developed to go off on an even longer departure, but the screeching of the guitars turn you towards anticipating more.

The following track doesn’t leave you waiting around for long. ’What’s In The Ground Belongs To You’ feels very sure of itself and the direction it’s going to take you. It also hints at what to expect from the rest of the album, the fluctuating guitars creating layered textures along with very strong riffs rounding it out.

’Terra Incognita’ is a short interlude that carries with it a sense of wandering around a forest and glancing at the tall spruces as pictured on the (original) cover. It shortly eases into a second interlude ’Above The Earth’ which steadily builds anticipation, soaring to greater heights. The outro leaving a certain feeling that there’s  real belter
’Below The Sky’, being also the longest, is definitely the backbone of the album,. It wastes no time picking the pace right up with a very strong sense of a build-up, the fluttering guitars creating a tense structure that’s immediately absorbing. The conjoined guitars continually oscillating in between the drumming, at times dissolving into vastness, then consolidating and coming together to craft a thick soundspace. Delicate, shoegazy guitars initiate an abrubt second build-up at the end of the track, leaving you with a sense of impending cataclysm. When the riffs come back they’re more ferocious and immersive than ever, letting you know there’s nowhere to go but down with the ship. The wavering guitar feedback at the end implicating itself as the only possible way to somehow set this beast down in its intensity.

’The Sun Is In The North’ is a totally different sort of creature that seems to take a much more tentative approach. It’ll soon convince you otherwise, when the occasional riff sequences come in, providing you with a notion that you can’t be quite sure of what might happen next. A suspension-creating build-up unfolds, bringing this one to an end.

The album is at its most visceral on ’Thirty-Six Silos’, which is easily my favourite off the album. It eases in real sleekly and instanty sets into its’ inconsolate tone. Guitars here are downright quivering with a suppleness to them that wouldn’t go amiss on a shoegaze record. They come to an ominous lull, which is introduced at midway point, which starts to shape the course for a most tumultous ending, the guitars here sounding more salient than ever. The briefly sounding cymbals then reflect a sort of inarticulate admission of some uncomfortable truth before an unrelenting mixture of blaring riffs take hold that seem intent on razing everything to the ground. At the wake of the onslaught a pleading cry resounds in the background, like the call of some wild animal in the distance that remains unseen. (as a sidenote: There’s a very well made fan video available on Youtube set to historical footage of 20th century that I highly recommend checking out. The mixture of music and visuals is perfectly fitting, acting as a meditation on some of the absurdity of modern mankind.)

Befittingly, the advent of ’The Flames Of Herostratus’ is the calm after the storm. The guitar plucks at first evoke aimlessness reminiscent of floating somewhere along the skyline or gazing afar. It expands into a different focus though and the end of this track introduces an approach yet-to-be-heard. It’s the only time on the album when the composition explicitly aims to be uplifting. The guitars meander for a bit until the feedback wavers off into the distance.

’Rebuilding The Temple Of Artemis’ shortly establishes itself as a return to having a similarly focused arrangement that the initial tracks featured. The drumming here is most articulate and as a whole the resonance is more unsettling compared to the two tracks that it has been positioned between. The riffs on this thing clobber quite ferociously until the atmospheric fade-out calls their piercings to a halt.

The album is rounded out by ’Deus Ex Machina’ which finds the band at their most soothing and acts as a contemplation at the wake of the devastation left behind. Here, the unrelenting riffs have been exchanged  in favour of serene plucking. To me, the guitar tone here again evokes strong sylvan associations. The album title here seems most fitting as the bands intentions seem have been set right on evoking a sense of drifting off weightlessly somewhere above the earth but below the sky.

As the band themselves have noted in interviews, they aren’t exactly subject to categorization, falling somewhere between the post-rock and (post-)metal spectrum. Ultimately their guitar sound is nowhere near typical post-rock and they do not implement lightly the typical swelling crescendos that most instrumental bands are known (and widely reproached) for. With their atmospherically intense approach they manage to create world of their own, quite seemingly deriving inspiration from the natural world around them. At that, this debut album is of epic proportions.

A most-recommended release to anyone with a keen ear for captivating storytelling.

Words by: Joosep Nilk

You can pick up a copy here.

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