Monday 15 August 2016

ALBUM REVIEW: SubRosa - "For This We Fought the Battle of Ages"

By: Dan Brownson

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 26/08/2016
Label: Profound Lore

If you love really emotionally charged hard hitting music, give this record a listen. I had very high expectations of this record, and those expectations were met and then exceeded.

“For This We Fought the Battle of Ages” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1). Despair Is a Siren,
2). Wound of the Warden,
3). Black Majesty,
4). Il Cappio,
5). Killing Rapture,
6). Troubled Cells

The Review:

If you've been paying much attention to the underground doom/sludge metal scene in the last few years, then you've probably heard of SubRosa, an unusual quintet from Salt Lake City, Utah, boasting two highly skilled violinists (in addition to the more traditional guitar, bass, and drums). After toiling in relative obscurity for several years, 2011's “No Help for the Mighty Ones”, the band's second full length, gained some notice. The next record, “More Constant Than the Gods” then really catapulted them onto the international metal stage. With its further refined atmospheres, arrangements, and ancient feel, the record garnered them more of the recognition they deserved.

I have to admit, given that I loved “More Constant Than the Gods”, I was very curious how they'd follow up such a tremendous record. In “For This We Fought the Battle of Ages”, I suppose I have my answer.

The album opens with "Despair Is a Siren," which some fans who caught them on their recent tour with Cult of Luna may recognize. The song, and with it the album, begins with an almost innocent, serene quiet, before gradually getting more ominous until a full-on cataclysmic crescendo. The rage and, indeed, despair of the vocal line sets the tone for the rest of the album. Like the second song, it's quite lengthy, occupying the entirety of the first side (side "Rose") of the record.

Up next (on side "Lily of the Valley") is "The Wound of the Warden," a song that's been released early for a peek at what the album sounds like. Immediately the band settle into a mid tempo groove from which they expand further sonic textures, including some very nice vocal harmonies, before gradually getting heavier, off-setting bassist Levi Hanna's screamed backing vocals with guitarist Rebecca Vernon's clean main vocal line, using different lyrics in an almost Neurosis-esque manner. A clean prelude of harmonized singing between Rebecca and violinist Kim Pack precedes the denouement, with Rebecca adopting the defiant, accusatory tone to her vocals I loved so much on the last album's track "Fat of the Ram." Where that song got more hopeful, however, this one only gets darker. Given the lyrical content here, I believe the march-like feel at the end is quite intentional.

"Black Majesty," the first song on the side "Henbane" of the double-LP, begins with a radical departure. Accompanied by no rhythm, only violin soundscapes, Rebecca sings what sounds like a sweet, carefree melody, which, jarringly, contains the darkest lyrical content yet on either this record or anything I've heard from this band. The effect is a very unsettling, creepy sense of mental/emotional dissonance. Naturally, it's followed by a pounding, heavy rhythm, which soon enough is broken up by another quiet segment of cheerful duet singing between Kim and Rebecca, preceding an even angrier and slower crescendo. The use of light textures with dark lyrics, interspersed with some of the heaviest music so far on this album creates some real mood whiplash. This is not easy listening music, as the entire song's lyrics are phrased in the form of questions. Very uncomfortable ones.

Following this emotionally demanding track is "Il Cappio," an interlude much like "House Carpenter," on “No Help for the Mighty Ones”, this one consisting entirely of violinist Sarah Pendleton's voice accompanied by lyre. It's enough of a musical contrast for the listener to breathe, but not to escape the dark theme of this record.

"Killing Rapture" opens the final side ("Wormwood") of the album. Over the top of a slow, plodding, monumental riff, Rebecca's voice soars with more word painting, a serene, nearly emotionless tone matching the subject of the lyrics. A sudden shift in tempo breaks the heavy serenity with a sense of frantic panic, as if of a mind only suddenly coming to realize the hell it is trapped in and struggling to get out. However, we return to the previous tempo, as if the rebellion in the bridge section has been coldly crushed. On the album closer, "Troubled Cells," there is a saxophone solo in the intro, giving a feel like walking through a dark city downtown on a sombre, rainy night. Combined with the violin and guitar soundscapes, it's a very eerie noir atmosphere. This precedes the main lyrical content, which is a tragic response to the rest of the album, with a truly moving multi-vocal/lyric climax.

The version I reviewed is the vinyl double LP version. Very nice artwork, as usual. Each of the sides has names, separate from track names, as mentioned earlier, and each also has its own individualized artwork.

When I received this album, I did the whole reading along to the lyrics thing and the experience left me shaken. “For This We Fought the Battle of Ages” is a brutal record, though not in the way the term is usually used in the metal scene. My only criticism is the same biased one I have for virtually all metal records, make the bass louder, but only very slightly in this case (I am myself a bassist), as the sound, like its predecessor, is very good. I know reviews are supposed to contain criticisms as well as praises, and while I might say that I would like to hear more of the things I really loved, like the several vocal lines at once spots, having more of them might lessen their impact. Honestly I think this is the most bold and vulnerable vocal work that Rebecca Vernon and SubRosa as a whole have done yet.

I may not be the most objective person to do a review, given that I already really like this band, but I had very high expectations, and those expectations were met and then exceeded. The songs are individually great, but the effect of the whole album, played all the way through, is greater. If you love really emotionally charged hard hitting music, give this record a listen. If you're looking for feel-good party jams, maybe look elsewhere (still listen to this record though). Earlier I've described SubRosa as sounding like some lost, ancient civilization... but on this record I suspect that said lost civilization is our own.

“For This We Fought the Battle of Ages” is available here

Band info: facebook || bandcamp

RIYL: Yob, Neurosis, Chelsea Wolfe, Julie Christmas