Is it coincidence or intention that Gabriel Saloman‘s last two albums have been released in November? The sound of the former Yellow Swans artist is tailor-made for this time of year: dark, moody, conflicted. In our last two reviews, we commented on the artist’s use of military drums; as if playing to his strength, Saloman now brings the association to the front lines. Soldier’s Requiem sounds like a battlefield surveyed by a sole living combatant. The soldier wanders through the wheat, using a rifle as a crutch. Corn husks hide corpses, yanked by birds of prey.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For 18 minutes – the entirety of the gorgeous “Mine Field” – percussion is absent. Instead, a series of atonal piano notes leads to an unhinged stagger of strings. Is this the skeleton on the cover, death producing thin tones of life? As a series of drones rise softly in the smoke, the resulting impression is that all is not lost (although most of it is). The drums only appear once the listener is lulled into a sullen, melancholic fugue, like a shell-shocked warrior unable to read a compass. And when they enter, their sound is all we hear.
It’s tempting to call a track that features only drums a “drum solo”, but “Marching Time” is more properly termed a drum composition. Such a thing is rarely found on a dark ambient album, and it’s a shocker here. At 3:34, it’s the length of a single, but it operates as a wake-up call, or a memory. The man was once a soldier; he is always a soldier. Such a fact can be considered either encouraging or defeating, depending on one’s outlook. Either way, the drums provide the courage needed to walk through the fire, rain and rumble of “Boots on the Ground”, in which the field recordings play as crucial a role as the pensive guitar. Six minutes into the quarter-hour track, the drums reappear, marching into a steam of feedback. An enemy is about. At first this enemy seems defeated, but subsequently resurges. Now only “Cold Haunt” remains.
The title Soldier’s Requiem seems to indicate that the album looks back on war through the eyes and ears of a soldier, whose experience leaves him haunted and hollow-eyed. But shift the perspective a bit, and the album becomes a requiem for a soldier, who is less haunted than haunting, still roaming the battlefield after the war has claimed his life. Under this interpretation, “Cold Haunt” becomes the long, unending farewell, the inability to move on. By leaving the interpretation open, Saloman has created a work that lingers in the mind long after its final notes have ended. (Richard Allen)