On Day Six we proceed in a more orderly fashion through Europe, making pit stops in Germany, Poland and the Ukraine to hear Watered, Sleeping Bear and a cavalcade of Polish talent. In this region we continue to encounter louder, harsher sounds, perhaps a reflection of conditions in some of these areas. But where these sounds exist, we also encounter a sense of energy and excitement ~ more than anything, riffs make us feel alive. These may be albums for headbanging rather than head nodding, but that’s okay with us; we need this outlet, and perhaps the bands do too.
About a month ago we received an email from German label Aentitainment alerting us to the early success of a ten-and-a-half-minute track called “Keratokonus” from an upcoming album by Watered (not to be confused with Slint/Grails band Watter and Cali post-rockers Wander, all releasing albums in the same time frame). The opening track on the band’s sophomore album, Some are born into the endless night, “Keratokonus” had amassed nearly 2000 plays in under a week, a feat virtually unheard of in the field. Okay, we said, we’ll check it out; and we were immediately converted. This was exactly the sort of stuff we were looking for: solid drumming, deep bass, and guitars galore: a series of measured buildups matched by cathartic release. The metal tinge put us over the top. We were overjoyed to find more of the same on the rest of the album, which is comprised of five long tracks (one in two parts), a post-rocker’s dream. “Keratokonus” ends with a robust “Hey!”, while a little screamo pops up on one cut, as it has on other albums we’ve visited this week; but the amount has been greatly reduced since the band’s debut. Watered has morphed into a solid post-rock, post-metal band, and their confidence shows on every cut. The subtle electronics of “Ambiguity Part I” are a smart addition, but “Part II” is even better, measured and deep. The closing minute-and-a-half fulfill the promise of the previous nine. We finally get an interlude on “Vanitas”, but by that time, it’s all right; the band has earned it.
Poland may have more post-rock bands per square mile than any other land. Post-Rock PL‘s 2013 compilation, Lights and Air, featured 24 Polish post-rock bands, and this year’s follow-up, Cold Wind is the Promise of a Storm, includes 20. The label does include “similar genres”, which means some of these bands feature vocals, even screamo. A couple of ambient pieces and some sludge tracks are thrown in as well. But there’s lots of quality instrumental post-rock to go around, typically inflected with hints of metal. The very first cut, Watching Alex‘s “Sounds Like the End of the World”, is a standout, thanks to a strong synthesizer presence. Besides‘ “And if I …” is one of the album’s most subdued tracks, but it succeeds with mood and mystery. Cerebus‘ “Suite” is a track unlike any other on the compilation, a ten-minute piece that includes a section of improvised saxophone and is listed as being only an extract! There’s a lot to wade through, and not everything works, but this is as comprehensive of a national overview as one might hope to encounter. Whatever your taste, there’s something for you here.
It’s hard not to think of recent events in the Ukraine when taking in the melancholic tinge of “The Rise”, the opening track on Sleeping Bear‘s self-titled debut disc. Brother has been pitted against brother, border against border. It’s a tough time for the troubled nation, which makes it a good time for muscular music. This Kiev quartet may have formed only a year ago, but their timing is impeccable. Their brand of classic post-rock is instantly appealing, providing comfort as well as encouragement. In the daytime, this music says, keep fighting. At night, it says, rest now, weary head. Standout track “All That You Love Shall Be Carried Away” may bear a prescient title, but its sound is fully contemporary. Vinyl crackle introduces the guitars and guides them gently through the valleys like a needle in a groove. The introspection of the track also allows the listener to appreciate the speaker-to-speaker drumming, a steady, dependable rhythm like the heart of an embattled nation. By shifting between desolation and hope throughout the album, Sleeping Bear has given the people a soundtrack for their times.