Today is Veterans Day in the United States, a day to honor those who have served their country with honor. Post-War is an album inspired by a Civil War letter. The album takes its form from Dante’s Divine Comedy, proceeding from Inferno to Purgatorio to Paradiso. The music is a surge of raging guitars and pounding drums, conjuring images of battle and its bittersweet aftermath. Letterpress packaging matches feel with sound; this is one of the most thought-out releases of the year.
One can read the full text of the letter here; Lieutenant Colonel Wilder Dwight begins writing to his mother before the battle of September 17, 1862, and finishes it as he lies dying. In like fashion, the album begins confidently, heroically, full of hope; but only a few minutes in, the battle begins. “Quiet Like a Knife” is a fitting title for the mixed emotions of war, as danger lies just around the bend. In the final seconds, the white hiss of tinnitus cuts through the mist; an explosion of mortar. Dwight’s words shift from “I am well so far” to “I am wounded.” Now there is time, however brief and unpredictable, for reflection.
“I think I die in victory,” writes Dwight. “God defend our country.” Sadly, he continues with a forlorn observation: “Our troops have left the part of the field where I lay – “. Imagining the soldier’s liminal existence, Last Builders of Empire enters the Purgatorio segment of the album, a spiritual battle to mirror the physical battle that has already taken place. The souls are adrift. Final prayers are being said: repentances and railings, petitions and pleas. Through it all, this fallen soldier is approaching something like peace, offering love to family and trust in God. “While I Lay” is as calm as insight, single notes landing like psalms. But by the middle of “Huida Hacia El Sol” (“Escape to the Sun”), the timbre has grown as thick as smoke on a battlefield, with long, deep bass notes and sludge-drenched guitars; and by the end of this piece, everything seems to be falling apart. This is the heart of the album. Everything that follows – even when loud – is resolution.
The two tracks of the final segment (or more accurately, a prelude and a final piece) directly echo the last words of the soldier, who concludes, “All is well with those who have faith”, then dies. These words, and the entire letter, have been a source of comfort to many outside of Dwight’s family, as they have been read by generation after generation. And while Last Builders of Empire is unable to provide his eternal reward (the province of the Almighty), they can offer its soundtrack, and they do. Calm melodies offer the comfort of a life well lived. The instruments find peace with each other, as Dwight’s soul finds peace with God. All is well. (Richard Allen)