Wrekmeister Harmonies has scored as high as #2 on one of ACL’s year-end charts; Godspeed You! Black Emperor has hit #1. So what in the world are the two of these artists doing together? It’s just not fair!
The GY!BE members are not the only ones to join JR Robinson and Esther Shaw this time out, but even with other guest musicians thrown in, Light Falls is more scaled-back than its thirty-piece predecessor. The increased use of vocals (parried by long instrumental sections) compares favorably with the latest Swans effort, which lacked thematic cohesion. No such fate befalls Wrekmeister Harmonies, who again draws its inspiration from loss. The title is inspired by Primo Levi’s Auschwitz meditation If This Was a Man, while much of the album bears the weight of a disintegrated relationship. The only questionable moment arrives late in the album, with the repeated “There is no God!” ~ the problem being that it’s such a typical utterance for such an atypical artist. The set will recover strong, but bear a sour taste.
Fortunately, Wrekmeister Harmonies revels in the sour, going where few dare to venture. Even heavy metal artists tend to avoid some of the topics that the band has addressed, or fail to do so in believable fashion. This band is unafraid to stare into the eye of the abyss, or even to stab it. The long, loud sludge of “Light Falls II: The Light Burns Us All” (the second part of a triptych) bears witness to the unbearable. In the end, we just keep marching on. The third part seems a throwback to prior works, an ambient first half matched by the crunch of the second: calm and chaos, rather than the other way around. Life may turn to mud, but it remains painfully (and perhaps to this artist) pointlessly bearable. One should expect only cold comfort from Wrekmeister Harmonies, yet one will find it here in the odd moments of beauty and grace: the violin of “The Gathering”, the broken voice that follows the scream.
“To never be held in my arms again,” whispers Robinson on “Where Have You Been My Lovely Son”, a wrenching song about a broken filial bond. Those who have never been there can never imagine the pain. Tonally, the song is reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Goodbye, Cruel World”, lyrically to Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”. It’s the most direct that Robinson has ever been, finally exposing his own heart rather than attempting to understand and dissect the hearts of others. In the reprise, it all falls apart: pride, ambition, art. We cannot fault the loss of faith; we can only marvel at the strength it must have taken to lay it out for all to see. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 16 September
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Nick Blinko did the artwork from Rudimentary Peni. Worth mentioning.