Friday, August 26, 2016

SubRosa - For This We Fought the Battle of Ages

By Justin C. I read a blurb about SubRosa's new album, For This We Fought the Battle of Ages, that irked me a little. The writer basically said SubRosa was talented, but boring and repetitive. I wasn't irked because I disagreed, but because it was clear this person hadn't actually listened to the album.
By Justin C.

Artwork by Glyn Smyth @ Stag & Serpent

I read a blurb about SubRosa's new album, For This We Fought the Battle of Ages, that irked me a little. The writer basically said SubRosa was talented, but boring and repetitive. I wasn't irked because I disagreed, but because it was clear this person hadn't actually listened to the album. On the other hand, I myself was initially wary--the album is heavily front-loaded, with the first three songs taking up nearly 45 minutes of its 64-minute run time. I ultimately came to the realization that this album might be a bit difficult to approach for those used to more immediate gratification, so I'm going to be a little schoomarmish and tell you not only why you should listen to this, but also how you should listen to this. There are no two ways about it--you have to sit and focus on this album. This is doom, but it's a particular kind of doom with an intricacy that doesn't yield itself up to scattered attention.

Photo by François Carl Duguay.

A superficial listen to the first track, with its warm bass intro, simple guitar figure, and hauntingly pretty vocals might lull you, but you have to listen further, in a weird sense of that word. Remember that this band has two violists, and they're not just used for texture. They twist around each other, in and out of harmony, sometimes bowed, sometimes plucked, but always important. Check out their diving lines in "Killing Rapture." I admit that I started to flag at this point, but the violins’ part in building the intensity of the song kicked my butt back into the thick of things. There's a bombast here, sometimes as much orchestral as metal, but it's not like a giant timpani drum pounding in your face. It's more of an irresistible undercurrent.

Photo by François Carl Duguay.

Listen to the vocals. Sometimes, it sounds like Rebecca Vernon is going to go for the cliche, like in "Black Majesty" when she sings, "Isn't it good to be / acquainted with darkness." Oh, great, you might think, high school goth poetry. But Vernon twists around by following it up with, "to caress it gently, to slit its throat." That’s not where I expected that to go. The words themselves aren't only interesting, but the delivery is as well. Vernon often pushes her voice to what I call her "proclamation" mode, still clean but pushing toward a harsher sound, but the harmonies with her bandmates are also to die for. When she sings about "The self-assurance of the pure," there's a lovely vocal dance over that last word. (I know you can't see it, but I drew some awesome wiggly lines in my notes to mark this. I'm a true professional.)

Photo by François Carl Duguay.

And I haven't even started in on the guest appearances by flute and sax, and even a lyre on "Il Cappio" (Italian for "The Noose"), or the fact that the album was inspired by a Russian dystopian novel from the 1920s, We by Yevgeny Zamayatin. I haven't read the book, and you don't need to in order to enjoy the album. Lyrics like "Choice is too precious / To be wasted on vermin" gives you a very clear idea of the dystopian vibe. That said, I probably will soon, just so I can peel a few more layers back from this music. It's a fascinating concept that inspired a fascinating album. If you need steering wheel-pounding driving music, this isn't going to be for you, but the best way to find out is to sit with it and pay attention.


Tagged with 2016, doom metal, François Carl Duguay, Justin C, Profound Lore Records, sludge metal, stoner metal, SubRosa
2 comments:
  1. This is an excellent band. After listening to a couple of tracks, I ordered their CD. Looking forward to hearing them in person. Thanks for writing about them.

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    1. Thanks for reading and listening (and buying).

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