By Justin C. When I see band with a "for fans of" list that includes Godflesh, Slowdive, and Alice in Chains, I really have no choice but to check it out. That's how Angela Martyr's debut, The November Harvest, was described in promo materials. I'll give you my bias up front: Alice in Chains is probably one of my favorite bands, so this review will no doubt be colored by that factBy Justin C.
When I see band with a "for fans of" list that includes Godflesh, Slowdive, and Alice in Chains, I really have no choice but to check it out. That's how Angela Martyr's debut, The November Harvest, was described in promo materials. I'll give you my bias up front: Alice in Chains is probably one of my favorite bands, so this review will no doubt be colored by that fact. Most bands trying to pull off that influence would get a stern talking to from me when they failed to do AIC justice, but I'm happy to report that Angela doesn't have to get a tongue lashing.
Morgan Bellini is the main man behind Angela Martyr, but listening to his previous project, Vanessa Van Basten (see here and here, for example), will do very little to give you a sense of Angela Martyr. As far as the "for fans of..." statement goes, it's actually a decent summing up, if a bit reductive. The vocals immediately call Layne Staley to mind. Check out "Georgina," for example, and tell me there's not a hefty dose of Alice in Chains, both vocally and musically there. There are plenty of other spots where their unmistakable sound is an influence, but luckily, Angela Martyr isn't just a retread.
I'm not sure about the Godflesh part of the description--I probably would have cited Jesu instead, as the music tends to have that glacially heavy undertow of Justin Broadrick's early Jesu work--but reasonable people can disagree about which Broadrick project they hear the most. If forced to be mathematical about it, I probably would write the equation AIC + Jesu = Angela Martyr, but as I hinted at before, bands that can be that easily reduced aren't usually very interesting ones, and Angela Martyr is deceptively complex.
Mood-wise, The November Harvest carries you along on a wave of Alice in Chains-style darkness, but without delving into the utter bleakness that band often conjured. Melancholy, and maybe a bit druggy at times, sure, but the bottom never really drops out. The electronic instrumentation--call it Jesu influenced or Slowdive shoegazy or some combination of both--helps buoy the sound as well, giving the whole thing an almost-poppy feel at times. I think the combination of those two elements is what makes this such an engaging listen, rather than something that could have easily just become a grunge throwback. There's not a huge variety over the tracks, but letting it wash over you as a single musical statement isn't a bad way at all to spend 47 minutes.
The 13-plus-minute closer and title track is a bit of an odd duck. It more or follows what's come before, with the exception of a long interlude in the middle that kind of sounds like...slow carousel music? The soundtrack to fairies cavorting in the woods? On first listen, I confess, I kind of hated it, but I sort of learned to surrender to it on repeat listens. Intellectually, I can't really tell you what it's doing there or why, but it's an interesting twist in an album otherwise so consistent.
So what would my "for fans of" statement for this album read? I kind of hate those because they're usually a disappointment, but if you're looking for something that conjures that psychedelic but still metal sound--a place Alice in Chains dwelt--but without trying to be as crushing and dissonant as the music we usually review here, you'd do well to check Angela Martyr out.