August 30, 2017

Cavernlight - As We Cup Our Hands and Drink from the Stream of Our Ache

By Justin C. I remember a discussion with a friend, probably over 20 years ago now, as to whether anyone had ever truly captured the experience of mental illness in a piece of writing. The answer was a solid...maybe? Fyodor Dostoevsky?
By Justin C.


I remember a discussion with a friend, probably over 20 years ago now, as to whether anyone had ever truly captured the experience of mental illness in a piece of writing. The answer was a solid...maybe? Fyodor Dostoevsky? William Faulkner? Emily Dickinson? Sylvia Plath? That's a decent short list, but the lingering issue was the fact that so many people seem to completely misunderstand mental illness and the experience of it. Anybody can sympathize with physical pain, but mental pain? Even now, a decent chunk of the public see psychological pain as something that's not as real as diabetes or cancer, and that fatal outcomes from that pain, especially with the recent suicides of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, seem to elude the understanding--and worse yet, the sympathy or empathy--of so many.

Cavernlight, initially formed by Adam Bartlett (Gilead Media mastermind) and Scott Zuwadzhi, may have come as close to distilling the essence of mental anguish into a work of art as I've heard, achieving something that I often wondered if I could capture myself so many years ago. That's quite an extreme position to take, I know, and I'm sure an obnoxious Facebook debate could be started about what albums truly do this, and since art is subjective, there may be valid other opinions, but I don't think anything has struck me as quite as powerful as the band's As We Cup Our Hands and Drink from the Stream of Our Ache.

The music itself evades easy categorization. It's maybe closest in genre to funeral doom, but that's a vast oversimplification. The music is minimal, in its way. Aching melodies are painstakingly formed from just a few notes played at glacial tempos. The vocals, thanks to a range of guest contributors, covers a large pallette. Rachel N. (of False) lends her inimitable roars, Michael Paparo (of Inter Arma) joins in, and Sarah Green adds her haunting, harmonized clean vocals (and cello) to what might be the most powerful track, album closer, "A Shell of One's Former Self."

The notes I made while listening seem inadequate to the task of detailing the music. There are many beautiful moments, releases of pain and frustration, but listing them won't give you much of an idea of what the album is about. Thematically, you can read more about these "5 movements detailing a life that is lived suffering through severe, crippling anxiety and the burden of mental illness" on the album's Bandcamp page, but even then.... This is a harrowing listen. It's music I found both compelling and at times viscerally difficult to listen to, sometimes at the same time. This is the painting you see at a museum that makes you feel something churning in your gut, maybe a feeling beyond words, and although it's not something you'd want on your living room wall, you can't get it out of your mind. It's a release, a burden, and an exorcism all at once, and although the fact that it's firmly extreme metal necessarily limits its audience, I doubt I'll be the only person haunted by it.

Tagged with 2017, Cavernlight, doom metal, drone, Gilead Media, Justin C, post-metal
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