October 17, 2013

A Storm of Light - Nations to Flames

Written by Red.

I remember reading interviews with bands in the mid to late 90's. Usually, the topic of discussion was their newest full-length. There would be remarks about how different it was and how troubled they were at the prospect of repeating themselves. They were also confident that they had done something new and transcended their past work.

My argument was always something like this: don't worry about replicating the results exactly, just try to match the feel. In other words, get the vibe right and let things flow from there. Whether or not a record is "good" will always come down to the riffs. But usually, there is a palpable sense (from the listener's side) that the band was feeling something, whether it's motivation, anger, other emotion, etc.

To me, A Storm of Light has captured the sound and energy of early Mastodon. It starts with the theme of Nations to Flames . Fire imbues this record from front to back, even to the cover art. It is referenced in the lyrics. It is ever-present and inescapable in the instrumentation.

Photo by Taylor Keahey

The band is categorized as doom metal/post-rock. Generally, there was a specific type of ambiance that was present in the band's music prior to this record. They pursued a sound somewhat similar to Pelican and bands of their ilk. Now, that ambiance has been excised. What we have here are 11 tracks that go for the throat (with maybe two exceptions at most) from beginning to end.

A Storm of Light also has the benefit of surprise on their side. Can anyone say they expected the band to drop the atmospheric part of their sound and produce a record like Nations to Flames? I doubt it. I wouldn't have bet on such a thing. And that surprise is integral to the record's impact. Surprise and directness make a good combination.

Though the songs are penned by the band, they have a couple guests on guitar, Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) and Will Lindsay (Indian, ex-Nachtmystium). Since there are a number of tracks they appear on, it is safe to say that they have an influence on the direction of the record, whereas on previous albums the guest parts might not have taken it to another place. "All the Shining Lies", for example, uses a riff that betrays heavy Thayil influence.

From Josh Graham art exhibition. Photo by Taylor Keahey

Band guitarist Josh Graham was known for his involvement with Neurosis as visual artist. He has created an intriguing and evocative set of artwork to go with the album, which is available as a PDF with the digital download. The lyrics appear to be hastily scrawled, along with a miniature manifesto describing human greed and other failings. The cover itself shows a cadre of "true believers" burning the American flag. Within the rest of the liner notes, these people are shown in various positions against a background of fire. And the last page shows the eyes of one particular true believer, hooded and masked.

Nations to Flames is consistent in theme and attack; its directness and revolutionary-leaning rhetoric make it a resonant album in turbulent times.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]
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