It almost feels gratuitous to write extensively about a two track EP, particularly when the second track is a distillation of the first track by an outside source, but in this instance I firmly believe that this 16-odd minutes of music very definitely warrants significant verbiage; the thing is just so fucking good, and taken as an extension of Vow‘s previous EP (the excellent Gentle Decline) it is hard to not simply want to pull the piece apart. In detail.
Firstly, the title track is 13 minutes long; I love long songs, but even those that don’t will love this. That time flies by in a snap of the fingers, due to the sheer weight and intrigue of the music. What helps here, too, is the production. Everything sits in the perfect position to pull you in, or push you back, and to simply enable you to fall into the realm of collapse the band have constructed. The track leaps into existence with a knowing throb; an ebb and flow apparently driven by electronics, with layer upon layer of density. I’m not sure whether this was created through synth lines with acoustic instruments (with layers of effects), or whether it’s all acoustic instrument- but such is the glory of this moment that what becomes here is simply pure experience; a slow paced darkened disco at the edge of decay.
This pulsating lasts for some time, working with layers of increasingly blackened riffing and sharp screams of destruction until, bang, at 4.37 something mesmerising, and incredibly affecting happens – a low, bending, sludge-ridden noise. It’s a riff, but it’s almost not – it’s almost simply notes hit at random and pulled across the fretboard wantonly generating pure emotion; they’re agonising. This moment is agonising. There’s something wonderfully cinematic about all of this, this build into collapse. It’s all structural – echoing the notion of degrading built environments, of the crumbling of constucted order, pulling us into slimy filth.
At this point we suddenly get rapid-fire drumming under this loosely played sludge, simple riffs, echoing the catastrophe; Primitive Man-esque riffing, but with a very different intent. Scorched earth drumming – threatening to engulf all in flames. Off hand snare hits calling to mind the hammering of a point, a point which returns again: “This is the end.” The track turns after this – a glassy guitar line, and the return of the glockenspiel I’ve fapped on about when speaking about Gentle Decline. These are now hopeful sounds, imbued with a sense of sorrow despite this. Both the tone of the music, and the note choices echo this sentiment.
We progress to the end with a freeform fuzzy bassline, slinking and reaching upwards – a Tool-like moment of clarity, as if to say to us that we’ve now reached a moment of understanding. Delay drenched guitar driven tremolo picked lines start reaching into the upper psyche of what it could mean to be human; echoing the hopefulness, and the insistence on transcendence that the lyrics espouse (despite this not necessarily being the intention of the group); it’s a trope in a lot of blackened-post but it’s used to such wonderful effect here it simply can’t be any other way. The cut ends on an insistent, strummed, agonising chord imbued with dread and hope simultaneously- a precipice of decision, a moment in time in which we need to choose where and how we move forwards; the changing and shifting, warping, notes underneath dragging us into an awkward eldritichian presence… the apocalypse is here, can we use it to recreate what we are and what we can be.
Once the main event is over we are treated to an All Partial (coincidentally the drummer in Pijn) remix – and it’s glorious. Piano notes are spine tingling, layers are more pronounced and more mournful, excellently juxtaposed with clean vocals. As the piece builds the additional layers bring to mind a coldness, like a glacial frost creeping through the body and into the mind. Where the main version of the track is destruction, this is the ebbing creep of exclusion and sorrow; the foil to the grandiose breaking apart of all, this is the human response to the end when all has slipped away. Choral chanting lends a monastic presence, at once bringing in a spiritual presence- echoing the gods, and beliefs, that those in the throes of loss, of apocalypse, would cling to. Personally I would flip the tracklisting- this would serve as a beautiful intro to the song at large, perhaps sitting between the Gentle Decline EP and this track as a bridge, a gateway. This is the emotional reflection of the events of Gentle Decline, of our reaction; Icarian itself serves as the definitive clarion call to change.
Icarian is out now via Surviving Sounds and can be ordered here.
Words: Simon Young