Review / Blackfold – Solarus

Drone metal is a genre sparse of notes, and even sparser of artists. So with pioneers like Sunn O))) resting on their laurels, and Earth having resigned largely to their opiated country sound for the past decade, there are vacancies open. Not that you’d find yourself empty-handed searching through Bandcamp’s endless netlabels, but with drone metal’s focus on volume and tone, investing in the right gear to achieve a competitive sound can be too great an expense for many DIY musicians. Some are fortunate, including Isaac J Dean, the man behind Blackfold, who was able to secure an affordable Sunn Solarus amp, the sonic and titular foundation of his debut record Solarus, a 68-minute (self-described) ‘EP’ released through UK-based Trepanation Recordings.

Nothing is spared on the record’s build-up in ‘Part I’: a gentle opening of soft airy synth pads and chime flickers that slowly make way for tentative dreamy chords; woeful strings build and as the swelling of soft drones begin to wash over, tranquility is struck with a note of urgency. At around the eight-minute mark, any sense of security is swiftly falsified, when a brief surge of feedback breaks open into an avalanche of down-tuned speaker-bursting guitars worthy of the likes of Conan. Dean is not so much delivering riffs as building monuments, testing the limits of tuning, distortion and amplification to make each note and chord a sonic edifice. Many drone artists eschew drums in composition, but they are present here, serving the lumbering pace of the guitars in a way that is reminiscent of Boris’ 90s releases Absolutego and Amplifier Worship.

‘Part II’ comes like an Acid Western nightmare, with building drums and erratic strings that sound as if they’re climbing up the walls. Across the whole record, the riffs are at the same time euphoric and suffocating, yet Dean loosens his death grip occasionally with dark, atonal passages and some more forgiving ambient ruminations. Beyond obvious influences that Dean himself mentions (Sunn O))), Conan, Bongripper), he also names revered film composers Hans Zimmer and Vangelis. Conceptually, it was Dean’s own struggles of the past four years that were the vehicle for the record’s composition and production. Dean has scored a voyage in two visions; the physical: through a desolate and despairing desertscape; and the mental: through downfall, through loathing and ruination, through repair and ultimately, release.

Solarus is out now via Trepanation Recordings and can be ordered here.

Words: Rory Hughes

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