“Time heals all wounds”. It’s the solace people offer when they really don’t know what to say in response to someone’s loss because everyone knows there’s nothing anyone can do. For those who have suffered the loss it can be hurtful. Perhaps they don’t want the wounds to heal. Perhaps they don’t want to forget.
This is the theme of “That Day Last November”, the latest self-recorded and produced album from Austria’s Our Ceasing Voice. It’s intense, dark and moody, employing a rich orchestral sound with a tremendous spacial feel. Most songs have at least some vocals, and these are generally softly sung – almost spoken. On other occasions they are screamed out but brought right back in the mix so they become another instrument amongst the many layers of bitterness and despair.
The opening track ‘Afterglow’ showcases most of the compositional techniques used, starting with chimes over a rising wash of synth that slowly plots a depressing, laboured chord progression before drums enter bringing a wall of guitar. Screaming vocals join in that quickly fade way into the background as the lead vocals appear and take over in the last stages of the four minute song, the shouted harmonies nicely out of synch in the distance.
There’s something disarmingly powerful about loud whispered vocals and screamed quiet harmonies that adds incredible depth to a song. It’s as though one voice is whispering in your ear as the other is down the street screaming at you, with the instruments spaced somewhere in between. Add big, held-back minor chord changes, slow, plodding and sparse drums, a pinch of trombone, some violins, explosions of guitar and you are on the way to a sad and sorrowful musical experience filled with beauty that is palpable.
Track two, ‘Until Your Chest Explodes’ stands out on the record for a few reasons – for a start it’s the best song on the record. It doesn’t follow the same formula as the rest of the songs, instead having an alternative/indie rock feel to it and travelling at a slightly faster tempo. I won’t say all the other songs sound the same but there is a tendency for the rest of the album to lack the variety that ‘Until…’ provides. Apart from being musically different the lyrics don’t obviously fit the story of the day in November, although the theme of time is there.
How much you enjoy the record will depend largely on how you respond to the mix and the singing style used by both lead vocalists Reinhard Obermeir and Matthew Ryan. The straight backing vocals, for instance, are for the most part so inconspicuous you might not even pick up how many tracks have a female voice in them. Sure they make up part of that orchestral layering of sound, but this means the lead vocals drown out much of the detail. Of course if you change the mix and bring out the instruments and other vocals, you would destroy that melancholic sound that Our Ceasing Voice have created so well.
Regardless of which side you sit on in that debate this is a very well composed, played and produced album. With rich full sounds of sadness it rewards close attention but can sit in the background too, and if this is a portent of the quality we can expect from independent, underground music in 2013, then it will be every bit as good as the year the crackpots thought the world would end.
That Day Last November is released 18th January
Posted by Gilbert Potts