Blackwater Holylight by Blackwater Holylight

Release date: April 6, 2018
Label: RidingEasy Records

As the band name suggests the sound delivered on Blackwater Holylight’s self-titled debut album on RidingEasy Records is packed full of contrasts. Whether its dense drones to sparse, light melodies, thrumming bass to haunting, ethereal vocals it is never less than an intriguing listen. It is very much a job successfully done so far by vocalist/bassist and founder Alison Faris, forming the band out of the ashes of her previous group, ”In my last band I was the only female in a group of six, so I wanted to see how my song-writing and vulnerability could glow taking the driver’s seat and working with women.” It does successfully capture the theme of vulnerability in many of its forms sound-tracked by, as she explains, to ”experiment with my own version of what felt ’heavy’ both sonically and emotionally.’’

The sound Alison creates, along with guitarist/vocalist Laura Hopkins, drummer Cat Hooch, and providing synth duties Sarah Mckenna, is an absorbing splice of music incorporating many influences ranging from early The Cure, Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd, early Janes Addiction, Dead Meadow, Bardo Pond, and Chelsea Wolfe. As those pioneers would suggest Portland’s Blackwater Holylight make a swirling, hallucinogenic whirl of heady pysch, delicate shoegaze, haunting goth, folkie wooziness, garage fuzz, and slow moody sludge, occasionally all at the same time. The impact is how I imagine it would feel like if walking through a hall of funhouse mirrors completely wasted; rather disorientating but contrastingly both fun and challenging.

Another major factor in the band’s armoury is their exploratory quest to break free from normal conventional verse-chorus song structures, which adds to the otherworldly, dreamlike state feeling listening to the album brings. Mixing this with a never afraid attitude to increase or slow down the tempo adds a sense of off-kilter drama to proceedings as on the opening two songs ‘Willow’ and ‘Waves Of Conscience’.

There are clues in the titles as to how each song will proceed as the excellent ‘Sunrise’ uses both synths and guitar for creating large shards of immense sun-rays imagery soundscapes. ‘Paranoia’ on the other hand enters a world of an unnerving, skewed, fractured state of mind. While ‘Babies’ has a light, delicate sound supported by Allison’s extra floaty vocals.

‘Slow Hole’ is probably the most predictable track their debut has on offer as it’s slow Dead Meadow styled riff plods, despite being given an up-tempo lift, and a weightier riff mid-way through. The sonic adventurism of fluctuating between loud and quiet, meanwhile, are used to excellent effect on ‘Carry Her,’ which ranges from early Cure guitar pickings to drawn out doomy power chords. And on the dark and spooky atmospherics of album closer ‘Jazz Witch’, as the sonic drone transcends into a slow-motion sound of a crashing aeroplane.

This album is no plane crash, but is a beguiling and engrossing debut from a band which tops my list of if having the ability to fast forward to 5/10 years, would love to know how they do develop and evolve their sonic journey. Blackwater Holylight’s debut album is a good debut but they leave you with the sense that their wide and diverse influences, and their ability to twist it all into their own well-judged vision and sound could take them on some very interesting future choices and paths. You sense there is a lot more to come and time will tell as to what is out there drifting ahead on their hazy, distorted, sun-setting creative horizon. In the meantime, this impressive debut will do just fine.

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