The Keening at Clockout Lounge

Support: S.E.R.P.E.N.T.E.N.T.| Tiny Vipers
September 16, 2023 at Clockout Lounge

Experiencing the beginnings of something extraordinary is a rare occurrence—a child’s first steps or the arrival of the first rose of summer. These are treasured moments that are unique and infrequent. When you do have the privilege of witnessing such events, they can deeply touch your soul. Over the past few weeks, I had the privilege of experiencing something akin to this rarity, as I had the honor of documenting only the second live performance by a remarkable new band: The Keening.

The Keening is the new solo musical project of Rebecca Vernon. Many know Vernon from her previous band, SubRosa, a preeminent American doom metal band from Salt Lake City, Utah, founded in 2005. Under the leadership of Rebecca Vernon, who handled guitar and vocals, the group stood out as one of the rare female-fronted representatives in the genres of doom metal and sludge metal. Their musical style incorporated folk influences and intricate layering to create immersive sonic landscapes. SubRosa received widespread critical acclaim throughout its impressive 13-year existence, with several of its albums earning placements in year-end rankings across various media outlets.

Vernon’s new band, The Keening, while covering a few similar sonic spaces as SubRosa, creates a distinctive and intricate tapestry of rich orchestration, evoking American Gothic elements and introducing the listener to chilling murder ballads set amidst a backdrop of haunting folk melodies. There is a true sense of urgency to the material that Vernon has created with her new project. The musicians rounding out the group included Billy Anderson (High Tone Son of a Bitch), Nathan Carson (Witch Mountain), Andrea Morgan (Exulansis), and Christy Cather (Ludicra). The Keening was joined on this night by two opening acts: solo musician Tiny Vipers and S.E.R.P.E.N.T.E.N.T.

Tiny Vipers

Jesy Fortino, a.k.a. Tiny Vipers, provided the audience with an opening salvo of beautifully personal and delicate songs. Only accompanied by her acoustic guitar, Fortino demonstrated the power that can be located within quiet and reflective moments. S.E.R.P.E.N.T.E.N.T. is the musical project of the incredibly talented multidisciplinary artist Anne K. O’Neill. At the nexus of dark folk, neoclassical, and ambient, O’Neill (joined this evening by Zach Wise of Hissing/Eye of Nix) provided the audience with an incredibly powerful set of tunes. The music created a sense of the listener being calmed and embraced, yet unsettled. This is weighty music, confronting powerful topics. Moreover, and beyond any doubt, O’Neill’s voice is quite simply incredible, drawing you in from the first note to the last. The set was capped by The Keening’s Andrea Morgan joining O’Neill and Wise for the final two songs, ‘Mother of Light’ and ‘Blind’.

S.E.R.P.E.N.T.E.N.T.

From there, the audience was treated to a highly moving and emotional performance of the Keening’s entire first album, Little Bird. You knew you were in for something special from the very first notes of the opening song, ‘Autumn’. The song speaks of the passing of time and the autumnal forces that signal both an ending and, much like for Vernon herself, a new beginning. The band then played the epic title track to their upcoming album, ‘Little Bird’. The piece’s extraordinary melody contains within its haunting beauty powerful questions of self-betrayal and the consequences of conforming to societal expectations. There is wisdom here, lessons learned and shared in and through the gloom. To call this song moving would be a crass understatement. I was particularly impressed by Nathan Carson’s handling of the delicate drumming. In a day and age when so many drummers try to impress with flash and speed, Carson’s performance reminds us of the importance of spacing, feel, and dynamics.

The song ‘Eden’ had the feel of a dirge, a funeral procession for the passing of a place of refuge, the end of humanity’s haven. But while no doubt a song of woe and passing, Eden also contains a glimmer of hope, as Vernon ends by asking us to join her in a song of love. ‘The Truth’ took everyone in the Clockout Lounge on a 15-minute sonic journey into questions of epistemology and morality, told through brief glimpses into various scenarios demonstrating the complexity, consequences, and various facets of truth. In an age so often referred to as “post-truth” by many, this song has more to say than most. It’s a philosophical tour de force and includes the widest range of musical dynamics of the evening as if trying to emphasize the weight and complexity of the chosen topic.

The crowd was treated to an ending that featured rousing performances of ‘Hunter I’ and ‘Hunter II’. We begin by finding ourselves immersed in an evocative murder ballad, the subject of the song being relentlessly hunted, until the point of insanity, after having witnessed a murder. We end with an exploration of themes of darkness, estrangement, intimacy, and a longing for escape, using vivid and surreal imagery to convey these emotions and ideas. Of particular note was the beautiful vocal harmonizing by Vernon and Morgan during the closing of the song. By this time, the band was at its peak, not only performing flawlessly but also doing so in a manner that displayed a sense of joy, with smiles being shared amongst them almost uncontrollably.

And it was this sense of uncontrollable joy in the face of despair that left the most indelible memory on me that evening. While all of the performers dealt with weighty topics of impermanence, loss, death, and alienation, they did so with a silver lining. The music took the crowd on a journey through haunted swamps, bottomless wells, concealed crimes, gilded prisons, and the unfortunate role of a murder witness. But it also showed that there’s still hope if we can find and harness it. Keep your eyes on all of these musicians and catch them live when you can. The Keening will perform next at the Decibel Magazine Metal Beer Fest in Denver, Colorado, on December 2nd. Their first album, Little Bird, gets released on October 6 through Relapse Records.

The Keening

The Keening




 

 

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