When the first sound that you hear on the very first track on an album by a band that is entirely new to you is a recording of the death rattle, the very last dying breath, of a close friend of one of the musicians involved and the very last sound on that selfsame track is a recording of the purring of another member’s now deceased cat, it should be pretty obvious that you’re not dealing with just some run-of-the-mill outfit here.
To be honest, there really is nothing remotely run-of-the-mill to be found on Undertaker, certainly by the standards of the usual Sleeping Shaman fayre, with not an overamplified electric guitar, fuzzbox or wah-wah pedal to be heard. Instead Disemballerina construct their sombre, funereal elegies from acoustic guitars, viola, cello, harp and other such instruments most commonly associated with classical and folk music, woven through with nebulous, raw, field recordings that very much add to the air of obscurity to be found herein.
This is dark, subtly apocalyptic stuff to be sure.
Head honchos Myles Donovan and Ayla Holland, on viola, harp and mandola and various guitars respectively, lead cellist Jennifer Christensen and additional viola player Marit Schmidt through seven tracks of baroque instrumental darkness and deceptive tranquillity that enshroud the listener with a funeral pall that is also perfectly evoked in Donovan’s cover art of a dead heron, found and placed on a colour photocopier creating an eerie image that is both murky and sharp at once and most definitely thoroughly morbid.
From the eerie death rattle, dulcimer-like guitar tones and see-sawing, droning violas of opener Sundowning, through the oddly medieval and strangely eastern picking and strumming of the Return To Oz-inspired Ozma’s Prison – the most overtly ‘metal’ in mood piece on Undertaker, thanks to Holland’s aggressive strum during its latter half – and to the yearning gypsy stomp of Carpathia, Disemballerina‘s music winds around the listener like an ever-tightening thorny noose.
The prettily chiming harmonics that begin Black Angel Trumpet – named after a subspecies of the hallucinogenic flower Datura, known for its unpleasant visions and deadly nature – are soon subsumed under a monstrous minor key strum and sinister string motif that creeps around the glowering guitars like choking vines, strangling the light and setting the nerves firmly on edge. Two Crowsbrings the wild gypsy theme back in again and pairs it with some silvery mandola picking in a relatively shortlived vaguely upbeat moment before the fog of despondency settles upon us once more for the eerie, downbeat requiem of Deserter.
The sounds of thunder, driving rain and wind ushers in the glacial, distant closing number Siren On the Rocks, as it begins to unfold languidly across eight plus minutes with a sound reminiscent of a heat-haze on the horizon, shimmering out of focus and rippling in the air just on the edge of vision.
Undertakeris both haunting and haunted, full of the spirits of loss, remorse and mourning, all of which seep and ooze out of the recording and coil around the ears of the listener, insinuating and whispering like unseen spectres in the dark.
This one will stay with you.
Scribed by: Paul Robertson