Review: Blackfold ‘Solarus’

Do you like heavy guitars? Drums? How about textural washes of synth?  Perhaps you’re a fan of Latvia’s fabulous Eyrth, or the ritual drone stylings of ot~un~et~ir?

You could be in for a treat. This release from Blackfold is sixty-eight minutes of deeply textured, gargantuan waves of crashing guitar and drum underpinned by washes of synth. Make no mistake, guitar is King here, taking the prominence of a lead singer but without the preening ‘look at me!’ egotism (I speak as a former lead singer so I know what I’m talking about here OK?).

Blackfold 'Solarus'

It starts gently. Clean, tinkling guitar lines criss-crossing before we get to the oceanic droning guitar, feedback rising, surging like the swell of a cape bound sea, before crashing, drums to the fore, on to the rocky promontory. This is the stuff of serious catharsis, with Blackfold themself saying that they were trying to make the heaviest music they could to ‘help deal with what I was going through mentally, emotionally and physically.’

And so we have downtuned guitar dragging trudging drums reluctantly behind, like oxen attempting to free a wooden ploughshare from sticky furrows at the whip of the driver. And then… fade into solitary guitar notes that clang rather than howl, lonely, before being partnered by a deeper, plunging, gritty twang. A persistent non-riff, making its presence felt and leaving its mark on your consciousness through persistence, the same way a trickle of water creates a crevice in limestone.

This is music that is unafraid to muster to a halt and begin afresh. It flowers, bursting forth, resurrecting the non-riff, infusing it with new meaning, demonstrating the reaching of a potential previously hinted at… before rising anew with a hopeful optimism that belies the minor key heaviness of this, The Glorious Riff.

And there are riffs galore within. Taking the repetition that the nomenclature demands to a pleasing level, adding and subtracting just enough along the way to require the listener to actually listen, listen to appreciate the subtleties that surely lie within and beneath.

downtuned guitar dragging trudging drums reluctantly behind, like oxen attempting to free a wooden ploughshare…

Twenty-seven minutes in, we’re amid the calm at the eye of the storm before thick, saturated guitar and sharply punctuating drums join again over the textural synth wash providing a melancholic guitar line, putting me in mind of Godspeed You! Black Emperor at their most cinematic. This section clocks in at a mere four-ish minutes; I would like to hear it for at least twice that long, but hey, glacial can be too fast for me when the sounds are this good. I want to revel in the riff, be saturated by the sounds and be transported by the tone.

We’re halfway through; stay with it. Guitar drones with delicious tones (this piece is named after Blackfold’s Sunn amp after all), ringing out, changes accentuated by crashing cymbals. Blackfold is not afraid to persist with an idea, to drag it out to its (un)natural conclusion, before dropping another riff, another inspired, atmospheric guitar line into the piece, thus ensuring that the sense of motion, not just musical stasis, is maintained. On we trudge, ever forward, propelled by the power of The Riff, before taking refuge in a musical eddy, gather our thoughts/breath, and launch back out into the current, which this time is a stop/start crawl that plays with time signatures and occasionally allows the synth lines to sneak through, if not to the fore, then to at least provide a counter melody to the dense riffing.

And how to approach an end? With a string laden interlude of quietude that builds through layers of thick melancholic guitar that crescendos before slowing, howling, dropping lower through the register into a sub-basement riff that plays fast and loose with the idea of a consistent time signature. It wrestles with a yearning, climbing melody that hints at a hopeful resolution, before being subsumed by that omnipresent riffing, itself giving way to a mechanistic rhythm and a human voice.

This is heart-rending stuff, as deeply emotional/emotive as music without lyrics can be, certainly as capable as any in this genre in its ability to encapsulate a soul in turmoil and effectively articulate it for the listener to connect with. By turns desperate, solipsistic, insistent, melancholic, and hopeful, this is a piece of music to open yourself to and experience emotionally. Allow Blackfold to take you on a journey that condenses four years into a little over an hour and walk a mile in their sonic shoes.

Label: Trepanation Recordings
Band Links: Instagram

Scribed by: George Green