Iroha – ST – CD/LP 2011

Iroha - ST - CD/LP 2011I admit I am a sucker for packaging and when this dropped through my letter box to review it was drool worthy. The minimal, stark images, the digipack double CD release… quality artwork and presentation… The one thing that I miss from the golden age of not stealing your music from the internet (well that and albums not sounding like a compressed piece of shit) is the ability to hold the physical thing in your hand and truly admire the effort and thought that has gone into the complete package and this release is one such joy.

If the first bite is with the eye then the feast is just beginning…

For those not familiar with the name, Iroha are the brainchild of Andy Swan whose pedigree extends back to experimental electronics band Final whose alumni include Nik Bullen of Scorn and one Justin Broadrick – if I need to explain to you who he is then you shouldn’t be on this site. Having spent the years since Final operating in the dance scene Swan has returned to his more experimental rock/electronic roots and recruited Jesu bassist Diarmuid Dalton and former Rumblefish member Dominic Crane.

Their first outing was ‘Bittersweet’ a split EP with Fragment which was described on this very site as ‘a perfectly balanced, heartbreaking, yet life affirming, piece of modern music’ and earned itself a place on the band’s own Wikipedia page. This glowing review needed highlighting again (and not because it’s mine, it isn’t!) but because the foundations laid down on the EP are fully birthed into life here.

The majestic, sweeping sounds crafted here wash over you in a mournful, yet powerful way that almost capture that slide out of the warm summer and into the decaying, bleak, autumnal feel. Comparisons are inevitable, especially given the long shadow cast over Swan by his meeting and involvement with Broadrick dating back to when he was merely 16, and it is no surprise that at times on ‘Iroha’ the music resembles a gentler, more expansive Jesu. This is not a negative comment, Broadrick has set the standard for this type of music so high and Irohna are a worthy band to tread the same path.

‘Last Day Of Summer’ is stately and bleak, ‘Autmun Leaves’ is atmospheric and eerie, ‘Watercolours’ conjures incredible soundscapes and ‘Dreams’ will leave you with the haunting refrain ‘You are only free inside your dreams’. The stand out track is the album closer ‘Iroha’ where vocal duties are handled by female vocalist Mio. It is an incredibly powerful track and the contrast and impact is striking and a hugely strong album closer.

The second disc on this release features a re-imagining of the whole album, filtered through the remixes of J.K Broadrick himself. On this alternative take the album bares more than a semblance to his own Jesu project with the mix that favours a more stark approach and crushing bass and drums. Depending on whether you favour the lighter listening experience or the harsher, more melancholic approach will determine which you favour.

After this there are three further remixes including a techno version of ‘Last Days Of Summer’ by Black Galaxy (a Nik Bullen alias) and an even more stark Jesu version. The Transitional remix turns Iroha into Godflesh, the Jesu take on ‘Last Days Of Summer’ places almost all the emphasis on the vocals interplaying with subtle beats, whilst Black Galaxy flip the whole experience to close out the disc.

Make no mistake, rather than in the late 90’s where everyone went through a stage of filling singles with shitty remixes instead of decent B-Sides this is a far more considered and rewarding exercise. At times it verges on overkill and some of it is a little too much, but in fairness this is a small complaint given the quality on display here.

Label: Denovali Records

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden