Not to be confused with Japanese field recorders, Greek punks or however many other Lethe’s happen to be kicking about, this Lethe is an avant-metal pairing of the most unlikely kind, comprised of Manes’ composer and guitarist Tor-Helge Skei and Anna Murphy, singer for Swiss folk-metal troupe Eluveitie, though it perhaps leans more heavily on the avant part of that description. ‘When Dreams Become Nightmares‘ owes as much to trip-hop, electronica, gothic rock and soul as it does to anything approaching aggression, and anyone expecting a return to Skei’s early ferocity or flighty hurdy-gurdy-accompanied riffing might as well just give up now.
Then again, those who appreciated the unpredictability of post-Vilosophe Manes might just dig it more than most. It has all the hallmarks of Skei’s work, from the dabbling with hip-hop beats and immaculately constructed drum programming that always sits slightly off-kilter, to the sidelong trajectories with which guitars and sonic weight are introduced into the mix. It’s just as deliriously misshapen a beast as his mainstay, but with the introduction of Murphy and her frankly incredible range, the possibilities are opened up, particularly when it comes to introducing a degree of humanity to his circuit-coded constructs.
‘In Motion’ sets this out with atypical frankness, Murphy’s few lines repeated throughout in tones that shift from a soulfully sultry moan to a Minnie Riperton-encroaching peak that demonstrates a range and control to match the backdrop laid out by Skei, beginning as a halcyon piece of ambient electronics and escalating to a juddering collapse of downtuned, distorted guitars. Whilst their mediums may be different, it’s an early indication of how this pair fit together with their ever-shifting natures, and it helps to ease the listener into the swing of what follows.
‘Haunted’ is the most overtly aggressive cut here, the forthright guitars and incessant drive leaning slightly towards nu-metal territory (though with a touch more finesse, and less of the chug-a-chug boneheadedness) but even here there is a peculiar warmth and a tendency towards those strange beats, making it something of a rock-club dance number. ‘Ad Librum’ takes an opposing stance, darkly jazzy and laden with dark emotional weight, Murphy taking a back-seat role to baritone rumblings, while ‘You’ is so deliriously opiated that it seems static, just a single still image of a twilit negative-space world framed in the mind for five minutes or so.
It’s hard to pin down exactly where Lethe are coming from, because they seem to pull in shades of everyone: Orbital, Giorgio Moroder, Front Line Assembly, Kate Bush and even a little of the industrialised metal of Rob Zombie seem to crop up and become assimilated into Skei and Murphy’s own nightmare visions, swallowed up by a silken darkness that renders their music almost seductive, but without these points of reference being stealthily worked in, it’s doubtful that ‘When Dreams… ‘ would be half as effective in its approach as it is. It feels fresh but not alien, and there’s just enough warmth in Murphy’s voice to offset the cold electronics without it coming across like just another vessel to demonstrate how admittedly impressive a singer she is. Lethe still feel like something of a curiosity but no matter how you look at it, they’re one that have a lot going for them and hopefully there’ll be more to come yet.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes