Review Summary: The more I see, the more I crawl, a fractured, haunted man, into your arms again.
Sunn O))) guitarist Stephen O'Malley said it best in an interview in the February 2006 issue of Guitar World: "Heavy doesn't always mean loud guitars. It's a vibe. It's a density of energy. Miles Davis was heavy. Johnny Cash was heavy." Of course, he then admitted to the obvious, saying, "Yeah, we happen to have some very
loud guitars." He's right though, heaviness isn't so much defined by volume as it is by attitude and as he put it, "vibe." Neurosis burly man Scott Kelly's album The Wake is heavy. It's essentially seven tracks of the bleakest folk you'll ever hear, with Kelly using his acoustic guitar to create atmosphere and mood in ways that a lot of 'post-metal' bands can't even with the use of electric instruments.
The Wake is pretty clear-cut and simple; it never gets bogged down with unnecessary details. It wouldn't be inaccurate to describe the songs as the skeletons of Neurosis tracks - the bare-boned blueprints that are laid out in the initial stages of the writing process - but that sort of sells the album short. To imply that these songs aren't great compositions in their own right would
be inaccurate; first track "The Ladder In My Blood" gets things rolling with its conjuring of desolate images and Kelly's lonesome vocals. It's apparent from the start that his voice isn't superimposed over his guitar playing; his singing seems to blend itself with his guitar, both working as one unit to create a display of artistry usually unseen in today's folk world. Kelly brings to life old traditions of a man's relationship with his guitar, and although a lot of the songs are bleak and barren, they're given a sense of poignancy in spite of themselves.
Kelly is a master at creating atmosphere with simple means. The chord progression in "The Searchers" is tense despite its slow tempo, making the song one of the most impressive on The Wake in terms of the mood it establishes. The Wake isn't all dark though; "Catholic Blood" is a beautiful and touching track, with chords expertly rolling over each other to complement Kelly's raspy vocals, which channel Tom Waits at his most delicate moments in songs like "Time." "In My World" is a more upbeat song, with Kelly's major key rumbling propelling the song into the realms of troubadour-like folk. "Remember Me" is one of two tracks that make use of a distorted slide guitar that slithers its way around the rocky precipices of the track, camouflaging itself within Kelly's voice to make the song the album's most desolate. The fact that Kelly can create such expansive soundscapes with so little is a testament to just how long he's been at this.
To consider The Wake as a "side project" or anything less than a legitimate recording would be to miss the point; the album is love and loss channeled through the simultaneous grit and tenderness of one of metal's most distinctive voices. Decades of experience seem to have taught Kelly about the important things in life, and his moments of quiet reflection are what make The Wake so impressive. Surprising as it may be, Scott Kelly is equally suited for the folk club circuit with his acoustic guitar as he is for dingy metal clubs with the monolithic Neurosis. Kelly's vulnerability is eye-opening and revealing, and his assertions that "the weather never changes" in his world are given weight by these liturgical dirges.
Wake the dead.