Review Summary: Crossing the void can undoubtedly be a struggle.
Junius are not your typical post rock band. Taking their name from an 18th century pseudonym created by a political writer, it’s unsurprising to learn that the music they create is far from straight forward either. Their debut full length album ‘The Martyrdom of a Catastrophist’ saw Junius marry sombre post rock with progression, with heavy atmospheres occasionally complemented by the haunting echoes of vocalist Joseph E. Martinez. It philosophically challenged concrete conceptions held by man in interviews fuelled by the works of psychiatrist Immanuel Velikovsky, and delivered a cohesive work which sparkled thanks to its underlying theme and Junius’ ability to switch seamlessly between genres. ‘Reports from the Threshold of Death’ sees another concept adopted and carried throughout the album; the soul and its ‘journey’ after death.
A constant so far in Junius’ discography is the tight, cohesive sound they manage to produce. Where ‘Martyrdom...’ was pensive and thought-provoking, ‘Reports...’ is brooding and sombre. However, the same full, rich sound is successfully conveyed throughout the album, and atmospherically speaking at least, Junius have picked up right where they left off. There are two key differences between this album and the last; the song writing approach, and the concept. A more standard verse-chorus structure is adopted here as progression is shelved in favour of precision, a point which is mirrored in the song lengths. Four minute tracks almost completely comprise the album, and fans of their earlier work may be disappointed by the lack of deviation from the verse-chorus formula, which is almost religiously followed here. On their previous release, Junius posed questions to the listener that they could never really even begin to fathom. ‘Reports...’ sees Junius change tact and go into storytelling mode; morbid storytelling mode to be exact.
‘Betray the Grave’ opens the album brilliantly, successfully compacting pounding drums and other worldly vocals into a more conventional structure. The message of life after death is instantly addressed, and is thrust upon the listener rather than hinted at; “Never fear for your life, we are drawn out...we are drawn out by the light”. Album highlight ‘Dance of Blood’ continues the theme but with a more sinister spin; “We call for blood, we want your life, won’t you give up”. It channels a sense of reluctance and implies that the soul’s journey is a struggle peppered with hesitancy. ‘A Universe Without Stars’ features ambient quick picking in the verses and one of the heaviest choruses on the album, making it one of the strongest offerings. As if to address the hesitancy sounded in previous track ‘Dance of Blood’, it talks about embracing the fall across the void rather than fearing it, and is a fine example of the battle between the soul and death that wages throughout the album.
While the vocals of Joseph E. Martinez contribute greatly to some of the highlights on the album (‘Betray the Grave’, ‘The Meeting of Pasts’), they are also responsible for some of the album’s failings. The slow, drawn out delivery adopted throughout becomes a little predictable and stale in places, and an occasional injection of pace would certainly be beneficial if not for whole songs, then for passages such as the bridge to accentuate a song’s apex. Furthermore, a few of the songs (namely ‘Haunts for Love’ and ‘Transcend the Ghost’) fleet by too inoffensively, and don’t possess the grit to dig their heels in and command the listener to pay more attention. Collectively however, they don’t detract from the flow of the album and work competently enough when listened to as a whole.
With ‘Reports from the Threshold of Death’, Junius embark on a journey similar to Moving Mountains in creating a more condensed, straight forward album. Considering that their biggest strength was their ability to set a mood and toy around with it without constraints, it’s natural to worry that placing constraints upon themselves, and working to a structure would have resulted in disaster. Even though there are moments when the songs scream for the shackles to be released, Junius largely triumph in maintaining the powerful atmospheres they are synonymous with, whilst transferring successfully from a progressive to conventional song writing format.