Review Summary: Dense, yet achingly breathtaking
For whatever reason, it took me a lot longer to digest Barrow’s sophomore effort than it did for me to understand and enjoy Being Without
. There was a sense of immediacy which I found in the band’s debut and an endearing honesty that was intrinsic to the group’s dichotomy of biting screams and full, melodious cleans. The instrumental work saturated the album in bleak and dense atmospheres, highlighting the band’s incredible penchant for immersing the soundscape in full, vivid scenes, while the vocal harmonies floated along the tremolo-borne rivers, meandering through sonic landscapes both desolate and dazzling, occasionally tumbling through scathing rapids or cascading freely, swiftly over jagged walls, roaring into the depths of the next track’s abyss. Though I’m Alone
seems to be an entirely different beast, a more mature effort with an emphasis on atmospheres that somehow even eclipses that on their debut. The band plays the same beautiful medley of hypnotic drumming with mammoth guitars that at times thrash about, and at times set the mood with airy, deliberate tremolos, all beneath one of the better one-two punches of furious screams and gorgeous cleans in contemporary music. But on their latest offering, it’s all condensed into a denser and more suffocating (yet still extremely rewarding when it finally starts to click) collection – I’m now nearly fifteen listens in and I’m still dissecting Though I’m Alone
Barrow’s sound is a mix of that sweltering emo/part-hardcore blend that has quite prominently cropped its head up as of late and a drudging, buoyant post-rock framework which ambles softly as shadows do during the flurry of emotions and wretched screams and then, at long last, reveals itself in a frightening yet unequivocally beautiful realization that these shadows are just as potent a reality. And Barrow, on Though I’m Alone
, has loosened the threads of the aggressive emo exhibitionism ever so slightly, and stitched more meandering post-rock sections into the music, ultimately paving the way for the tortured screams and insistent drums, crashing angrily like violent waves to a rocky beach, to bloom organically and hit harder. One of the more striking features of the album in fact is the impressive development of sounds, best exemplified by the bridge from “Clawhold” to “Dogwood”. “Clawhold” is a somber, silent stroll through the cold night streets, guitar softly plucked, heartstrings in certain tow, as anguished whispers warble across the airy, starlit atmospheres, rare bleats of optimism reaching out from the despair. But with the final dismal murmurs of “[I’m] hoping that one day I can be a better man,” the trembling tune evolves seamlessly into a maelstrom of raging howls, intrepid guitarwork, thunderous smashing of the drumkit – a startling yet enthralling cataclysm of emotive highs and agonizing beauty. And album closer “God’s in His Heaven – All is Well” is a tumultuous ride throughout all of the band’s strengths, boasting galloping melodies and jarring percussion, crescendoing finally into a majestic wall of noise fortified by boisterous drumming, asphyxiating colossal chords droning in an almost post-metal fashion, and wretched, distressed screams to the very end.
It’s hard to nitpick such a complete record, but the primary issue afflicting Though I’m Alone
is the dearth of distinct, arresting moments on the album – relative to Barrow’s debut, anyway. As far as individual tracks are concerned, there is no particular standout – the most immediate track is perhaps “Fed (Choking, Retching),” in its non-stop aural onslaught, but even that cannot stand up to some of the more incisive moments of Being Without
, let alone the juggernaut that was “An Absent Crown, My Diadem”. That isn’t to say that Though I’m Alone
has less-enjoyable songs though; in fact it seems to be a more cohesive and cogent record than Being Without
was, the brooding, intense atmospheres and soaring emotions coalescing into a thicker, denser medley of sound than was the case on its predecessor. For such a young band, Barrow has surprisingly fired consistently on all cylinders, with two uniformly strong albums already under their belts - debate the merits of one over the other all you want, but Though I’m Alone
sees Barrow making incredible music with stark maturity and is an ultimately regal affair that should do nothing but grow on listeners throughout the year.