Review Summary: Don't leave me...
If there is one thing that plagues too much post-black metal today, it is sensationalism. Too many artists in this niche of music focus more on feelings rather than restraint. Some master the fragile balance that lies between the emotion that lies in post-rock and the primal carnage of black metal to create a beautiful beast that takes great influence from both without becoming too saturated with either side. Of Solitude and Solemn's lone member Joe Hawker often revels in that very achievement with his latest offering, "Starlight's Guide."
The album starts with a bang of echoing drums and synth loops, slowly ushering in a soft guitar arpeggios, then finally a soaring tremolo-picked guitar lead. The rest of the album follows this same sentiment; phrases beautifully give way to new ones, and usually quite seamlessly without losing steam. "Illuminance" captures the finesse of the likes of Agalloch with its strong, folk-based melodies and thundering percussion.
Hawker's vocals, both clean and harsh, exude a strong sense of emotion that can sometimes be overbearing when paired with such lilting music, but they shine through in other moments, such as in the album's centerpiece (and finest moment), "Guiding Light." The second track picks up grandly in the midsection after a doom-influence intro that may outstay its welcome, but the climax pays off. The entire middle of this song is a hazy crescendo bursting at the seams with emotion. At the apex of the swell, Hawker yells, "Are you home? Is this light yours? Why is it fading? Don't leave me...
" giving the song a very spiritual and existential feel to it. The climax dies to usher in an orchestral melody to close the track out on a reflective note.
"Memories In the Mist" carries the same passion, and even while devoid of lyrics, this instrumental track reflects all the ground that was tread throughout the album before gracefully, even though it is very predictable and is certainly the weakest of all the tracks.
Hawker's diverse ideas and moods all play a part in this album, though the execution is far from perfect. The production, though ambitious, does not quite suit the music at all times. In fact, it usually does not. The mixing and quality of the overall product do not provide much nuance to be hidden beneath the treble-heavy exterior of the album. This problem is most evident in the layered guitars and electronic drums far too high in the mix. Though the music may be very well composed altogether, the way in which it is presented may be a bit sub-par if one tries to listen closely. Despite the flaws and holes in the album, its emotion still shines through in a way that is rarely hampered by unnecessary fluff. On Hawker's previous self-titled effort, his musicianship created a more solid coalition of forces, and this follow-up does not entirely abandon the standards set previously. It both improves upon some and skimps on others. Its tone is even very different; the self-titled was more, pardon the pun, solemn, whereas this release is quite the opposite: it is more uplifting. With the differences and minor hang-ups aside, "Starlight's Guide" a great sophomore release that showcases Hawker's intense emotion and talent without giving into absolute tear-inducing drama.