Review Summary: A journey through the process of understanding nothing at all.
The unknown is something that both fascinates and frightens us all. Whether the challenge is the latest job interview or staring into the jowls of a demonic fire portal we can’t help but to feel a not so organized mix of excitement, fear, and a craving for answers. Tours Of Bleak is just that, a trip of the unknown, a venture through the topsy-turvy roads of who knows where and its gripping narrative will leave more questions than answers. Although an imperfect journey I can’t help but to come back to it time and time again, there is something delightfully frustrating about the experience of figuring out this record.
This album is flat out strange, right from the get go there is no messing around, this album dives head first into the storm with a trance inducing sombre rhythm that bellows and shakes in the headphones like an approaching storm or earthquake. The following track Long Walk Home offers a little bit of everything there is to find in this record: choking stillness, crushing drum beats, sizzling noise and odd rhythms that have no right to sound so good. The song structures may be unconventional for an instrumental album to spend so little time riding the crescendo-coaster of slow, expansive movements but this album isn’t about convention, this album above all else makes the listener think and that is what is both so rewarding but also a fault of the album.
I found myself hypnotized by the vast oceans of harsh noise and sombre reflection but in the end it signifies very little, there are no answers just questions and that is part of the harshness that comes with this album. This is massive record, but one that manages to be weighty without resorting to typical heavy stereotypes and conventions like down-tuned guitars, lo-fi production or thick ass bass instead harshness comes in many different forms and each of them are intriguing enough to pull the listener forward. Ascend The Storm has a head-splitting chime, gong, drum beat thing going on that loops for the entirety of the song that at first seems insufferable but as the song progresses and walls of sound are added you quickly realize that among the uplifting waves that the drums are representing trouble afoot and preparation, it is a harsh dichotomy that works well to present something resembling a narrative. Long Walk Home has its brutal horn section that probably hits harder than anything I’ve heard this year, presenting a crushing lucid, in the now sort of violence.
Judging from the cover artwork and bellowing frontline of each song it could be easy to mistake this record as simply an exercise in blasting the listener with melodramatic trauma but the nuances and whirling variety of textures paint a much different approach for the album depending on where the listener chooses to place their focus which adds a lot of replay value. While the drum beats are almost always treacherously harsh, there are also milder textures to explore as well. Throughout the album there is quite consistently a subtle crackling sound that most commonly takes the forms of schmoozing like the crackling of a fireplace or sweeps the soundscape in what sounds like rushing water. The dichotomy between the softer textures and the harsh forefront drive the question of what is the truth behind all the violence and harsh noise? What is really going on? Permanent Shadows is a prime example of this contrasting interplay where the gorgeous, bluesy piano melody weaves throughout the headspace in the midst of static and bellowing horns as the beauty triumphantly is both washed away and recovered as the song progresses creating a desperate atmosphere.
This album drives the imagination that is one thing I can say for certain but this album can’t always speak for itself, it takes thought and listener input to get the best out of Tours Of The Bleak. Due to the context I’ve been exploring this album it could be easy to overlook some of the flaws as well. The songwriting at times can be questionable; layers are added and dropped at completely unnatural times just for the sake of adding more noise or forcefully driving the music in some direction that feels really jagged. My other gripe with this album is that it is too short. The creators of this fine album are clearly very ambitious and perhaps a bit too ambitious for their own good, this album features too many ideas in fact, songs can sometimes become over bloated forcing unnatural progressions just for the sake of fitting in the next great idea. Some ideas are better than others on this record, while some overstay their welcome and others are gone all too soon before they get to really shine.
Unlike most albums of similar genres this album is anything but passive; it grips you from the beginning and demands full attention. Although not a perfect record it is easily one of the most entertaining records I have heard from this style of music. This album is excellent at making you an active member of the tour, just hope that you can ever get out alive.