Review Summary: Beautiful and atmospheric. The ubiquitous ingredients to a good post-(insert genre) album.
A weary-eyed man drives through the jagged coastline of the New England states. The scenic road is winding, densely clouded by fog and lightly sprinkled by drizzle…the prelude to an oncoming storm. The headlights desperately pierce through the opaqueness, glaring at the surrounding trees, hills, rivers, lakes, and mountains. The man is alone, journeying deeper into seclusion, but this is what he needs. The gentle drizzle can immediately change into knife-like raindrops, the misguiding fog can easily throw the driver off route, and unnerving tranquility can transform into relentless panic. But this is much to the excitement of the driver, who smirks as he continues on into the tense unpredictability.
That is what my somewhat pretentious imagination constructs when listening to good atmospheric post-metal/hardcore. The perfect use of dynamic change and manipulation, the simultaneously unsettling and soothing ambience, and the overall instilling of emotions, somehow usually both hopeful and hopeless. Bands like *shels and Devil Sold His Soul, execute such very well. So does the short-lived Mahumodo, a band after four years and four EPs, split to form the two very talented bands aforementioned…and you can definitely hear it. While bands like Neurosis and ISIS are centrally oriented around heaviness and unequivocal metal influence, Mahumodo lands on the opposite end of the spectrum, relying mostly on spacey tranquility and pure ambience.
It is interesting to note that the music, in utmost subtlety, seems bipolar in respect to the two vocalists. Clean vocalist Mehdi Safa (*shels) utilizes a middle to high ranged crooning, that almost synchs perfectly with the gentler side of the instrumentals. His phrasing is very legato, gliding through the musical sections very smoothly. Musical sections that tend to be single-guitar oriented, and fingerpicked whenever Safa wields the mic. In contrast, harsh vocalist Ed Gibbs has a mid-ranged throaty growl, exactly as he has performing in Devil Sold His Soul. Gibbs is not featured as much throughout but whenever he is, the music again corresponds. The guitar work becomes centrally dual-oriented with crushing chords, underlined with distortion or static.
The majority of the music stays at a steady but pumping adagio tempo, usually assisted by Tom Harriman’s persistent cymbal/snare oriented beats. The drumming is rather simple but works well against the open tone of each song (notice the lack of driving double bass beats). There is no unnecessary over-technicality, which could have hindered the main objective of the album. Very simple little accoutrements added throughout, such as the brief ethereal key intro to “California,” make this album all the more enjoyable.
Overall, the major highlight of the album is the emotions it incites and the imagery it creates. I’ve always had an admiration for these bands in their ability to incite both hopefulness and hopelessness simultaneously...as I mentioned earlier. Especially in the dynamic buildups, you can feel a sense of long-yearned liberation…or could it be inescapable confinement, hence my imagery in the introduction. We are more or less left with an unknown…an interpretation left for ourselves. But the rather lonely and dark feeling is undeniably the most prevailing. I think when Mahumodo split up, Devil Sold His Soul took the hopeless end while *shels took the more hopeful. But again, this is more open to the individual listener’s interpretation.
There isn’t really any standout track in the album. It is meant to be listened entirely and works well as a collective. Devil Sold His Soul and *shels have both released more refined and matured albums (namely their LPs, A Fragile Hope and Sea of the Dying Dhow respectively), but Mahumodo is a great display of how it all started. It is very enjoyable, especially in that it is nearly identical in the veins of both bands. If you are a fan of either, this will no doubt be something of your interest.