Review Summary: 2015 is off to an excellent start.
Taravana’s eponymous full-length debut, released in December of 2013, was an impressive work that showcased project mastermind Alex Newton’s strong songwriting capabilities as well as his talents as a gifted musician. The album, although suffering from some unfortunate flaws, the worst being a rather poor production job, was a worthy debut effort that remains one of the most interesting progressive/power metal releases of 2013. Just over one year later, Newton has returned to follow up his debut with a six-song EP release titled A Visible Chill
. Continuing the tradition set by the debut, A Visible Chill
is a concept album; this release focuses on the legend of Am Fear Liath Mòr, more commonly known as the “Greyman”, a presence that is said to haunt the mountain of Ben Macdui in Scotland. The album does a stellar job of capturing the mysterious atmosphere this legend evokes, and the work as a whole is an absolute joy to listen to. A Visible Chill
stands as a more than worthy follow-up to an excellent debut, and will undoubtedly rank among the very best atmospheric metal releases of 2015.
There is much to say about A Visible Chill
, but the first aspect of the album that should be noted is its marked stylistic departure from the music featured on the debut. While the debut was a unique release that featured instrumentation strictly including synth, piano, and drums, A Visible Chill
utilizes a much more diverse sonic palette. Although nearly all instruments are still played through the use of a synthesizer, electric guitar is now an instrument featured prominently in the music; in fact, on some of the more aggressive tracks like “Howl” and “Higher Fear,” keyboards and piano take a backseat role to the guitars. While synth/piano certainly remains a main aspect of Taravana’s sound, the inclusion of more instruments, including a very tastefully added wooden flute, demonstrates that the project is branching out and experimenting. This experimentation is welcome. While a certain part of the debut’s charm was its unique instrumentation, the more varied instrumentation featured on A Visible Chill
feels like a natural progression from the sound of the debut; it comes across as artistic growth, and does not seem forced or uninspired at all.
The more varied instrumentation feels like a natural progression for the project mainly due to the fact that the new instruments are put to excellent use. While the album opens with a piano/synth intro that segues into a tasteful spoken word bit performed by Joe “Noctus” Hawker, the album really takes off with “Howl,” an uptempo metal piece driven primarily by electric guitar. The song opens with an arpeggiated neoclassical melody that transforms into a fast-paced tremolo picking segment, all before giving way to a lush, atmospheric chorus played in a major key. All of the guitar work is performed exceptionally well, and the track is complemented well by Newton’s drumming, performed at breakneck speeds for the duration of the piece. “Howl” is a perfect representation of the album as a whole, for it combines melancholic, atmospheric melodies with sheer energy and uplifting major-key segments; while the song is an important part of a serious album and is meant to be taken seriously, it is also quite a bit of fun.
The album as a whole is quite a bit of fun. Every aspect of this release is incredibly well-executed, clearly demonstrating the time and effort Newton put into its creation, which was a year in the making. A Visible Chill
is a noted improvement over the debut in all respects, but the songwriting in particular stands out as being much more well-developed and intricate than what was featured on the debut. Each song has several layers of sound, which results in the listener discovering something new with every listen. There are many impressive moments on A Visible Chill
; from the choir vocals featured on the album’s title track to the fast-paced cymbal work on “Higher Fear,” Newton’s performance never fails to impress. There is also quite a bit of variety on the album to keep the listener’s interest. While “Howl” and “Higher Fear,” two fast-paced metal tracks, represent the album’s heavier side, album highlight “Uisge Dhè” is a soothing folk instrumental that serves as a perfect break from the intensity. Album closer “Greyman” combines the ambient elements of “Uisge Dhè” and the title track with the more intense elements of “Howl” and “Higher Fear” to bring the album to a perfect close. Nature samples are used tastefully throughout the album, further adding to the album’s atmosphere in a positive way.
Listed on Taravana’s website are selected works of inspiration for A Visible Chill
. This list includes Agalloch’s The Mantle
, Bathory’s Blood Fire Death
, Moonsorrow’s V: Havitetty
, and Ulver’s Bergtatt – Et eeventyr i 5 capitler
, among several others. The influence from these albums is strongly noticeable on A Visible Chill
, particularly the albums by Moonsorrow and Bathory, but it should be noted to Newton’s credit that the music remains uniquely Taravana; the album’s influences are obvious, but the album cannot be accused of being derivative. Newton has done an excellent job at channeling his influences into a unique creation of his own, and deserves a significant amount of praise for doing so successfully.
There is very little to criticize on A Visible Chill
. Each song is extremely well crafted and features enough variety to keep the listener’s interest going throughout the album. Perhaps the only criticism that can be made is the album’s relatively short running time. Clocking in at just 23 minutes, the EP does seem to end a little too quickly, and the strength of the material featured does make one wish it ran a bit longer. On the other hand, however, the brevity of the album also works in Taravana’s favor; there is absolutely no filler present, and the listener is left wanting to hear more. So the short runtime, while a bit disappointing, overall contributes positively to the listening experience; not only does it leave the listener looking forward to future releases, it also allows for convenient relistening. It should also be noted that all songs on the album transition into each other seamlessly, giving the album a strong feeling of continuity. The album feels like a single well-constructed piece.
There is one last point that must be made about A Visible Chill
, and this is the high quality of its production. While the debut was regrettably marred by a poor production job, A Visible Chill
is mixed in a way that perfectly complements the sound of the album. The production is by no means crystal clear, but for music like this it really shouldn’t be. The production on A Visible Chill
fits the album’s title perfectly; it gives the music a cold and sometimes grim sound that conjures up images of winter and the mountain of Ben Macdui. This is very much a winter album, and it was mixed accordingly. One of the biggest disappointments of the debut album was the unfortunate fact that the poor production distracted from the excellent songwriting and Newton’s vocal and instrumental performance. It is greatly satisfying to be able to say that this is not the case with A Visible Chill
; Taravana’s follow-up thankfully got the production it deserved.
All in all, this is an album with no real flaws. The worst that can be said about A Visible Chill
is that it runs a bit short, but this can be forgiven for reasons already noted. Again, this is a very strong follow-up to an already strong debut, and one looks forward to seeing what Taravana will surprise us with in the future. With albums like A Visible Chill
leading it off, 2015 is off to a very strong start.