Review Summary: A melding of worlds.
The many faces of Steve Von Till become one on his 2015 outing A Life Unto Itself
. More than a solo record, this evocative seven-song collection feels like a culmination of all the gravelly-voiced guitarist has absorbed during 25-plus years of music making, hinting at the incomparable heaviness forged by Neurosis, subtle acoustic mosaics of past solo ventures, and sonic arrases braided under the Tribes Of Neurot and Harvestman monikers. The history presented on A Life Unto Itself
is rich, evident, and shaped by experiences that only many years can bestow, making it Von Till’s most monolithic solo statement to date.
Previous solo recordings hinged on a rather traditional approach and mostly garnered inspiration from American and European folk music. With A Life Unto Itself
, Von Till expands his horizons by pooling his influences to assemble an overall greater whole. The haunting folk songs a la 2008's A Grave Is A Grim Horse
have been merged seamlessly with dark, droning psychedelia, subtle Celtic touches and a deeper Americana-flavored lament to create a new set of sinuous slow-burners. The songs remain founded on an arid six-string and Von Till’s distinctive baritone, but are now fleshed out by grainy vintage synths, groaning pedal steel, and tremulous viola, which wind through the expansive arrangements as an open and genuine Von Till ruminates on foregone visions and memories. This fresh blend not only bares the soul of its maker in its all-inclusive brew, it adeptly conjures vast images of Von Till’s native Idaho landscape, which undoubtedly lent no small amount of inspiration to the mix.
The folk template remains largely intact, but Von Till experiments with a few approaches that have hitherto been foreign to his eponymous works. A ghostly, delayed electric guitar theme buttresses a howling solo and brawny doom riffs on “Night of the Moon” and a two-chord piano flourish drives “Chasing Ghosts”, offering a welcome reprieve from the album’s otherwise predominant guitar presence. Other highlights include the windswept pedal steel harmonics and hazy crescendo of the poignant title track, the thunderous climaxes of “Birch Bark Box”, and the layered vocals that elevate closer “Known But Not Named” to its the ritualistic denouement.
Fans of Von Till’s primary band who are unfamiliar with his side projects may find the contrast startling. This album is decidedly less heavy than Neurosis’ most introspective moments and the stripped-down aesthetic may disappoint those expecting Earth-rupturing power. However, those willing to set aside preconception and immerse themselves in this record will be amply rewarded. A Life Unto Itself
finds Steve Von Till at his most diverse and at the top of his game. There are moments here that cut to the core.