Review Summary: The glaring eye of the storm
'Gormenghast' is a series of fantasy novels by British writer Mervyn Peake. The series primarily concerns the titular castle, its inhabitants, and the heir to the kingdom, Titus. Although there is an overarching plot to the series, a huge amount of the focus, especially in the first novel, centres on the minutiae of castle life; descriptions of locations inside the crumbling husk, its staff and their routines, and the antiquated rituals and observances carried out within as matters of tradition. This may sound extremely dull, but as someone who values being transported to fully-realised, imaginative places in their reading material, Peake's work is the gold standard for me in this regard. When I read his words, I can smell the dank of the dungeons, see the bustle of the courtyard, feel the coldness of the dilapidated castle surrounding me. Hanging Garden accomplish this same feat through their incredibly evocative music, and it is especially joyous that the location they transport the listener to is not a million miles from Peake's own gothic vision. Their lyricism, bursting with detailed descriptions of glorious landscapes, tumultuous seas, an assortment of conditions both ominous and exuberant, and some more existential preoccupations, encourage vivid projection of these locales and mindsets. Further to the lyricism, the sonic language used, although often quite simple, is nothing short of breathtaking in its conveyance of these motifs. This, their eighth full-length release, is an exquisitely presented artbook of 11 sumptuous paintings, each similar in aesthetic but different in execution, with rich, layered textures and the kind of depth of suggestion that the observer cannot help but sit and muse upon each one at length. It's an incredible display of what relatively sparse musicianship can accomplish when the atmosphere is en pointe, and it shines as an accomplished piece of doom metal all its own.
The music on The Garden is rich in its simplicity, with stirring melodies and a combination of clean and harsh vocals orating the experience. The impressive amount of dynamic applications within this somewhat base formula is truly impressive, allowing tuneful instrumentation to wrap around a mostly laboured percussive tempo throughout, that can emulate anything from a funeral march to the rolling clouds in a thunderstorm. Pleasantly interwoven motifs, such as the piano hook on 'The Construct' and the guitar lick on 'The Four Winds', whisk the stark nature of the musical canvas into a textured tapestry, replete with detailed miniatures to offset the grand posturing of the overall sound. Stacked vocal lines, both male and female, on 'The Song of Spring' and 'The Stolen Fire' are a gorgeously adroit choice, and add another dimension to a distinctly reverent album cut. Similarly, the see-sawing of clean and harsh vocal lines on 'The Four Winds', mirrors the unsettled nature of the musicality itself, with the rumbling drums and strobing lead guitar resulting in an intricately penned and expertly produced display of balance. It is on these moments, where the musicality is reflective of the lyricism and the songwriting parallels the environment described within the lyrics- billowing winds, threatening cloud structures and echoing thunder- that the album truly shines; always extremely subtle yet impressively nuanced in its instrumentation.
There is a deft incorporation of progressive rock tendencies on the release too, with 'The Fire At First Dawn' a notable standout for this reason. Carefully interwoven with the main atmospheric groundwork so as not to disrupt the ambience, the use of melody throughout the track when paired with its more sombre vocal echoes a vintage Mike Oldfield cut in its construction, retaining a sincerity to its tone even as the instrumentation soars during the intermittent, heavier flourishes. 'The Fireside', exhibits the same effect, albeit with a more powerful slant, making use of assertive roars against the strains of the heavier musicality. Grand keys envelop a precisely balanced vocal harmony that alternates between two styles, and create a huge, impressively orchestrated display of songwriting. There is not a single moment where the tenacity of the album lapses into complacency, but the consistency of the core sound does occasionally feel a touch underdeveloped, mostly owing to the re-utilisation of the basic form in song structures. However, this is only notable in the latter stages of the release when experiencing the album as a whole, and there is always a clear sheen of dynamism to the rich yet moody production that ensures that this perceived shortcoming does not ever gain too great of a foothold. The Garden is perhaps not the band at their most creative in terms of songwriting, but is certainly the most assured of their formula they have ever been- retaining and emphasising what has previously worked and staying within that comfortable groove for the album's duration
Having cut their teeth and found their niche, Hanging Garden are nothing if not extremely confident in their sound. Images of lordly halls, windswept cliffsides at dusk and deserted rural landscapes are conjured from their highly atmospheric aura- a sound they have pioneered over almost two decades and honed to an exceptionally high standard. Having changed lineup multitudinous times, the band have evolved their sound into a more melodic, stripped down amalgam of doom and melodeath, with more than a cursory glance toward gothic rock and prog. After the long journey to get here, the sound found on their eighth LP is their most convincing display of sonic identity, which, through a combination of bands like Woods of Ypres, Enslaved and Insomnium, forms a pure and extremely enjoyable doom composite that is both finely orchestrated and superbly realised. It has a heavily atmospheric and evocative texture to its songwriting that is able to impressively scale to enormous size with only the lightest of touches, and although the music itself can ascend to levels of shuddering heaviness, it retains a sense of ambient prowess to mirror the lyrical preoccupations. Inamongst the tumult and harshness there is an elemental beauty and a potent lightness that shines through, and The Garden as an experience is a startlingly well-judged display of natural power through extraordinary musical landscapes.