Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Northumbria- "Northumbria" (TQA Records) + "All Days Begin As Nights" (Unreleased)

In case the title of this post didn't make it apparent, today we're examining two albums by one group which are related in such a fashion that it's nearly impossible to post about one without making mention of the other. Northumbria are a self-described "ambient metal" duo from Canada, although genres seldom describe the music properly, especially with such a compelling sonic palette as that which Northumbria uses to craft their heavy drones. While part of me wants to call Northumbria's music soothing, I feel that such a term implies a shoegaze-influenced sensibility, which definitely wouldn't quite cut it. To put it plainly, I'm not quite sure what to call Northumbria other than highly enjoyable and well-crafted music that has roots in everything from the self-proclaimed term ambient metal to the farther reaches of drone, yet refuses to sit firmly in any one subcategory.

Northumbria's eponymous full-length album was released some time last year by TQA Records, and it's a great place to start. These five tunes clock in at just over 50 minutes and lead me to a very mellow, introspective place. While the guitars are dense and distorted, I feel as though these songs are more meditative than destructive. A layer of fuzz and static serves as a canvas upon which Northumbria paints textures with soaring notes and occasional jagged assaults that last just long enough to create a tension which they swiftly relieve. Some folks might take issue with the lack of percussion, but I feel that music like this doesn't need to be chained down by anything other than pure melody and expression. In a way, the closest sonic kin I can find for this album would be the works of another favorite of mine, a death cinematic, an artist who also goes without percussion yet retains a heightened sense of clarity.

Examining Northumbria's currently unreleased EP, All Days Begin As Night, I find that familiarity with the prior release is almost mandatory, as three of the four songs here are altered versions of songs from their self-titled release. This album begins with the title track, which at just shy of eight minutes in length is the shortest composition from Northumbria. This tune follows a similar path to those presented on their first album, with an ethereal drone that manages to straddle the line between haunting and calming without ever straying too far into either territory. The sounds grow in size to fill whatever space the listener inhabits and the composition as a whole evokes thoughts of the shifting beauty of aurora borealis. Following this is Theologian's cascading re-envisioning of "Lux Lunae," now titled "The Sanguine Moon." This was by far the most dissonant track in its original incarnation, but true to Theologian's fashion, it's somehow both mellower here and far more frightening, like the unsettling backing track to a dimly lit horror scene.  This might be my top pick on this album, although to discredit the other two remixes would be unwise. Famine's brief yet intense rendition of "Threnody" is probably the busiest tune here, as the incorporation of light drum programming turns this into a glitchy electronic piece that might not sound out of place beside Ulver's "Metamorphosis." Closing things out is a stellar, almost uplifting reworking of "Black Sea of Trees" by Witxes, which serves as a relatively soothing end to a highly adventurous EP.

You might notice that there isn't information available on this unreleased EP, such as a release date or a label. This is because Northumbria are currently searching for a label who is willing to release this album on vinyl. If you're a label, this could be an opportunity for you to deal with a band who are already making an impact. If you're a listener eager to hear this, share a link to this review with anybody you know who might have label connections. Let's help this album get the release it deserves.

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