|Autumn People clearly aren't going to hold much appeal for those who prefer their Doom at the grimy, heavy end of the spectrum. |
|Here's something that might tick all the wrong boxes, right from the start. A glossily-packaged CD from Russian independent label Stygian Crypt, adorned with pictures of hazy forests, entirely printed in Cyrillic but accompanied by a very...idiosyncratically...translated English information sheet and sung entirely in Russian. The band website, consulted via Google's Translate function, simply produced a lot of words that failed to parse into any kind of comprehensible sentences.
Still, rearranging some of those words into some kind of meaningful order: Autumn People is a project involving musicians from the now-defunct Autumn and the still-active Inter Arbores working on a sort of ad-hoc collective basis over the past six years. The focus of the album is on poetic, acoustic and symbolic images relating to the spiritual nature of autumn, apparently an almost all-year-round season in the St Petersburg area. Their most obvious divergence from the mainstream is in the use of the viola, an instrument often overlooked in the history of rock (from memory, only found in a shortlist of: John Cale, Velvet Underground, Grahame Smith, String Driven Thing/Van Der Graaf and Urban Blitz, Doctors Of Madness), which occupies the middle ground between the cavernousness of cello and the shrillness of violin.
It's possible that interest may already have waned by this point, but anyone still reading might be best advised to stick with it. Because, despite all the self-evident opportunities listed above for this to be awful, it really does work. You would, admittedly, have to like music of a haunting, melancholic, gently tragic nature, strongly classical and acoustic melody lines and laid-back, murmuring vocals to properly appreciate it – as opposed to, say, finding it deathly dull – but since I do fall into that category, I can, and do, enjoy listening to it immensely.
To be fair, having some familiarity with Autumn's works did give me an idea what to expect: 'Arising' bears a passing similarity to an Unplugged-style take on 'Autumn Is Eternal'. However, this is an altogether mellower proposition, crafting much more ambience and atmosphere into its misty soundscapes. This feeling is enhanced by a quite neutral mix that leaves all the instrumental textures somewhat equal and distant, but with a distinct stereo separation bringing out key pieces and contrasts. It's subtle but effective, and loud – or careful - listening will reveal a surprising number of layers to the sound. There is, at times, an edge of distortion to it: it's hard to tell whether that was intentional or a result of oversaturation creeping in; either way, it doesn't seem quite right, but is fortunately largely unobtrusive.
Given the informal nature of the project in terms of organisation and participating personnel, it's a bit of a surprise, albeit a pleasant one, just how well the musicians work together. Every instrument contributes, and is allowed embellishments and presence, without overloading or distracting from the compositional purpose, displaying a genuine synchronicity. The bulk of the melodies are carried by acoustic guitar and viola, underwritten and sometimes replaced by electric guitar, while the drums and bass lay down complex and interesting swirls of percussion within their rhythm-keeping duties. Behind them, half-hidden effects, voices and natural sounds add to the depth, while the vocals, almost exclusively male and clean, twine around the music with subdued or whispering resignation. It isn't necessary to understand the words – they manage to convey the essential emotions of regret, sadness and, sometimes, what might be hope.
Passing over the brief and somewhat disposable intro, 'Autumn People' – basically, a viola solo – and the bulk of 'Arising' comprises five 7-8 minute tracks, and a short, moody interlude ('The Evening'). Each of the longer pieces undergoes several transitions, all of them handled with patience and a smoothness of development that – together with the consistency of style – could almost make them one longer, continuous, movement. There are no real wasted moments, or disposable elements in creating and maintaining the mood of the album, although there are some outstanding moments – the hypnotic, tribal drumming at the close of 'We'll Arise', the soaring, waltzing, viola parts in 'Grey Sea. Eternal' and the slide between jauntiness and melancholy in 'Give A Little Warmth'. Nor is it entirely relaxed: there are a number of freer, noisier passages that provide an added seasoning of drama.
Pitching somewhere between early The 3rd And The Mortal and later The Morningside, with a clean and classical bias, this clearly isn't going to hold much appeal for those who prefer their Doom at the grimy, heavy end of the spectrum. But if the somewhat inscrutable Russianness of the package isn't offputting and the idea of misty forests, falling leaves and gentle rain holds any appeal, there's a bit of an obscure gem waiting to be discovered. Myself, I think it's a completely absorbing and simply beautiful piece of work.
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1. Люди Осени (Autumn People)
2. Восстанем (We'll Arise)
3. Тёмная Река (Dark River)
4. Серое Море. Вечно (Grey Sea. Eternal)
5. Вечер (The Evening)
6. Согрей (Give A Little Warmth)
7. Белизна (Whiteness)
Duration : Approx. 42 minutes
Visit the Autumn People bandpage.