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My Silent Wake : Invitation To Imperfection

A fascinating look at what feeds into My Silent Wake's more mainstream releases characterizes this experimental release.

One accusation you could never level at My Silent Wake would be that of resting on their laurels. Ever a hard-working band, whatever setbacks of recruiting or retaining personnel might come their way, their back catalogue demonstrates a staggeringly-prolific rate of output for a Doom band: 2009 being their sole barren year, and with almost every year since their inception in 2005 seeing at least one new full-length release. Even more creditably, many of those steer away from their Gothic/Death/Doom core, and embrace completely different concepts and directions.

Such a project is this year's 'Invitation To Imperfection', following up 2015's stripped-back Death/Doom power trio opus 'Damnatio Memoriae' with an altogether more experimental format - one which offers a space in which core band members and key associates contribute a combination of what amounts to field recordings or live-in-the-studio first takes on rough and ready compositions left deliberately unpolished. It's an exercise in partly emulating the facilities of classic old-school recording, and partly refuting the rework and polish so easily available with modern technology; presented under the band name, but not really representative of any particular band line-up.

That's actually a pretty bold, not to mention unusual, proposition. I'm not even sure I could name a comparable project, though perhaps one could point towards the 'Hawkwind Friends And Relations' series (for bringing in, well, friends and relations), Faust creating 'The Faust Tapes' from unconnected segments retrieved from the cutting-room floor, My Dying Bride reworking themes and abstractions of their previous releases to create 'Evinta', possibly even the likes of Vardis proudly stickering their releases "Live - no overdubs" whether recorded on stage or in studio.

I have a lot of sympathy with the attitude that sits behind 'Invitation To Imperfection'. The music I grew up with was, undoubtedly, subject to many technical limitations imposed by its analogue nature, and, as a result, its purity and appeal depended on entirely different skills than those needed for the digital era. And it has endured, in many ways with a more lasting and real presence than anything that can be achieved with a digital polish and a fistful of autotune - if anyone really wants to debate that, compare 'Black Sabbath' with '13', and get back to me on which one will remain truly legendary.

Though we could, perhaps, muse endlessly on such topics, this is a review, so I probably ought to get to the point and address the actual album. Which is, in my opinion, much more hit than miss, especially when measuring it against the criteria it set out to fulfil - but not necessarily guaranteed to be the most easily-approachable of listening experiences as a result. It's certainly quite an intriguing insight as to the band's more Gothic/Neofolk/Neoclassical/Ambient influences: though these have always been on display, they're usually integrated or layered into a more dominant western Rock/Metal framework, rarely as centrepieces in their own right. The low-key Ambient explorations of 'Cage Sessions'/'Eye Of The Needle' brought some of them more to the forefront, but 'Invitation To Imperfection' takes that a whole step further, mixing both the ambient and acoustic sides of the band with even more experimental musings. A quick glance down the long list of traditional, improvised, obscure or ethnic instruments used here shows there's no shortage of ideas as to how to approach those different styles - in some cases, with the musicians picking up a particular instrument for the first time.

Much of what you'll find is gently thematic, almost to the point of cinematic: simple repeated motifs and progressions, unfurling with an unhurried, melancholic stateliness, cumulatively building towards an atmosphere of dark naturalistic mournfulness. Background drones and ambient sounds, gentle percussion, odd backing instruments, soft voices and bells all add a slightly ghostly and unsettling body behind the main themes. The impression is of an autumnal journey, under dark and misty skies, past half-seen shapes and tableaux sketched out by the accompanying music. The tracks themselves vary from the almost-traditional Celtic folk of 'Tempest' to the deep-space synths of 'Nebula', from the sad instrumental ballad of 'Vorspiel' to the lilting acoustic singer/songwriter tones of 'Lament Of The Defeatist', from the medieval keyboards of 'Volta' to the wordless choirs of 'Return Of The Lost At Sea'.

Whether intentionally or not, that imagery and span is recursively echoed in the final twenty-plus minutes of 'Melodien der Waldgeister', a series of varied and disjointed musical segments linked by the sounds of footsteps through a forest - something like a woodland shadow of Mussorgsky's 'Pictures At An Exhibition', with ambient 'Promenade' - as the slow journey passes a number of different manifestations of the anonymous spirits.

There's a lot to take in, however you approach it, and for much of the time an appreciation of Doom isn't going to be the main factor in whether you enjoy it. Indeed, to 'get' the whole thing, you'd need a pretty broad taste, taking in such things as early Mortiis' 'dark dungeon music', a dash of Simon House's solo and Spiral Realms strings, some Enya, a bit of Jethro Tull, movie scores like 'Blade Runner' and a fondness for voyaging the nebulous and slow-burning spaces of Dark Ambient projects like Halo Manash. That's not an exhaustive list, but you probably get the picture...

Ian Arkley, MSW founder, did say to me that "- you will love it or hate it. Most experimental we have ever been." And I can't disagree with that pithy summary on any level. I'm going to go with a subjective 'love' - though you'd have to prise several other MSW albums out of my cold, dead hands for it to become an outright favourite - and a more emphatic 'respect'. It was a courageous project to undertake and release, a disciplined one in firmly sticking to its own terms of engagement, and a fascinating look at one of the usually-hidden aspects underpinning the band's creativity.

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Reviewer's rating: 9/10


Tracklist :
1. Vorspiel
2. Helgar Kindir
3. Volta
4. Bleak Spring
5. Tempest
6. The Fear
7. Lament Of The Defeatist
8. Aventurine
9. Song Of Acceptance
10. Nebula
11. You Drift Away
12. Cwiclác
13. Return Of The Lost At Sea
14. Melodien der Waldgeister

Duration : Approx. 72 minutes

Visit the My Silent Wake bandpage.

Reviewed on 2017-07-10 by Mike Liassides
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