ARCTIC SLEEP "Kindred Spirits"
It is with distinct privilege to bring you the first in many, I hope, contributions by my friend and fellow metal maniac, Mr. Terry Gardner. And what better way to commence than reviewing the new Arctic Sleep opus. Take it away, Tez!
Band: Arctic Sleep
Title: Kindred Spirits
Release date: July 12, 2019
Format reviewed: vinyl double LP
One would imagine there are few more daunting tasks in the world of music journalism than reviewing the latest album by one of your favourite bands, especially when you get to know the key player(s) a bit. Honesty and objectivity can easily go out the window in hopes of currying favour with the artist, or just simply to avoid delivering any negative criticism. So it was with no small amount of anxiety that I sat down to listen to, and critique the latest offering from Arctic Sleep, entitled ‘Kindred Spirits’. But first, a little history:
Formed in 2005, Arctic Sleep have gone quietly about their way, releasing quality album after another when YT came across them in 2014 in the pages of the mighty Decibel magazine which inaccurately - and lazily, I might add; shame, Decibel! - compared them to Anacrusis (Well, okay, THAT riff in ‘The Staircase’ is kind of Anacrusis-ish. You know the one I mean.) I wasted no time going right to YouTube to sample the album in question, ‘Passage of Gaia’. After that I simply had to track down the rest of their catalogue, so I contacted vocalist/multi-instrumentalist & beer lover, Keith D, striking up a friendship in the process. Keith was gracious enough to hook me up with the first 3 albums as well as other goodies, and chat about his love for Obituary, good German beer and cats with me from time to time.
For the next 3 years, Arctic Sleep remained a constant on my stereo, and I would champion them at every opportunity. “BEST GODDAMN DOOM OUTFIT SINCE TYPE O NEGATIVE!!” I would drunkenly declare, and crank “Pacific Eclipse” from the debut, proceeding to play air guitar for almost 15 minutes (Probably to a host of sighs and rolled eyes) before playing another one of my many favourites, which to be honest were all of them. I even went as far as to tattoo lyrics from “Hemlock Shadows” on my chest; a song that profoundly moved me, and still does. I watched as a promising tour was shelved to an old injury, a new side project was born as a result of the recovery period, and what was a two man-collaboration since 2010 was once more reduced to one. I watched as song writing sessions give way to demos. I mourned the passing of an old friend whose legacy helped create the title, and whose presence is felt with every note. I smiled at the return of an old friend, taking place behind the kit once more. And I watched and waited as everything came together; new voices coming onboard to lend a hand, and an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign which made it a reality. And here we are after 5 long years: the seventh Arctic Sleep album.
“But is it any good???” you ask.
‘Good’, my friends, is an understatement.
Inspired by a dedicated fan base that spans the globe and boasting a loose-feeling, organic production without sacrificing any of the heaviness or clarity as well as intricate drum work by returning rhythmist Nick Smalkowski, this could possibly be Arctic Sleep’s finest hour. Keith D is in top form here, comfortable with both the baritone that he’s known for, yet unafraid to stretch his wings vocally. The album opener, ‘Meadows’ is destined to become a classic - chugging riffs, soaring vocals, brief but fitting piano and cello sections and rounded off by lush harmonies courtesy of Craig Cirinelli and Bridget Bellavia, with a magical ‘HOLY SHIT’ moment by the former (Wait for it!) If a song could be used to describe what AS was all about, this would be it.
After this, ‘Lantern Curse’ wastes no time getting down to business. With a devastatingly heavy riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Meshuggah record, it cools off with another round of beautiful vocal harmonies before launching into the title track, which is quickly becoming my favorite. ‘Kindred Spirits’ channels its inner Type O Negative vibe with solemn keyboards and epic, melodic guitar work complete with a triumphant solo towards the end that leaves the listener with no choice but to break out the trusty air guitar to accompany it. The opening notes of ‘Maritime Delusion’, one of the heavier songs on the album, features Death/King Diamond inspired tapping with thrash-like chords that once again brings to mind the Anacrusis comparison, celebrating Keith’s love for all things heavy. ‘Eternal Sunbeam’ continues in that delicious doom vein that they do so well; the deep vocals once again invoking images of the Green Man and company.
Back-to-back instrumentals ‘Connemara Moonset’ and ‘Night Mirror’ help to serve as an excellent intermission with an upbeat, somewhat tribal acoustic jam which showcases Keith’s talents with every instrument. A slow lead-in features Bridget Bellavia’s haunting voice that rivals Craig's earlier display before we are once again treated to some catchy riffing. It’s almost a shame this song doesn’t feature more vocals, but it still works well on its own.
The emotional ‘Cloud Map’ feels like a return to earlier material in its acoustic melancholy; impossible not to be moved by lines like “And so it seems that which was, will always be” and “the space beyond, it calls to you”. It’s evident that Keith’s comrade and muse Yoda, the cat, had a huge impact on the lyrical themes of this album, and is sorely missed. Anyone who has ever loved and lost someone important, be it a furry friend or family member will surely find solace here.
‘Welcome To The Harbour Light’ is easily one of the more unorthodox songs on the album, bringing to mind the more experimental side of Alexisonfire. With a quiet steady bassline accompanied by minimalist piano before bursting into a punk like tempo, it provides a contrast to some of the heavier material and more importantly, it works.
Dual closers ‘As Palms Give Way To Pines’ and outro ‘Old Soul’ help to bring this journey to a close; a solemn and somewhat sad farewell until Keith’s recitation of ‘Yet it burns!’ towards the end and the ensuing riff both completely satisfy and manage to seem heavier than anything with guttural vocals and blast beats. And as much as I’m not crazy about ‘ambient’ tracks, the outro is a perfect opportunity for the listener to sit and reflect on what they’ve just heard before getting up and putting on the first LP to do it all over again, which is exactly what I did.
It’s well known that honest music creates life-long fans. And in 10 years, while no-one will give a shit about or remember plastic garbage like Imagine Dragons, people will still be discovering and loving this band.
Across the Rainbow Bridge, Yoda smiles.
Cover art and album's insert illustrations by Jennifer Weiler.
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© 2019 by Terry Gardner for Denim & Leather