Review: UNKINDNESS OF RAVENS – “The Perfect Dark”… Posted: 27/09/2017 by Philip Morrissey
“Ambition is an uncomfortable companion many times. He creates a discontent with present surroundings and achievements; he is never satisfied but always pressing forward to better things in the future. Restless, energetic, purposeful, it is ambition that makes of the creature a real man”
– Lyndon B. Johnson (former US President).
Quite often, ambition is an attribute that many bands expect to be kept hidden. To reveal their aims and goals in their career can be setting themselves up for a fall. Many bravado quotes have come back to bite outfits on the ass subsequently. To lack any sense of ambition is unforgivable however. Being merely content to play in the same venue in front of your friends or write sterile and cliched music should never be excused. One should always strive to push themselves through expanding their horizons. Whether this is touring different destinations or providing a sound that is unique and challenging.
Which brings us to UNKINDNESS OF RAVENS. The Offaly/Tipperary outfit may not have been operating for very long but they certainly have not been shy to push the boat out so far. From their origins as a fairly run of the mill rock band as ‘ROAD RASH’, things changed upon the introduction of Danielle Egan. Her keys and synth work pushed them into completely new territories. Instead of extolling warm southern nights, they were delving into Ireland’s past and present. Pre-Christian stories and mythologies were taken for inspiration, along with tales of life on the road with its various desires and strains. Debut album, “Under Stolen Skies”, offered a variety of different styles in what was generally a very well received release. Most of the tracks clocked in around the six/seven minute mark, so plenty on offer. Appearances followed at the Irish Metal Archives birthday bash, The Siege of Limerick, Templemore’s Metal Fest, Electric Meadow in Ukraine and supporting OHMMS in 2016. They certainly caught the eye of most who saw them at UrbanJungle in Cork, where some of these numbers were given an airing. In and around recording this album this year, they have played at the second edition of Roadburren, again at Templemore and The Gothic Arts and Culture Gathering in Leitrim. This is set to be a major release in all sense of the word.
A warning however. This could take some time.
‘The Flowers of Aleppo’ kicks matters off with a dark and smokey atmosphere, primarily driven by the keys of Egan. It almost has the sense of a cellist fixed on a single note. This is expanded upon as the other instruments join the fray. It keeps a somewhat woozy, drone-like feel to it. The drums manage to sync well with the overall tempo employing decent beats throughout. The mood becomes noticeably heavier and darker as the keys are elevated up. The faint sound of audio samples flicker away amidst the playing. It appears to resemble military or security forces in communication, perhaps reflecting the desperate struggle faced by many to this day in Syria. Its length could be considered a bit much however considering its lack of real dynamics and the absence of vocals. ‘The Wolf and the Hound’ follows in a similar vein with a brooding synth led opening. More involvement with the drums and guitars in this instance though. At the heart of the piece is a beautiful piano-led section which is delicate and melancholic in equal measures. And then the vocals appear for the first time. Tempo-wise, they are generally low-key, but heartfelt nonetheless. A slight resemblance to ANATHEMA’s Danny Kavanagh at times. The piano playing then sees a switch in mood with a few ominous sounding keys. The guitar playing shines yet again, meanwhile. The drumming toughens up in response to a slight increase in temp. ‘Ad Astra’ changes things up somewhat with a deep, melodious and warm bass led opening from Philip Brett. It aligns splendidly with the synths that follow. This is added to by rhythmic and insistent snare work from Daryl Hogan. There is definitely more of a progressive like feel to it. Vocals appear earlier here and again it is backed up. It becomes more of a refrain than actual singing. A piano lies underneath to complement it all. A guitar solo breaks out to uplift the piece. As it develops, the playing becomes slightly looser and less restrained. Some dramatic synth work heightens the progressive sense and the delightful sound of a classic Hammond organ reminds one of work by PROCAL HARUM or THE ANIMALS. The Gregorian style chanting reappears to make it sound even more mournful and laconic.
The differing openers continues with a slowly strummed acoustic guitar along with low and quiet vocals on ‘What Have We Done’. It contains a distinct feeling of unease about it. They gradually increase in weight before settling back down alongside a slow and steady drum beat. The acoustic feel returns but not before a tempo switch which sees the vocals get increasingly more passionate. There is a real sense of heartfelt yearning to them. Meanwhile, the backing vocals have a choral flavour to them. This is aided with some lovely keys work, before a soaring guitar solo. ‘The Witches Sabbath’ sets sail with another bass piece, this time aided by some snare beats. When incorporated with the keys, it invokes a fascinating psychedelic/folky vibe to it. Not far removed from bands such as INCREDIBLE STRING BAND or Dr. STRANGELY STRANGE. It definitely fits in with the paganistic theme involved here. There is plenty of emotion to the vocals and some wrought out guitar pieces. One solo in particular after the vocals fade away stood out. It fades away to leave just keys and percussion before kicking back in with serious weight. All the playing is highly commendable. ‘Hold On’ commences with an intense feeling of fuzz and distortion from the get go. The drums then provide the backdrop to a weighty synth solo. It remains broody, melancholic and wistful before subsiding as the vocals appear. It allows for the drums and guitars to gain more prominence. The vocals begin to become more animated as events proceed. The fuzz surfaces again to give the impression of a space rock number. This is set off by a series of delightful drum fills. It relents slightly to allow for the guitars to shine again. They are almost Floydian in their approach.
‘Rambling House’ incorporates more of these vintage sounds particularly through the keys and synth. Their appreciation of THE DOORS is clear to see here. The drums and guitars join in with this harmony as well. Swirls and waves of sound are the key ingredients, with the vocals not making their presence until towards the end. It sees a combination of the various voices but it needs more power for it to work effectively. ‘Red Light and Candlelight’ is a seriously rocking track. It kicks off with guitar feedback and a throbbing synth but reveals itself to be more of a darker vibe when the drums and guitars emerge properly. Hints of PENTAGRAM, CATHEDRAL and LORD VICAR at times. There is power to the vocals but could perhaps do with a little more. The section which will no doubt be a live highlight strides forth half way through and builds up to a wailing guitar solo. ‘Bleeding Heart’ comes across as being the best offering so far. In a pulsating space like entrance, chunky riffs and beats are laid down. This is especially the case when the second guitarist joins in. The vocals are quite low-key again but as the tempo changes, it becomes increasingly passionate. This dips and surges as the playing around Keegan demands it. It is a demonstration of his real capabilities which has been frustratingly under-utilised to this point. And the playing reflects this. Drums crash away, the bass chugs along, the keys provide a menacing undertone and the guitars squeal with feedback.
If that had been the closer, I would have been highly satisfied. Perhaps to suggest a trim here and there on the longer numbers, more of variety in terms of the vocals and more use of the Hammond. All aspects that can be worked on. Tighten up in places, accentuate the aspects that work and expand pieces out in the live arena. There are another four tracks to come after this, however, and a sense of overkill is apparent.
‘Burn Me Down’ almost has an industrial feel to proceedings. Very much on the heavier spectrum as the keys meld with the drums. It over-powers the vocals at various stages. On the plus side, there is serious weight on the drums and a hefty chug on the guitars. Mood wise, I don’t think it really matches with what has preceded it. ‘People of the Meadow’ has almost a blues style opening to it. It is mellow and laid back with its playing but is transformed into something more psychedelic when the keys appear. Think THE ELECTRIC PRUNES, MOBY GRAPE and THIRTEEN FEET ELEVATORS. There is some really powerful playing on display here. Particular weighty in terms of the drums and keys. A shredding guitar solo keeps things flying by. The vocals begin rather sedate to begin with but gain in tempo as it develops and backing vocals lift up the chorus. ‘Backstage Hotel Blues’ sees the band go down more of an acoustic route. It brings to mind a smoky, late night back bar in its atmosphere. It perhaps shows their versatility to be able to perform this effectively. This is where the lower vocals really excel in line with a quieter, more introspective feel. Stronger playing is shown as it reaches its end involving some great drumming and guitar work. And so ‘The Eleventh Hour’ is reached and the climax of the album. It sees a piano led opener before the intro of the vocals. It is well performed, full of emotion and complements the mood superbly. It could almost be a pop song in terms of its arrangements and orchestration. A distinct feel of latter-day ANATHEMA or ULVER. The keys bring everything down to a quiet piano section. The vocals are almost a whisper. As the backing floats in, it almost becomes like choral chanting. Altogether moving and life affirming. And if you have listened through the album in one sitting, falling down exhausted.
It’s not that it is a bad album. There are plenty of enthralling moments to hold your attention. They capture the mood and tone required for this type of music to work. The playing is well put together and warm in tone. And they are going down a route that is perhaps unexplored by other bands operating here at the moment. Many would have taken on the bleak and austere influences of PARADISE LOST, MY DYING BRIDE and early ANATHEMA and KATATONIA. They clearly have their own sense of identity and not just carbon copies of bands such as THE GATHERING, SABBATH ASSEMBLY and CHELSEA WOLFE. Its just the length of it. In any age, it could have been a tough task for a band to get listeners to sit through over 100 minutes of music. Especially as they are operating in an era where people can skip over tracks if they get bored. Especially if they are a band that is still relatively unknown. Even a single album of 50 minutes would cause anguish to some.
Creativity and ambition are traits that are palpable here. They are not afraid to put it all out there and fly towards the sun. At times, they soar, and at others they splutter. There is much here to recommend. Certain bands might be ashamed to lack even half the scale on show here. Prudence may be necessary for the future however. That is not a desire on my part to dampen their enthusiasm. Merely to trim the fat on occasions and to perhaps keep some tracks for future releases. In the meantime, they are set to play a charity night in Tipperary alongside fellow country natives zhOra and BRIGANTIA on what should be a splendidly heavy night. And they make a welcome return to Cork over the upcoming Guinness Jazz Weekend when they headline in Fred Zeppelins on the 27th October. I expect much good times ahead for the band ahead.