One thing that has come from me doing this blog is the rediscovering of the youthful joy of buying stuff previously unheard of just by seeing a name connected with it. Forging pathways and making connections (and making the occasional wrong turn) was a favourite method of mine for leaping from band to band, album to album for reasons varied and tenuous – the “thanks to…” lists on many a thrash/punk album for example have set me off in new directions, or even someone wearing someone else’s T-Shirt. Yeah, it’s a bit random, but more fun than going through 30-second samples of a computer’s recommendations on a phone because of some clever algorithm.
It was wandering through someone else’s Facebook page on a Sunday night last month, and this band’s name popped up alongside that of Josh T. Pearson, who has come up with one great album of his own this year and who appears here as co-producer. Well, that was enough for me, who duly forked out the necessary for the CD and download of this, their debut album without having heard a note.
It’s probably inevitable that with Josh assisting with helming duties and a general sense of geography that comparisons will be made with fellow Denton, Texas musicians Lift to Experience, and from the very beginning of the unsettling reassurance of All Is Well those comparisons do seem to be fairly put. Emil Rapstine’s vocals are delivered in a similar fashion to Josh’s with LtE, carrying a certain weighty conviction to his words, tempered with a plaintive, sorrowful edge. This intro is accompanied by little more than flat chimes, adding to an atmosphere that feels centuries old before moving straight into the instrumental Latin I, introducing guitar chords full of foreboding before settling back into a rather cinematic reworking of a track off their previous self-titled EP (from back in 2004, no less) and whittling it down from 11 minutes to just over two without losing any of the atmosphere in the process. And thus, the stage is set.
The general feeling upon listening to this album is that of being told in no uncertain terms that, like it or not, the world is going to end. The band describe their music as “Gothspell”, and it’s unerringly accurate in this – there is a deep-seated spirituality at work throughout and each song is presented to the listener as a sermon, and not one of the nice New Testament ones either. This is all blood and thunder, fire and brimstone stuff, and it’s both incredibly compelling and oddly uplifting with it. I suppose the temptation with this sort of material is to get all doomy and gruff about it all, but restraint is applied throughout the rather complex compositions and arrangements (occasionally bringing to mind another Denton band, Midlake, with their prog-folk approach), allowing Emil’s voice (helped along in no small part by the backing harmonies of Justin Evans) to put across his endtimes readings with an empathy for his congregation and the hint of the possibility of salvation if we just buck our ideas up a bit, especially during the closing epic and aptly-titled Sudden Burst of Hope, which provides both solace and encouragement.
Without wanting to bang on too much about Lift to Experience, it has to be said that On A Dark And Barren Land is a great accompaniment to The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads, certainly in terms of a robust spirituality that doesn’t require anything from its audience (I have no beliefs in any direction myself, choosing to be somewhat lazily hedging my bets) in order to be captivated and moved. Having said that, it occupies a landscape very much its own and stands well enough on its own merits. Reverent and frightening, it’s a great way to while away the darker evenings.
For more listenings/buying opportunities, pop over to their Bandcamp page.