After witnessing the spectacle of Year Of No Light’s live performance at Damnation Festival, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to review their newest album Tocsin.
In my review of Damnation, I mentioned the hypnotic nature of Year Of No Light’s music, and listening to this record, I’m struck once more by the impact of the waves of sludge pressing against the shores of instrumental post-metal, creating something truly mesmerising.
In just five tracks, Tocsin spans the best part of an hour, in which you’ll probably find yourself drifting away into introspective solitude. Leaning on orchestrated synths which hark back to krautrock groups like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, Year Of No Light have written ambient material which Brian Eno would be proud of, before smashing it into the filthiest downbeat sludge metal you could imagine.
The result sits comfortably in the post-metal canon alongside bands like Cult Of Luna or Neurosis, and Tocsin works its way into your veins with all the soul-crushing misery that could only be otherwise attributed to being told Santa Claus is dead (I couldn’t think of a more kvlt analogy. Sorry. Not.)
With song titles like Desolation and Géhenne, it’s pretty easy to guess that Tocsin isn’t exactly a laugh riot, but what it does is certainly impressive. Where else can you find instrumental metal of such high quality, that reaches inside you and twists and turns your guts until they might as well be backwards? It’s almost impossible not to feel nervous, ecstatic, downtrodden and purged of happiness – all at the same time – when listening to their music. They’re hardly the first ones to think of post-metal, the touch of which is becoming more prevalent in today’s metal scene, but their execution of the style, without even needing a leading voice, deserves a massive thumbs-up.
The opening title track is established around one central, thick riff of such hulking presence that even an elephant would have to take a step back to get a good eyeful of the towering, gritty beast. And they still wouldn’t be able to see all of it. Surrounding the main guitar lines, which rake mercilessly through the whole song, swirls various disquieting electronic set pieces and noisy, droning feedback. It’s a really exhausting track to listen to (and after you finish listening to the rest of the album, you’re very likely to feel completely drained).
There are some touches of light amongst the dark; especially the cathartic Géhenne, which despite provoking the same nervy reactions as the rest of the album, also has a strange uplifting feeling about it. Since it’s the second track though, it only serves to disperse the momentum of the leading track, before the album tacks back into the black (no AC/DC pun intended). In this twilight, to be completely honest, there are a few fairly dull moments that drag on for far too long – Stella Rectrix being the prime culprit, building up with a promising intro but ultimately failing to move far beyond a basic idea that feels a bit sketchy. There are a few fantastically conceived moments within the track, particularly halfway through, and the second half is definitely more compelling than the first, but Year Of No Light just seem a little out of breath by this point.
They do redeem themselves somewhat with the final track, Alamüt which is very reminiscent of post-rock kings Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and though it’s another slow burner, there’s much more atmospheric pressure pushing down on you, as it drives towards its cinematic climax which burns as bright as Vattnet Viskar’s 2012 track Barren Earth from their self-titled EP.
If you want something life-affirming – don’t buy Tocsin.
If you want something warm and fuzzy – don’t buy Tocsin.
If you want something that’ll leave you with shivers and inexplicable fears, this will do very nicely.
For Fans Of: Neurosis, Cult Of Luna, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Vattnet Viskar, The Moth Gatherer.