Sunday, April 19, 2009

The blood is the life

And the life is, what, companionship, love? The final step, perhaps, but all others that lay before are formed from the trials of emptiness, loss. Unto Ashes' first release since the departure of long-time collaborators Natalia Lincoln and Mariko, The Blood of My Lady is a pensive, acoustic voyage helmed by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist mastermind, Michael Laird, with each of the thirteen tracks flagged by an emphasis on that most intimate of companions. We are fools to think we can escape our troubled selves à l'extérieur. Thus, we keep searching there for someone to join us à l'intérieur, our being all the while a silent, dark calm that belies a turbulent pain unheard save through the irruption of song.

A tumbling, minor chord delicately rolls through the spaces until that moment when the light sparks a reflection of her presence, The Blood of My Lady (Part 1) in liquid, then, before the next step has even begun, the major disappears.

I have seen the blood of my lady
on mossy green rocks that go down to the sea
in small pools the blood and sand are made one
and she comes home to me
This theme is threaded throughout, finding in the encounters of our senses, our memories, a series of symbols that continually unfurl, feeding our emotional past and a hopeful future, forever fated to be intertwined inside the refuge subconsciously fashioned as we search.

Feel hurdy-gurdy physicality balanced against the breezy mandolin, the trees against the breath of reflection in Who Has Seen the Wind, a Sonne Hagel setting of a Christine Rossetti verse; how transient are our senses, these apparitions we conjure before them. In a rare moment of propulsive vibrancy, martial drums Echo In Den Wald, the imprint of a minnesänger charging on his horse, eyes here, there, where lies a (purposely?) missed opportunity of a simple yet haunting four-note closeout, a motif worthy of a song unto itself. Perhaps hope, as always, does nothing but numb -- never simply tease with an overt moment of bliss -- the belief we pretend to find in our senses.

And so we, for a minute or two, stop and listen to the resplendent thickness of Jou-An Hou's solo cello laying all to rest in The Tomb of Your Remains, a ninth-century piece composed by Byzantine abbess Kassia. There is an ancient weight, a timeless, dominating gravitas found in few things outside the object of our search. Three-part Elysian harmonies belie the Vengeance that springs forth unto the world above ever-churning acoustics, carried on updrafts of classical strings.

Voices sleepwalking deep in the mind come, bearing gifts of sparse, troubled pathways, desire within, apologies without. It matters not, dear, for I Will Lead You Down, a scenario played over and over inside, variations on a chord, no mere physical manifestation. What has temptation wrought, what have my faults carved from your being.
And though I lean upon you, I will lead you down my love
And though I kneel beside you, I will throw you down my love
And though I am beneath you, I will pull you down my love
Surrender and live, ideal, through ghostly tides of keys, voiceless, in Our Palace of Ice, built as A Cold Wind (February) blows, reminded by these stark neo-folk measures and a spoken word, spent, of wrongs and renewal with the return of the sun:
thawing ice, and smoothing stones
so my love grows a little each day
The cold wind comes from the sea and moves across the land
Keep looking For All My Broken Promises. I am ready to be forgiven, but is it that simple?
You can blame me now
And though I love you
But who can blame me now?
What can haunt such as doubt shimmering through the boughs, those found amidst The River and the Hawk; again, a spare, troubadour quality, a French horn shield, a exhalation both male and female traversing the hollows up and down the Rhine valley, the fens of England, the backwoods of upstate New York, the serpentine creek crawling through your local park.

The next track is an organic cover of Depeche Mode's Fly on the Windscreen, whose splendid, percussive fade charms The Blood of My Lady (Part 2); hear the reprise of those chords moving at the speed of earth, a deeper voice and now, not alone. Her, at last? No, merely a fading impression of hope coursing through the growing shadow of twilight, the waning of dawn. One does the only thing one can: keep looking, far afield, nearby. Keep looking, for She is Everywhere and Nowhere, a gentle coda of aching piano that finishes this masterwork that is perhaps their finest, most personal statement to date, the end and the beginning.

And she comes home to me...


Christopher said...

Depeche Mode? Gold, I tell ya.'

okjimm said...

I have declared today “National Say “Hello” Day!


ps. it was really yesterday.... but I sorta ran out time. Thought I would do it again today......

Mary Ellen said...

Randal- You never cease to amaze me, you should be teaching a music appreciation class. That was beautiful.

Okjimm- Hello, again. ;-)

Dean Wormer said...

I've said it before that you missed your calling working at that place with all the waddayoucallthem? The things with the writing and the covers?

Anyways- you should be paid to review music. Reading your reviews make me want to listen to whatever album you're talking about. That's pretty great writing, IMHO.

Beach Bum said...

This was an excellent review and you have raised my curiosity about this work.
By your review alone I will buy this CD.

Randal Graves said...

christopher, Depeche Mode has always been too electro-dancy for me, but I respect their belief in the darker side of things. They just need to record their stuff like these guys, heh.

okjimm, that's great and all, but if it's a National Day of something or other, where's my paid day off?

nunly, thanks. It's fucking hard to review music because it's so easy to fall in the trap of trying to describe the actual sounds. How many ways are there to detail what an acoustic sounds like, or a crushing power chord? Nothing has an effect like music, so I try to describe that, or at least pretend to.

dean, thanks, man, but the music is so good, the credit should go to them. If you dig anything neo-folk or dark, this is the band to get. Just beautiful, contemplative stuff.

BB, see above, but if you hate it, I'm not paying you the 12 bucks. ;-)

Tom Harper said...

Another group I've never heard of. Nice sound. Sort of like Fairport Convention ("who???") with darker chords.

Christopher said...


Violator is brilliant. "Enjoy the Silence" is my favorite song off the album.

susan said...

Your ability to describe the sounds is where poetry comes in. I listened to 'I Will Lead You Down' and 'The Blood of My Lady' and found them to be as lovely as you describe. I'll wait til I'm home to listen again.

Chef Cthulhu said...

Not really into neo-folk...but this review is compelling. I just far as Depeche Mode goes, I think "Blasphemous Rumours" off Some Great Reward was their pinnacle.

Randal Graves said...

tom, hmm, Fairport Convention isn't a bad comparison. This is probably their most stripped-down work.

christopher, I might have to give them another chance.

susan, if I can get more people to check them out, then my post was successful.

chef, if you dig dark stuff, even sans power chords, you might like them. At worst, it'll be four minutes you'll never have back, heh.