(This is Andy Synn‘s review of the 7th album by the solo project Arctic Sleep from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which was released on July 12th. It is a significant exception to our “rule” about singing. The cover art was created by Jennifer Weiler.)
Some of our readers may not be aware of this, but the Metal blogosphere (of which we are but a small part) is kind of like its own separate ecosystem, with all the various sites and zines and writers sharing and interacting within the same digital space, by turns feeding, and being fed upon, and occasionally coming together to copulate, exchange information, and (hopefully) create something new.
This doesn’t mean we’re all “in cahoots”, by any means. I’ve questioned and criticised the work of others just as much as I’ve been questioned and criticised in turn. But it does mean that, sometimes at least, the circle of life – or the circle of riffs, as it were – moves us all in similar ways.
Case in point, I have to give full credit to those brave lavatorial adventurers at The Toilet ov Hell for introducing me to the music of Arctic Sleep, whose latest album I’ve been listening to pretty much non-stop over the weekend.
Describing the lush sound and vivid emotional palette of Kindred Spirits as being basically equal parts Devin Townsend and latter-day Anathema (with maybe a bit of Les Voyages…-era Alcest in there too) is probably a little too reductive, and really doesn’t give enough credit to the striking creative voice and vision of Arctic Sleep’s mainman and multi-instrumental marvel Keith D (who handles everything, including the cello and the djembe, apart from the drums on this album).
But it should, at least, give you a hint about what to expect from these eleven tracks… namely a spellbinding array of moody, progressive riffs, effortlessly evocative melodies, and gorgeously harmonised, utterly heartfelt, vocals which, collectively, combine to form one of the richest and most rewarding musical experiences of the year.
From the textured, Terria-esque guitars and sombre, soulful vocals of glorious opener “Meadows”, the intense, doomy riffage of “Maritime Delusion”, and the majestic melodies and multi-layered harmonies of “Eternal Sunbeam”, to the progressive, anthemic strains of “Cloud Map” (which might just be my favourite track on the entire record), the soothingly melodic, piano-led melancholy of “Welcome to the Harbour Light”, and the poignant power of “As Palms Give Way to Pines”, Kindred Spirits is the sort of album which invites you to simply lie back and let it wash over you at its own pace and in its own time, to let it move through you and, in turn, move you in ways you may not even have known were possible.
And it achieves this not through sheer heaviness (though there’s a resonant depth and density to many of the bigger, more bombastic riffs which ensures that it’s not lacking in weight or presence when it needs it) but through forging a deep-rooted emotional bond with the listener, planting the seeds of this connection early on and allowing them to blossom naturally as the record progresses, rather than forcing them to bloom before they’re ready.
As a matter of fact, and despite not wanting to belabour the Devin Townsend comparisons more than I already have, I can’t help but feel that the intimate, immersive nature of Kindred Spirits makes it an effective antidote/antithesis to the more sprawling and psychedelic sound of Empath.
Whereas that album was, no offence intended, the equivalent of a pent-up creative cumshot, ludicrous in both overall volume and explosive release, Kindred Spirits is all about the slow-burn, the soft touch, the organic ebb and flow, so that even when you take a step back and realise just how many different elements and moving parts this album has – from atmospheric synths and rippling strings to electric riffs, intricate bass lines, soaring, multi-part vocal harmonies, and beyond – the greater whole still appears to be the product of a natural evolutionary process, with not a single moment, a single part, out of line or out of place.
Ultimately, while I’ve tried to be as careful and precise with my praise as I can be, Kindred Spirits is the sort of unmissable, unforgettable album which I count myself extremely lucky to have stumbled across. And I sincerely hope that some of you get to experience the same sense of wonder and discovery, the sensation of coming home to a place you’ve never been, that this album gave me when I first heard it… and which it continues to do each and every time I listen to it.