Wilderness Hymnal - Anthropocene - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Wilderness Hymnal - Anthropocene

by Steve Rhodes Rating:8 Release Date:2018-11-30
Wilderness Hymnal - Anthropocene
Wilderness Hymnal - Anthropocene

Manchester-based multi-instrumentalist Javier G Wallis has operated as Wilderness Hymnal mostly in the live arena for a number of years, equally effective as a soloist or with a few band members for assistance. With just one low-key EP in the back catalogue, Javier is joined by guitarist Mike Kelly and drummer John Simm for debut album Anthropocene, a tour-de-force of a release. Dark and deeply emotive, it's not exactly easy listening, but an experimental joy that immerses and focuses the listener's attention throughout.

An ominous John Carpenter synth drone, the sound of a buried cricket and a distant chiming clock open up 'Verguenza' as an oriental-tinged synth, favoured by Dead Can Dance, sounding like a number of woodwind instruments combined, takes the lead before the drones are replaced by heavy-chorded keys. Percussion is added before Javier's sustained and vocals join the fray. Semi-industrial like Deftones or The God Machine meets King Woman, this is an excellent, dramatic opener that revels in the experimentation realm of Picastro and Exploded View, whilst maintaining a strong identity.

Background thunder and a throbbing, circulating electronic pulse launch 'Abyssal', as dark chimes, subtle electronica and Javier's deep-centred, chant-centric vocals appear. Marimba-sounding keys temporarily take a slight edge off before being replaced by heavier minor-key piano notes. The tone remains dark, especially when Javier's decayed and multi-tracked vocals are used a bewitching instrument and a chaotic and distorted, buried guitar weaves its menace in a Godspeed You! Black Emperor way. The tension gives way to a more conventional but still dark outro as ascending piano chords, rolling percussion and vocals lock together in a haunting, building close, referencing a frantic Her Name Is Calla.

An almost-sanguine feedbacked guitar fuzz greets 'Altar' leading into a piano-heavy, vocally expressive and mantric song, like a pared-down Tomorrow We Sail. The piano doesn't follow a repetitive set path, with nice 'missteps' on the notes which still flow naturally from one to the next. As with the tone of the album, the track follows a dense course, before dropping out completely and opening out. Though the piano keys are still minor-focused there is more space between the notes, before the track increases slowly in tempo, building toward a frenetic end, only to take another turn, with long guitar notes and a more progressive finale, nearer to Marillion's more recent work. An interesting multi-parted track, with each segment sitting well and segueing nicely with each other.

The sudden change in pace and tone is a regular feature throughout a great chunk of the album and it never sounds stitched together as an afterthought. 'Ascension' neatly demonstrates this as piano and bass drum-heavy percussion, a la Blueneck, joined by a meandering organ, are the backbone for Javier's powerful vocals, setting the stall nicely. Before the track takes an about turn and mellows out with just piano and vocals taking it forward, with the odd background noise adding to the atmosphere, that becomes more foreboding as the song develops. A beautiful, enchanting track that could soundtrack the most mystical of European TV dramas.

'Caldera' has tom-tom heavy percussion and a repetitive guitar lick, joined by deep organ chords, that plod along nicely in a fairly monotone direction, before the drums suddenly pick up the pace and delayed guitar squalls enter proceedings, strongly enlivening the track to a satisfactory outcome. Like Mogwai combining forces with A Dead Forest Index, the only downside is the songs ends too quickly before it could truly take off.

The best of all the 'shapeshifters' is 'Meltwater', beginning with strummed bass and synth-heavy, its notes are lighter and airier, that still take dark wobbles from time-to-time, hinting at prog titans King Crimson. A busier opening that again takes an experimental break, as brooding guitar notes and unsettling electronic noises guide the track forward to its next chapter, followed by electronic piano, bounding percussion and echoed minimal guitar notes along with what sounds like a wayward, distant alarm call synth. An interesting blend of ingredients that nods equally to Post-Rock and an experimental Tears For Fears, accompanied by metal drumming and chiming, distorted guitar, ending in a beautiful, soaring finale. A song crammed full of ideas that on paper shouldn't work but does so effortlessly with aplomb.

Darkness and claustrophobia are still the predominant paths, as an almost aggressive piano lay the baleful tracks of 'Bone Script', up there with Christine Ott's more maudlin work or a demonically-possessed Bat For Lashes. Javier's vocals don't exactly lighten the mood, taking a doomier, theatrical and despairing approach, reminiscent of a lightly-restrained Diamanda Galas.

Perhaps the album's highlight 'Aorta' sums up all the strengths of Javier's repertoire in one short piece. Electronic percussion, what sounds like bowed, metal machinery and Bauhaus-centric tones lead the way. An organ borrowed from World In Action and Javier's vocal expressiveness, coupled with the percussion feels akin to Fever Ray and Brendan Perry, propels the song forward, as 70s analogue synths from the bowels of Logan's Run appear and conventional drums add density and depth to a great track.

The two-minute 'Sulphur' is a respite with a melodic, hopeful organ taking centre stage (if still surrounded by ominous noises to begin with), supported by rolling drums and Javier's vocals, which delicately move the song forward to its far-to-sudden close. A nice conclusion to an intriguing slow-burner of an album.

If you're looking for optimistic vibes look away now, 'Anthropocene' is a challenging but ultimately deeply rewarding album that readily changes its structure and tone without feeling disjointed, dabbling in prog, avant-garde, atonal noise, chamber music, Goth and the whole kitchen caboodle, without comfortably settling in any, or being a mere tribute to a particular artist, which in this day and age is an achievement indeed.

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