Northumbria: Bring Down the Sky
Late last year, guitarist Jim Field and bassist Dorian Williamson released All Days Begin as Night (Altar of Waste Records) as something of a follow-up to their Northumbria debut album, which TQA Records issued in 2012. But All Days Begin as Night—as satisfying as it is—doesn't offer the best portrait of the duo's “ambient metal” sound for the simple reason that it's primarily a remix set that couples one original with versions of Northumbria tracks by Theologian, Famine, Witxes, and Aidan Baker.
With the release of the duo's second formal full-length Bring Down the Sky, we're now able to get a better handle on what the group sounds like two years removed from its debut. Composed, performed, and produced by the duo, the five-track, forty-three-minute release serves up, we're told, “an aural journey into a dystopian wasteland.”
One of the first things one notices about the release is how effectively it's paced and sequenced. At just over four minutes, the opening “Transcendence” is the shortest of the five pieces, and so functions as something of a way into the release. It's still long enough, however, that it enables the duo to re-establish its signature dronescaping sound before opening things up further with the blistering second track, “The Ocean Calls Us Home.” An eight-minute exercise in expertly controlled mayhem, the piece sees Field layering one molten slab upon another and stretching his volcanic sound into different forms, raw at one moment and searing the next.
But instead of following one lethal piece with another, Field and Williamson wisely dial the intensity down for the central track, “Ostara,” a surprisingly delicate, prog-like meditation of pastoral character that unspools for ten hypnotic minutes. In place of scabrous guitar textures, the piece opts for crystalline, flute-like tones that provide a peaceful contrast to the tumultuous roar heard elsewhere. Following “Ostara,” “The Silver Forest,” its earth-bound title notwithstanding, locates itself far above the earth in some ultra-expansive galaxial plane inhabited by droning masses. At album end, the title track returns to the seething pitch of “The Ocean Calls Us Home” with an even more ferocious foray into cranium-crushing howl and rumble.
Were anyone to harbour doubts about whether a guitar-and-bass dronescaping outfit could sustain a listener's interest over the course of a full album, such reservations would be soundly laid to rest by Bring Down the Sky, in large part due to the well-judged sequencing of the tracks and their contrasts in style. It would be hard to imagine a more fully realized set of dronescaping than Northumbria's latest.