A Storm of Light
Forgive Us Our Trespasses

Despite holding a high opinion of Josh Graham’s talent, particularly in his expert handling of the visual elements of Neurosis’s live performances and the stunning A Sun That Never Sets DVD release, I was somewhat let down by his first foray into our collective musical consciousness, that being the pleasantly heavy, if not all too thrilling output of Red Sparowes. For that reason, I had bypassed his newer group, A Storm of Light and their 2008 debut, despite it’s significant pedigree, a pedigree that included on earlier efforts Unsane/Swans drummer Vinnie Signorelli. Signorelli has since left the group, but Graham has widened the cast on this sophomore effort to include ex-Tombs bassist Domenic Seita in the primary quartet, as well as a bevy of female guest artists including, most notably, ex-Swans, now solo vocalist Jarboe and infamous multi-faceted performer Lydia Lunch along with Sleepytime Gorilla Museum’s violinist Carla Kihlstedt and Nerissa Campbell among others. I, for my part, will attempt to rectify my earlier negligence by heaping praise on the product of this substantial collaboration, as it is quite worthy of attention for all fans of heavy, atmospheric and experimental music.

Graham’s previous musical excursions are in fact the best reference point for A Storm of Light in terms of placing them in a general context; that is the listener will be confronted with monolithic metal, spiritually forged in a folkish aesthete, a formula which is no doubt familiar to fans of Neurosis and Red Sparowes. This said, Forgive Us Our Trespasses is simultaneously more intensely orchestrated and organically personable than either, giving it it’s own unique charm within the niche, if not radically expanding on the style. There are two additional areas in which A Storm of Light sets themselves apart from the current wave of slow ‘n’ steady, epic sludge, first being the amazing vocal harmonies, which are a prominent part of every song with virtually every performer, band-members and guests alike, participating in various combinations. While many bands, across many genres, have begun to attempt more ambitious ideas as to the role of vocals in heavy music, the quality of both the conception of execution of such ideas on this album is something truly awesome to behold.

To complement the whole of the vocal performance is to take nothing away from it’s prime mover, that being Mr. Graham’s excellent lead vocal and expert phrasing, which provides for a consistently compelling narrative through these fantastic songs, the composition of which is the second area of brilliance which truly sets this album apart. The struggle, for Mr. Graham and others playing in similar fields, has been to sustain the epic ambiance of the style while seeking to attain a more cohesive compositional framework, more attractive to those who may become easily alienated by such ambitious music. As stated above and elsewhere, such attempts have often ended in failure caused by castrating the base heaviness of the sound, resulting in music that is more accessible, but less interesting. Here that is firmly corrected, as the band not only creates instantly memorable songs which can stand on their individual merits, they further manage to enhance these already excellent songs with the guest contributions, rather than distract from them, a feat more impressive in light of the total of eleven artists playing fourteen different instruments, each contributing vocals as previously mentioned.

Within any one listen and certainly upon repeated listens, the varied achievements mentioned above seem of an even more triumphant nature in light of the fact that I could likely go on for days or pages about this record and still leave a lot out. Off the top of my head, I neglected to mention the evocative, poetically apocalyptic lyricism and artwork, the excellent performance of the primary (bass, drums, guitars) band, not too mention the interesting use of additional instrumentation (including banjo, cello, Wurlitzer, etc…) and the brilliant production/ engineering by Josh Hamilton. If it’s too cliché to state that this album works on ‘so many levels’ and the listener ‘will discover new things on each listen’; I fear I can find no way of avoiding such platitudes. After spending most of 2009 listening to decent-to-good-bordering-on-pretty-great albums, desperately awaiting something undeniably transcendent to cross my path, my prayers have been answered, loudly, by this ceaselessly creative, ultimately heavy and poignantly, almost overwhelmingly emotional release, an essential release in every sense of the word.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by John Gnesin
October 20th, 2009

Comments

  1. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    I love the orchestration on this- not sold on Grahams vocals, but the other folks make up for it


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