Amanda Votta & The Spectral Light – Secrets To The Sea

[Reviewed by: vitriol]

All three artists involved in this newly spawned project are already known and appreciated in the post-industrial scene. Amanda Votta for her exceptional work with The Floating World, Grey Malkin for his unique wyrd folk excursions in folklore traditions with The Hare And The Moon, and Neddal Ayad for The Desolation Singers, his contributions to The Floating World albums as well as his innovative, avant-garde guitar drone album under the moniker of Great Attractor, “Black Star”, that was released last year – in which Amanda and Grey have also lent a hand. A special mention should be made to Timothy Renner of psych folk ensemble Stone Breath who contributes to some parts of this album. When such artists, who have spoiled us with high quality releases and are known for their groundbreaking approach to music, meet to make an album, one thing is for sure: what we’re getting is not an ordinary release. The Spectral Light is a means for them to channel influences that will not snugly fit under the post-industrial umbrella, and to express themselves in a conjunction of common topics. What topics are these, you will ask. Why, nice and reassuring things such as death and decay, ghosts, the Devil, witchcraft, initiation, self-transformation. Feeling all warm and fuzzy just yet?

As soon as we press the ‘play’ button we are greeted by the searing opening guitar of “Black Doom”. Immediately afterwards a hypnotic melody carries on obsessively, like an obstinate child, behind the overflowing layers of guitar droning. Strongly reminiscent of some 90s bands where the beginnings of post-rock first took seed (like the Jesus And Mary Chain that the band states as an influence), the seething, bulky guitars create a dreamy atmosphere that feels as if you’re lying on a field somewhere, completely detached from reality, and suddenly the dead start calling. Amanda’s soft, ethereal vocals cut through all the fuzz like a siren’s song, dangerous and innocent at the same time, trying to lure you into another dimension. ‘You dream/ the dead/ who call you’, she sings, and you can almost see their flickering silhouettes around you.

After the guitar extravaganza of the first track follows the acoustic minimalism of “This Is How They’ll Find You”, which is basically a folk love song addressed to a ghost. Grey Malkin lends his background vocals to Amanda’s warm, soft voice which defines the track, accompanied only by some sparse notes of the guitar and some spooky sound effects. Not that the song needs anything more to raise the hair on the back of your neck. I have the impression throughout, of the music being ever so slightly out of tune, not noticeably, just a couple seconds of lag between the world of the living and the dead. The female vocals echoing into the silence, answered by the male ones are like a dialogue between singer and ghost. Creepier than a basket full of horror effects.

With “The Shepherdess And The Witch”, that has some of the most beautiful lyrics in the whole album, we return to the trippy guitars, ethereal vocals and doom, post-rock vibe. This track however is more complex in terms of composition and arrangement; there are many different melodic lines, sound effects, background vocals. There’s a delightful section somewhere in the middle, where the vocals are suspended just for a few moments, and powerful guitar accords along with drums create a sort of swelling intermission. Then the song picks up its previous thread, and by the time it ends you have slowly begun to realize the underlying bitterness and melancholy of this album. Its daydreaming ambience may hide it from you at first, but right about this point you’re already in too deep to quit.

In “Dream At Daybreak” the percussions are more present, intensifying the sense of rhythm. Somewhat lighter in tone, its simple, catchy melodies and laid back, intertwining guitars have elements of country, even of blues, filtered through the prism or alternative and post-rock. This is without doubt the most ‘catchy’ tune of the recording, the one you might be humming after the first listen. Something which makes the contradiction between music and lyrics all the more savory, as your moments of basking in the sun are laced with poison. This light is corrupt, and as the lyrics point out ‘the shining sun falls like rain’.

Now we are approaching the closing of the album and things are getting considerably darker and more twisted. “Moonflowers” is moodier, heavier, more perverse and cryptic. Distorted guitars that sound like the claws of a corpse trying to pry open its coffin or the wheezing of a dying man. Eerie drones. Reverbs that linger like the reflection of a ghost in an old photograph. The vocals beckoning a presence that had perhaps been there all along, invoking it into the light. ‘You are the secret thing/ That hides behind the moon’, Amanda sings, and all witches know what she means. The echo of her voice is carried in the wind in the track’s dark ambient outro.

The steady, pulsating percussions in “I Am The Moon” pair with the rhythmical vocals, and the piercing guitar and synth sequence create a dramatic escalation. In the two and a half minutes that it lasts, the song manages to present a very interesting hybrid of rock/ doomgaze with some faint pop overtones – not to mention that it most likely refers to having sex with the Devil. That’s definitely a plus in my book.

The album ends with “Feathers And Godbones”, that is by far the loudest and noisiest song in the album. In the same vein as “Moonflowers”, it’s filled with darkness and gloom and an affinity to everything that may hide in the dark. Unbearably heavy guitars and percussions that sound like rocks falling one on top of the other, or like dirt being thrown into a grave that harbours a pale, beautiful corpse. The last one and a half minute is a thunderous psychedelic doom explosion of guitars and drums that are just screaming and hissing and banging around their theme until it’s beaten up good and dead. Giving a new meaning to the phrase ‘going out with a bang’, this is probably one of the best ways to end an album I’ve ever encountered.

“Secrets To The Sea” is a fascinating combination of doomgaze, post-rock, sludge and guitar drone, embellished with elements from a few other genres such as dark folk, ambient and even the occasional ethereal touches, mostly evident in the vocals. One of the most satisfying things about it, apart from the wonderful tunes and mean musicianship that is, is the fact that the sound is dirty and raw, subjected to minimal processing, with the result of the album sounding very intimate and natural. The lyrics are as important as the music, since this whole atmosphere of otherworldly allure, pagan witchery and ghostly eroticism that it conveys is incomplete without the words that express it. Words that are cast like spells over a web of buzzing guitars and chilling sound effects, capable of seducing even the most experienced traveller into these thick woods, where the wonders of death bloom under the light of the moon. Under this light, the dead are not so unkind.

Amanda Votta & The Spectral LightSecrets To The Sea
Reverb Worship, RW 270
CD 2014

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