Friday, June 6, 2014
Review: Barren Harvest - Subtle Cruelties (Handmade Birds)
Barren Harvest is a collaborative project between Lenny Smith and Jessica Way, both boasting an impressive history in bands such as Atriarch and Worm Ouroboros. While both of their other bands reside at least somewhat in the realm of doom, Barren Harvest is a completely different sort of project. This record is delicate, ethereal, leaving space for the listener to breathe and take in the music. What the two create is a somber dream-like experience, focusing heavily on atmosphere through the use of synth, autoharp, acoustic guitar, and the interplay of their two very distinct voices.
The album starts with "The Bleeding" a perfect opener and representative of what is to come. Beginning with a droning passage that is accompanied by the beautiful guitar work of Jessica Way. Her playing is delicate yet very self-assured, simplistic in structure but carrying with it tons of emotional weight. Way's guitar is joined by her gorgeous singing soon interplaying with Smith's deep, haunting voice. Vocal duties are shared by the two, exchanging verses of the lyrical poetry on each song, using their voices as instruments. The vocals work along side the simple instrumentation perfectly, giving both chances to shine and present themselves to the listener. Taking nods from dark folk and ethereal music luminaries like Death in June and Dead Can Dance, Barren Harvest create a sound of their own by combining the two. While comparisons can be made to these artists what these two create is something new, seemingly ushering in a new era of dark folk music. One of swirling dream-like synths combined with intricate guitar work.
The album works to slowly and quietly subdue, taking it's time to lodge is haunting melodies in the listener's brain. The album feels as though it was meticulously crafted by the two musicians, both pouring themselves into the project. Every note strummed or sung is deliberate. Working from a seemingly simplistic structure, what they fabricate is anything but. The track "Reveal" exemplifies this, voices cascade in and out, clashing with one another in beautiful harmony while eerie synth and strums of an electric guitar maintain a repetitive backing. Creating something complex out of minimalism. The conceptual structure of the album is also interesting and forces the listener to attempt to understand the member's intentions. The album is divided into two sorts of tracks, the meat of the album is broken up by tracks with the title "Memoriam" these range from ten seconds to nearly seven minutes. The "Memoriam" tracks are less melodic and more ethereal, some consisting of only whispered vocals, some of droning synth, some a combination of both. These juxtaposed against the more straightforward folk tracks creates the perfect contrast of abstraction and accessibility.
What Barren Harvest have achieved through Subtle Cruelties is a true triumph. A somber soundtrack to the changing of the seasons. Rooted in nature, one can hear the crunch of autumns leaves, the whisper of the winter wind, the cold rain of spring, and the birds chirping as summer rears it's head. This album comes highly recommended for any fans of dark/neofolk and for metal fans seeking something more contemplative that still contains a brooding atmosphere. Subtle Cruelties was released by Handmade Birds in a beautiful gatefold CD and LP designed by the prolific Kevin Gan Yuen of Sutekh Hexen and Viraloptic, it can be purchased here.