01. The Water That We All Come To Need
03. A Road of Gravel And Skulls
04. The Womb, The Woe, The Woman
05. A Falling Deity
It’s always a little hard to predict how long writing an album review is going to take. Sometimes you can whip up a critique on a 22-track double album after a couple of listens and an hour at the keyboard; other times it can take days to put to paper your thoughts on a single song. The five tracks on A Bright Celestial Light, debut full-length release from Swedish post-metal duo The Moth Gatherer, fell well into the latter camp, and only after a multitude of listens was I able to solidify in my own mind what I thought of the LP. I had decided after my initial listen that the album was a poster child for bland, unoriginal metal – but eventually settled upon a belief that A Bright Celestial Light is a triumph of a debut release and lays the groundwork for a future standout of the genre.
Though easiest to categorise The Moth Gatherer as post-metal or sludge, the terms do little to provide insight on the complex, multi-dimensional, and remarkably varied style put forward on this album. The style of metal The Moth Gatherer play is often reminiscent of the earlier albums of genre heavyweights Cult Of Luna and ISIS, with the heavy emphasis on vibrant soundscapes and the balance of ambiance and aggression this comparison entails. The band have hit the nail on the head with regards to what makes sludge metal what it is, and A Bright Celestial Light is, at its best, a masterful balance of countless precise and complex elements of sound and feel.
When discussing the record and their approach to writing and music, band members Alex Stjernfeldt and Victor Wegeborn have emphasised that the aim of A Bright Celestial Light is to invoke an emotional response in the listener and for the album to serve as an “emotional explosion”. The album’s thematic focus on death and the loss of loved ones matches perfectly with the instrumentation and the emotional weight and conviction is palpable. This element of the record is one which begins to become more and more noticeable and rewarding with multiple listens, allowing an increasing insight into the subtleties of the songwriting and the stylistic concepts the band set out to convey.
Opener “The Water That We All Come To Need” eases the listener in with an extended ambient introduction, gradually building tension before the release of the crushing onslaught of noise so central to the genre. The heavier portions of the track, along with the album as a whole, benefit strongly from intelligent layering of sound and fantastic production values, allowing a careful balance between an oppressive wall of noise and a nuanced soundscape. When compared to many of their contemporaries, The Moth Gatherer have less of a tendency to linger on their riffs and each plodding and melancholic break soon transforms into something new as layers of sound are added and removed and the rhythm and feel evolve as each track progresses. Whereas the heavier moments on “A Road of Gravel and Skulls” are categorised by thundering bass and riff-heavy guitars reminiscent of Pelican, “The Womb, The Woe, The Woman” instead works with a richer and more layered sound which urges comparison to melodic doom metal a la Swallow The Sun. The variety of ways in which the band have been able to express the more driving and aggressive moments on each track are a great strength to its ability to grab the listener’s attention and illuminate the wide range of influences that seem to have impacted upon the duo’s composing.
The album reaches its peak for me with the aforementioned “The Womb, The Woe, The Woman”; an expansive and complex 10-minute exploration of the band’s sound. So much of what The Moth Gatherer do well is encapsulated within the track’s run time, and it stands up as one of my favourite post metal tracks released in recent years. After an immediate onslaught of crushing and layered riffing, the song breaks down into a reserved and highly atmospheric break. I have for years been a die hard fan of ambient and post-rock, and the competency with which The Moth Gatherer capture the prevailing elements of these styles in their slower and more melodic movements is remarkable. These clearly defined and lengthy melodic breaks are again a stylistic choice shared with other bands, most directly Cult Of Luna, and whereas Cult Of Luna often seemed to channel Explosions In The Sky during these moments, the extensive use of piano on A Bright Celestial Light is more reminiscent of This Will Destroy You. More than anything else on this album, the often beautiful ambient movements nestled within each track are what really got me to start appreciating just how much the record has to offer and how accomplished The Moth Gatherer are as musicians and songwriters.
Vocally, A Bright Celestial Light plays it relatively safe and rarely deviates from the characteristic guttural yells that are a mainstay of sludge metal, and where the band do deviate from this norm they achieve mixed results. The almost southern rock-tinged clean vocals found on “Intervention” are a real success and allow the track to set itself apart in feel and tone from others on the album, its earlier section almost evocative of slower tracks from more recent Mastodon albums. In contrast to this, a smattering of guttural croaks towards the tail end of “The Womb, The Woe, The Woman” fall disappointingly flat and feel out of place when placed in an album of otherwise such consistent quality and attention to detail. The vocal performance on this record isn’t the element which sets it apart but still manages to contribute a significant element to the sound and in the heaviest moments on A Bright Celestial Light is vital for conveying the fraught emotional mood being put across. Closer “A Falling Deity“, the most consistently slow and melodic track on the LP, suffers little for its complete lack of vocals throughout and this observation solidifies for me that the dominant strength of this record lies in its instrumentation.
A Bright Celestial Light is a perfect example of an album which requires multiple listens before it becomes at all possible to pinpoint the artist’s capabilities and intent, but strongly rewards this commitment once it is made. After one listen, I was convinced that The Moth Gatherer were little more than an unremarkable and characterless conglomeration of the most well known acts in their genre, but as each listen passed it became more and more apparent just how much depth the album possessed and the remarkable soundscapes it held within. Though I focused mainly on its strongest facets in this review, A Bright Celestial Light is not a perfect record by any means – however in the places it shines it does so brightly enough to more than compensate for its failings. The quality of this debut release leaves me waiting with baited breath to hear what this band can produce in the future and I proffer a strong recommendation for anyone to check it out.