Battlestations – In A Cold Embrace

If you want to know what the music on this wonderful ambient/post-rock/psychedelic band’s latest album will sound like, take a look at the cover. A figure, apparently wearing nothing more than a white mask and an umbrella, stands with arms outstretched against a faded black and white background. It’s utterly strange, beautifully bleak, and more than a little bit unsettling, but however cold it might be, this strange figure is offering the listener an embrace.

And so it is with the music as well. “In A Cold Embrace,” throughout its instrumental 45 minute runtime, presents the listener with a voyage that is at times completely alien and more than a little bleak, but through it all there’s the desire to draw you in. “In A Cold Embrace” manages to pull off what so very few albums can in this day and age: it completely draws the listener into itself, taking one on a voyage that really can only be experienced by listening to the album from beginning to end. In an age where mainstream music is judged on its hooks and its accessibility, Battlestations dares to put the focus squarely on the big picture: every note of this album serves primarily to serve the larger construction. It’s a bold move, no doubt; without catchy choruses or repeating melodies or even distinct sections in the music, it would have been very easy to turn in an album that seemed wandering or even boring.

Fortunately, the band avoids these pitfalls to turn in one of the most beautifully, perfectly constructed albums I’ve heard yet this year. Throughout its entire length, there isn’t a single moment on this album that feels like filler or noodling. Every track feels impeccably deliberate, and as a result the album as a whole comes off as a dreamy, wonderful and entirely cohesive journey.

“Prologue: Nature Morte/You’re Not Welcome Here” begins the voyage with a rather sedate guitar part over some unusual backing music that sounds like a combination between psychedelic post-rock and trance electronica. The effect is simply breathtaking; despite having a very subtle development the track is nuanced and far deeper than merely the sum of its parts. In fact, despite a good percentage of the sound consisting of repeated motifs that are slowly developed and blended together, the track is utterly compelling throughout its hefty 13 minute runtime. All of the different parts blend together perfectly to create music which defies and transcends strict classification into one genre, and is all the better for its unclassifiability (if that’s even a word).

“Comrade/The Way We Grieve” follows seamlessly from the first track, and in much the same vein. An acoustic guitar part quickly takes the lead, and the track begins to take on a slightly heavier, more rhythmic edge which nonetheless maintains the trancelike dreaminess that so permeated the first track. In fact, despite the bleakness of the instrumentation and the vibe given off by the track’s title and the album’s artwork, I can actually detect a kind of hopefulness in the music here, even if it is a rather melancholy hopefulness. Regardless of what emotions you can find in it, however, there’s no doubt that this second track is equally as beautiful as the first. With passages that are by turns familiar and incredibly strange, it’s an amazing journey that’s never less than stellar.

“Interlude: Time Stands Still” is the shortest track on the album by a good margin, but it nonetheless carries a great deal of drama, with no shortage of cinematic dynamic changes and a pseudo-melodic guitar part that serves perfectly in the track’s role as “Interlude.”

“Breaking Bad News/The Faces We Remember” starts off on a rather minimalistic note. A spare guitar part taking center stage against a beautiful ambient backdrop that utilizes a huge variety of musical textures and drones to create a shimmering, rumbling atmosphere capable of conjuring up incredibly powerful emotions despite its relative sparseness. Spectacularly used minimalistic percussion and bass give the track a very unique feel, and as with the other tracks on the album the pacing is brilliant; when the mood intensifies with about a minute and a half left in the track the band is able to create one of the finest musical moments I’ve heard in recent memory. If the previous three tracks somehow weren’t convincing enough, “Breaking Bad News/The Faces We Remember” should provide ample proof that as composers and performers, the members of this band are masters of their craft.

“The Semblance of Fate/Epilogue: Citizen Creep” begins with more of the shimmering atmospheres and unique guitar work that have appeared all over the album. It’s truly a testament to the band’s skill that despite most of the tracks utilizing similar instrumentation there isn’t a single moment on the album that feels same-y or recycled; in fact, at risk of overusing the word there isn’t a single moment on this album that is less than breathtakingly beautiful. A haunting piano part is an integral part of the beginning of this track, working wonderfully in and around the track’s atmospheres to again conjure up strong emotional feelings. Guitar takes over for the track’s middle third, utilizing the same kind of brilliantly slow-paced build as many of the other tracks and bursting forth in a cathartic wash of emotion right before the 6 minute mark. Stellar orchestral accompaniments and atmospheric rumblings help bring the track to a close, while piano and guitar continue to play beautifully understated roles. As a slightly distorted piano part brings the track to a close, there’s once again a faint but extremely audible ray of hope among the melancholy strains of the rest of the track, and it’s a spectacular end for one extremely spectacular album. If you’re even tangentially interested in this sort of instrumental, dark ambient psychedelic post-rock, you owe it to yourself to pick this album up. This is stellar stuff.

Tracklist:

1. Prologue: Nature Morte/You’re Not Welcome Here
2. Comrade/The Way We Grieve
3. Interlude: Time Stands Still
4. Breaking Bad News/The Faces We Remember
5. The Semblance of Fate/Epilogue: Citizen Creep/The End

Links:

http://www.battlestations.ws/

Sections of this review originally appeared on Progarchives.com

1 Comment

  1. reza

    July 27, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    this is an amazing melancholic music.

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