Monday, December 10, 2012

THE DOUGLAS FIRS The Furious Sound

Most of the first half of the second album from orchestral alt-folk ensemble The Douglas Firs is propelled by the heavy insistent beat of multiple sets of drums. Not intricate soft-brushed patterns or jovial rolls and fills but an ominous, repetitive heavy thud. It’s taken a step further on ‘ Fortress’ where the combined throb of drums, electric bass and hammered piano sound intimidating, like the metallic pounding on the gate to said citadel.

If the first album “Happy As A Windless Flag” often recalled the angular alt-rock volatility of Deerhunter, the propulsive menace of this one recalls the baroque intensity of These New Puritan on "Hidden" – only with less roto-toms and (slightly) less martial belligerence and more liturgical chant alongside Neil Insh’s Zach Condon-like airy croon. The oppressive sense of doom for the first six songs does subside but the dark mood lingers and feels entirely appropriate for an album loosely based around the East Lothian witch trials of 1590 at which seventy people were tortured, tried and burned to death. And if that sounds jolly, “The Furious Sound” goes further and seeks to become “an investigation into outsiders, madness, extreme internal states, physical degradation and the brevity of human life”.

There is no easily discernible narrative thread despite these theme(s) and song titles like ‘Vastations’ or ‘Firelight Acolyte Diorama’ lend the album an arcane aura, but there is a tighter musical focus to “The Furious Sound” than its predecessor. Its thirteen tracks - recorded in churches, dungeons and forests – move from the pounding opening of ‘The Great Generations’ to ethereal, post-rock abstraction (‘Black Forest’), haunting monastic shimmer and chill (‘Firelight Acolyte Diorama’) and angelic orchestral elegies (‘The Possessed’ and ‘Monument’). I love the dark atmospherics, the sense of menace and doom mixed with orchestral delicacy and the sweetness of Insh’s voice but it can feel (intentionally I suspect) unrelentingly oppressive. The sprawling randomness of “Happy As A Windless Flag” in comparison does appear a virtue to change and lighten the mood. So far this record is still in the shadow of that predecessor for me but there’s no denying its compelling dark and original powers.

The Douglas Firs - Backroads by Armellodie

The Douglas Firs The Furious Sound [BUY]

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