Here’s an obscure but intriguing new release that’s been getting a great deal of playtime on the Steel Druhm turntables of late. Landforge is the musical project of one Stephan Carter. As the sole member and performer, he’s created a strange experimental journey, which he refers to as “post-rock/post-metal, with doom influences.” While I don’t quite know what “post-metal” means, Servitude to Earth is an interesting merger of black metal, doom and minimalist post-rock, borrowing elements from bands like Black Sun Aeon, Agalloch and Altar of Plagues. Servitude (Landforge‘s second album), features six fairly long, guitar-driven, instrumental tracks of mostly melancholy moods, almost entirely unadorned by vocals. While that would normally turn me off, I didn’t mind it at all here. These songs are interesting, engaging, emotional works, at times epic, and often quite beautiful. This is an album that takes you on a journey and it’s been a worthwhile one every time I’ve spun it.
Things begin very well with “First Watch,” which opens with soft, soothing fretwork and slowly builds to more urgent riffing and leads. It has a decidedly Agalloch flavor as things progress, especially reminiscent of The Mantle era. It alternates between somber beauty and edgy tension, but everything flows so well, it carries you right along effortlessly. It also conjures up images of snow-covered forests and mighty trees (as any good Agalloch song should!). I really like the frigid trem-riffs toward the end. The best is yet to come however, as “Enchantress” rolls in with a huge Black Sun Aeon feel to the riffs and leads, especially at the 1:00 point, which is pure Tuomos Saukkonen. From there, it’s all beautifully layered guitar harmonies with tons of feeling and emotion. A great piece with exceptional sense of ebb and flow. “God-Figure” has addictingly trilling leads alongside traditional doom riffs, and the effect is hypnotic and satisfying.
Ghostly, ethereal vocals surface briefly during the tail end of “Triquetra,” which is the most “post-rocky” of the tracks. It’s spacious, open, minimalist, and though it drags a bit in spots, it’s an interesting mood piece. Things pick up with the harder, more direct riffing, interesting synth effects and emotional solo-work on “Pilgrim,” and the more traditional doom approach used for “Phalanx.” The harmonies on “Phalanx” are sure to remind of recent Katatonia at their bleak best.
Since there are virtually no vocals, Servitude to Earth rests entirely on the guitars to captivate, and more often than not, Carter’s riffs, leads and harmonies are up to the task. He has an interesting way of layering the harmonies, which really works for me and keeps me interested. However, none of these tracks rushes to get anywhere and none are crushingly heavy. This is a reflective, introspective work, with occasional bouts of tension and aggression to break up the contemplative moods.
The production is surprisingly good and the guitar tone is great. Carter’s harmonies are easily discernible and clear. The drums also sound quite good, though I don’t know if they are real or programmed.
While this clearly isn’t for everybody, those with a little patience and an appreciation of somber, doomy compositions will be pleasantly surprised. I’ve been spinning this quite a bit lately and the more I dig into it, the more I appreciate what Carter is doing sound-wise. If you need a break from the typical metal assaults, give this (and the first album) a flyer. It may just post-rock your world.