There is a hole in North American metal. The Great Cold Death of Agalloch was abrupt though not unwarranted given the air of similarity by the release of Marrow of the Spirit and the questionable success of the experimentation in The Serpent and the Sphere. It’s preferable to leave your audience wanting more than ultimately tiring them. But such was their influence (and Ulver‘s Bergtatt before them) that there are many bands, particularly from the Cascadian scene, which bear clear lines of affinity to them. Though slightly beyond these borders, we arrive at Ontario’s Vow of Thorns and their assumption of this Mantle on their début full-length, Farewell to the Sun.
It’s wrong to suggest that Farewell is most like The Mantle but it’s more difficult to work Ashes Against the Grain into a punny intro. As such, it proffers blackened post-metal, favoring atmosphere and texture above raw riffage. Though softer and heavier passages are present, there’s far more of the latter and these are blacker than typical of this style. These passages sport galloping percussion and are groovier than is typical for this style so there is a definite chunkiness to their aggression. The lighter sections are distanced from their folk-influenced peers as electric guitars are retained and unconventional instrumentation bypassed. In total, a feeling of desolation is evoked quite well and the melodies are reasonably infectious. The best track is assuredly “Farewell to the Sun Part I” – it’s long enough to allow its central melody to suffuse itself but short enough that repetition doesn’t begin to rear its ugly head. The opening softness is the best of its type on the album. However, it’s also conspicuous that this is the shortest track.
There isn’t anything greatly wrong with Farewell and indeed, a lot is good. But it’s just not engaging enough throughout to warrant a higher award. Some riffs become repetitive as atmosphere is generated through cyclical passages which go on for too long. 3 of the 6 tracks exceed 10 minutes and while the melodies may be solid, they can’t withstand this duration. The longest, “Doomed Woods,” peters out very blandly by plodding to its conclusion. Worse is that this is the last song so a dull flavor is left at the album’s end. A few of the transitions are also a little abrupt or awkward – nothing album-ruining but they signify that this is still a young band.
Another part of this good-but-not-great sentiment is that Farewell isn’t quite as atmospheric or evocative as it tries to be. This type of music lives and dies not by immediacy and sweet licks but by its passive aura and how it makes you feel. Significant to these are the quieter bits which are often used to encourage feelings of beauty or the ethereal but here they aren’t great in themselves and merely pace the album. The only reason they stand out is because they are different, not because they’re evocative.
To Vow of Thorns‘s credit, the production is very competent. Ex-Agalloch‘s Jason Walton was responsible for the mix and master: the mix is extremely balanced with good percussive presence for black metal and the master reasonably dynamic. The only niggle I would note is that the stage could be airier when the music gets quiet – this is fine in the aforementioned introduction to “Farewell to the Sun Part I” but otherwise these parts sound a little dense for my liking.
Farewell to the Sun is a good introduction to Vow of Thorns. It demonstrates a knack for fusing more rhythmic black metal with post-metal in an effective fashion and there is undoubted talent as the melodies work well. More evocative slower passages and more frequent development of the songs would benefit a successor. For now this is good – but it comes with qualifications.