Alunah – Violet Hour Review

Those more tenured readers may recall that I was rather taken with Alunah’s Awakening the Forest, a folksy, beforested homage to Black Sabbath featuring exemplary female vocals to carry its tunes. 2017’s Solennial fared less well as I queried the limitations of the style and less memorable song-writing. 2019 has rolled around and with it the succeeding album called Violet Hour. Violet Hour is the first Alunah full-length release (following last year’s EP called Amber & Gold) without founding member and singer Sophie Day. Their sound is hardly one challenging boundaries or progressing its scene but this shake-up to a core component had the potential to change the band more widely. Has it?

In a few words, not really. Violet Hour is not a dramatic divergence from earlier releases, despite Day’s departure. The guitar riffs and vocals are prominently exhibited at the front of the mix, served by adequate drumming and bass work which principally accentuate these elements. Alunah knew what they were doing when they drafted in Sian Greenaway to fill Day’s boots. It’s tough to imagine the material being even as close to engaging without her great pipes, which elevate the emotive moments and, along with the lead guitar line, offer the principle melodies on which listeners may hang their hat. In particular, “Dance of Deceit” and “Hunt” open with smokier croons which demonstrate the new talent and emotive power in Greenaway’s voice. “Velvet” is also interesting as it features a lighter, floating, flitty vocal style which dances over the underlying riffs in an engaging fashion.

In more words, although the sound is largely similar to previously, Violet Hour does develop in some ways. I’m unsure whether Greenaway contributes to song-writing but her entry appears to have galvanized a simultaneously more direct and more diverse approach. The songs are slightly shorter and faster in general, with 4 tracks under 5 minutes. They’re also best when they’re more varied and change occurs. For example, the cleaner guitar tone and harmonization featured in the second half of “Dance of Deceit” elevates the track, lightening the tone but escalating its passion. It evokes to me the sun breaking through the foliage of the track’s first half. Similarly, “Hunt” adopts a stripped back approach by escaping from thick grooves during its verses; this exposes a rawer, atmospheric side which allows Greenaway to shine all the brighter (while also boasting a heavy but catchy chorus and great concluding riff). The closer called “Lake of Fire” also opens with a soft passage, allowing an organ, the gentle drums and a noodling guitar space to wind and flow in a way which I’ve not heard elsewhere in the Alunah discography. I don’t want to overstate the prevalence of these passages as the core music created follows a clear mold from prior albums but where Violet Hour wanders further from this is where I’m most engaged.

However, not all change is for the best. Though “Dance of Deceit” still features that hazy, woodsy feel which characterized Awakening the Forest, that folksy tone is less pervasive through Violet Hour. The relative absence of the mysticism is not inherently a flaw so long as the melodies and song-writing are on point. However, some tracks are not sufficiently on point to overcome the diminution of the folksy material which conferred another tonal layer to appreciate. A few of the tracks, while able to boast good riffs and good vocals, simply aren’t that memorable overall. Conceptually, the tools are top drawer but the plans being developed are unexciting. Notably, “Hypnotised” is quite flat and the opening minutes of “Unholy Disease” can be described as uneventful.

I’m left with a question: am I able to distinguish some of these tracks? The burly riffs and sultry vocals do their best to positively answer this question, but this compilation of 8 tracks features several which broadly follow the same song-writing template at the same tempo for the same duration of time. Certainly, it isn’t the best retro doom release of the year. It isn’t even the best just from the UK. But there are strengths enough here that particular fans of the Sabbath sound may glean more and older fans may rest assured that the loss of Day has not dramatically compromised the vocal qualities of the band; Greenaway is superb in her own right. In summary, Violet Hour is quite good in spots but Alunah would benefit from leveraging their diverse moments to transform their next record into a truly recommended release.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Heavy Psych Sounds
Websites: | |
Release date: October 11th, 2019

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