Barishi – OId Smoke Review

Barishi’s 2016 release Blood from the Lion’s Mouth retained the peculiar progressive power of their inconsistent debut, adding a visceral and claustrophobic edge to their sound. It was a much more streamlined effort that showed glimpses of a band working towards something exciting. It lacked a sense of unity. Instead, it consisted of short tracks that dramatically varied in tone and mood, strong in their own right but less stable when held in context: a tasting platter. Old Smoke arrives after a four year silence, a long time between records these days. How has their sound developed?

A fuzzy, coiling, snaking mass of esoteric echoes begins Old Smoke. This is a musical realm of reverberation, drifting and fragmented in mood and atmosphere. Barishi has taken on the long-form with menacing confidence. Gone are the hookier melodies of Blood from the Lion’s Mouth. Now, a callous twisting monstrosity emerges. “The Silent Circle” takes its first breaths with the doleful thickness of the bass laced around jutting riffs and breathy growls. It’s a steady rise, simmering with a desert-like sunrise – you know the heat, the sweat and the vibrancy of the intense sun is on its way. Screeching guitar noise, distant and paranormal, scours the top of the mix – this swirling ambient noise hooks to the writhing riff work, adding a tasteful depth to the mix. For a band with only three members there’s a richness of sound, elements to uncover. “The Silent Circle” is relatively simplistic. Barishi build to a fervent endgame with heightened intensity built into the track’s fluidity. The bass in the drumming becomes more enhanced, ambient noise swirls stronger, and Graham Brooks’ chord-based approach holds more fury.

Gone is the vocalist from the previous record. Guitarist Graham Brooks takes up the mantle – a huge improvement on the monotony of the vocal approaches of Barishi’s previous two full-lengths. Brooks opens “Blood Aurora” with devilish sludge-death growls and snarls, enameled with husky blackened shrieks that dwell at the forefront of the mix – surging into a listener’s hearing with totality. Old Smoke is multiple times heavier than previous releases. “Blood Aurora” intensifies the dense heaviness hinted at in “The Silent Circle.” Here, chords are chunkier, accompanied by heavy-handed drum rolls and the imposing vocal intrusions. The southern twang is still present, filtered through tempestuous vistas; a writhing solo split the songs in half like lightning, opening up a dynamic mid-song twist that lacked in the opener. But the damning storm of sound continues through most songs at the start of this record. Unrelenting.

At the midpoint of Old Smoke “The Longhunter” and the interlude “Curses Ablaze” offer a more playful reprieve from the constancy of the opening twenty-minutes. “The Longhunter” especially shoots a tighter groove in its holster with a searing solo firing rainbows into the night sky. A greater instrumental warmth surges through the middle of the record, still blisteringly intense but considerably more accessible. “Entombed in Gold Forever,” although short, sounds like the opening two tracks repackaged. It’s a fluttering dense crunch of sound that adds an extra level of turbo and groove to the mix, although little stands out from what’s already been achieved.

The record’s not all fire; thankfully there’s a switch. Closer “Old Smoke” is the closest thing to a song from Blood from the Lion’s Mouth – it’s measured and reserved, a lamentation after the battle. There’s a lightness that attempts to counterbalance the dark. Perhaps it’d be preferable to merge the two more frequently. Regardless, the 13-minute reflection of “Old Smoke” brings the record to its knees. Successful? I’d say so. The sun has set and the spirits are speaking. A dark western vibe glides through the track. Calming melodies cruise above a bubbling bass and somber clean vocals. Acoustic arpeggios ring through faint electronic undercurrents. Unlike the rest of the album, this is gradual world building that works incredibly well and, as the song settles into a heavier crunch, the tone of the whole record comes together. Without this track the album would fall on its face into the dust, with it the album rises higher

Arguably, the opening tracks run for a tad too long – winding and winding into a smoky mulch after eight or so minutes. The six-minute bursts of the mid-album are condensed gems that ignite Old Smoke and build to the lengthy tonal shift at the record’s end. It’s the closer that really brings things together. Barishi have constructed a record of impressive proportions. Old Smoke is 47-minutes of intriguing and successful world-building.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide April 24th, 2020

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