Swansong albums are a difficult subject. Most artists don’t know they are recording their final piece when they’re in the studio, dissolving between albums because of creative differences or members quitting or passing away. But occasionally, a band will decide before release that the next album will be their last. Such seems to be the case for Danish progressive outfit Black Book Lodge. In a Facebook post from last month, the band announced that their third album Steeple and Spire will be their final outing before going on indefinite hiatus, wishing to avoid repeating themselves after hitting their creative peak. Can the music live up to that claim?
Yes, it can, in quite a big way. But it may not be immediately apparent. Black Book Lodge don’t let themselves be pigeonholed easily. Shirking the lines between progressive metal, post-metal and moody heavy rock, it’s difficult to stamp the Danes with a definite genre tag. The songs are largely structured associatively, granting an almost dream-like quality, but there are repeat elements, particularly the sweeping riffs. Furthermore, the band is excellent at constructing an increasing atmosphere of grandeur as the songs wind their way through various passages, layering the instrumentation thicker and thicker as the idiosyncratic vocals show off their range from a demure murmur to powerful bellow. The closest companion I’d place the band within its emotional effect is the recently reviewed Crone, yet where that band is distinctly grounded, Lodge soars through the clouds that adorn the album cover.
The album does take a moment to show its hand entirely. The two-parter “Weightless” fires up in a fairly straightforward manner, with heavy drumming and a hammering riff, but the associative progression of the song can make it difficult to get a handle on the structure. The second part flows graciously from small, slow and intimate to grand bursts of energy, culminating in a vortex of drums and a wall of guitars. This pattern is a staple across the album, yet the strongest song proves itself slightly more accessible. “Steeple and Spire” provides an excellent bendy hook that takes your hand and guides you through to the fantastic finale, where a heartfelt solo is followed by a pounding riff reminiscent of Tool’s best moment (the climax of “Lateralus”) with the vocals seemingly struggling to keep up alongside the beatdown of the guitars. Not all tracks are perfect (“Spoil the Child” winds up a little corny) but by and large, the compositions are varied, engaging and don’t get tiresome.
The heady songwriting is kept aloft by uniformly great performances. The vocals are rather distinct in their delivery, a slightly nasal drawl that reminds of Avenged Sevenfold‘s M. Shadows. There might be a measure of love-hate to vocals so distinct, but his range is broad and he does the small and intimate (“The Wall”) just as well as the enormous, billowing climaxes (“Sum of Every I”.) A healthy fuzz imbues the guitars, which build atmosphere as well as addictive riffs that give you more handle on the compositions. The crisp production balances the layers well, granting plenty of definition across the board, including the bass which plays an important role in preventing the compositions from becoming too light and whispy.
Steeple and Spire, as you may well have gathered, is an excellent album for prog fans. It’s emotionally engaging, perfectly performed, has great production and balances all its elements with skill. Furthermore, the variety and less than straightforward compositions keep it fresh much longer than the average record. All this, of course, makes it a double shame that the band decided to make this, for the time being, their swan song. If it does turn out to be the final Black Book Lodge LP, at least the band can exit the stage with their heads held high. Many a band should be jealous of such a farewell to the world.