First-time long-time readers will note this site’s rep for lofty production expectations. Hell, even yours truly, who once indulged in sub-100 kbps Youtube rips, the food court Chinese of music formats, somehow finds himself infected with those same insidious ideals. Still, that total production meltdown, the one that drags down a perfectly otherwise great score and results in public gnashing of teeth, has escaped me. So when I saw that Nature Stays Silent was mixed by a 19-year-old one-man band “at home,” I braced my eardrums for maximum pain. In actuality, that pain quickly turned to anguish, as Nature Stays Silent is an otherwise spectacular debut that is hamstrung by persistent production woes.
Cân Bardd is the brainchild of Malo Civelli, a fresh-faced Swiss army knife responsible for every aspect of the album save the drums and mastering. His apparent tutelage in the school of Saor‘s Andy Marshall and Elderwind‘s Persy serves his cause well. If you couldn’t tell from the album art, there’s a lot to love for those on the Saor–wind bandwagons, though the music is not limited simply to a crisp winter breeze poured over faint tremolos and vocals shouted down from the top of the Alps. A myriad of computerized textures pair the dungeon tones of Summoning and Caladan Brood with bright flute imitations and subtle violin takes. “Océan” channels both as it spirals through prominent folk melodies reminiscent of Eluveitie and Summoning‘s marching drum presence. The result finds Cân Bardd‘s black metal often as unblack as the genre gets without going full Deafheaven. But don’t put too much into the name-drops. With songs averaging nearly nine minutes long, Cân Bardd resist an easy pigeonhole, as tracks tend to be too diverse for this lazy bones reviewer to dump a wheelbarrow of tags on the ground and expect the music to be conveyed properly. The atmosphere is too well-layered, its craftsmanship delicate and masterful, striving for and regularly achieving the permeating beauty that many bands in the space stake their names on.
Surprising no one, Nature Stays Silent is a long album. It handles the fatigue factor better than expected, but there’s a point when the temperate pacing and keyboard affectations and faint drum pummeling wear themselves out. The Saor-esque peaks raised by the endearing melody of highlight “Underwater” can be spread too thin at times. The black metal aspects that helped break up the cheese on Summoning or Caladan Brood aren’t up to the task. Those bands employed heavier synth elements than Cân Bardd, but they could be counted on to put their make-up on and blast when the situation called for it. The natural beauty keeps the album afloat, but by closer “A Gift for Nature,” the listen feels worn out.
That’s not to suggest “A Gift for Nature” is a weak track on its own. On the contrary, it builds one of the strongest identities on the record around a dark, probing demeanor and occasional epic Bathory feel. Its early charge could be in the same tier as Panopticon, were it not for the production. If there’s an area where Civelli really stumbles, it’s the mixing. Dylan Watson helms the kit admirably, but the atmosblack bell tolls for all drummers, including him. Watson’s drums are vague at best, while the cymbals alternate between too forward and M.I.A. Those synths, though not nearly as abrasive as other bands, tend to choke out the under-treated instrumentation. A decidedly lacking bass presence only exacerbates the issue. Civelli might have aimed exactly for this sound, but muddled metal sans spine does little for me. Sojourner superman Mike Lamb’s master works perfectly fine, but the mere inclusion of his name makes me yearn for a record closer to the modern standards of The Shadowed Road.
Nature Stays Silent is a strong debut, especially for someone with little supplemental experience. If this review undersells Civelli’s technical strengths and his herculean ability to tie a million moving parts into one cohesive unit, I apologize. The kid is a wunderkind in the making, and if there is any justice in the world, his name will drive a constellation of well-respected projects in the coming years. Routine growing pains happen. They’re necessary for improvement. I’m sure Cân Bardd‘s next step will more than makeup for them.