Flow is one of the hardest elements of songwriting to capture. It’s a combination of the fluid transition between song sections as well as a product of the interplay between rhythm and melody that creates a cascading feeling, and it often hides in the smallest details. I’d also argue it is one of the most important emergent properties of post-rock and post-metal, particularly the instrumental type. The illusion of being dragged along a river is among the genre’s most significant qualities. I suppose a deliberately stilted construction must be possible, but I’ve yet to hear such an approach. Ghosts of Glaciers is an instrumental post-metal band, set to release their third record of the decade, and their first since signing to Translation Loss. They are up against some stiff competition this year, including Russian Circles and Cult of Luna. Have they mastered the art of the flow, or is the river all dammed up with nowhere to go?
Not to worry. The Greatest Burden flows like the Angren after the Isengard dam is torn down by the Ents. Their signature sound takes the reverberating beauty of Explosions in the Sky and enhances it with sweeping thunderstorms laden with blackened tremolo whilst keeping the cleaner melodies intact. Whereas instrumental bands often find difficulty in maintaining focus and variety, Ghosts of Glaciers make it seem effortless, as the tracks journey through a wide array of paces and textures and are chock full of memorable moments. Take the gradually increasing dirge of “Abyssal Declivity,” the phenomenal buildup and drop of the midsection of “Epigenesis” that feels like plunging down a waterfall, or the billowing melancholy of closer “Return to Entropy.” There is more diversity of emotional engagement in this wordless album than many vocal-fueled albums can lay claim to.
The way the trio maintains their sense of flow is deceptively simple and displays some very intelligent songwriting. The individual tracks each have a relatively low amount of riffs and hooks at their core, but by taking these elements apart, recombining them and playing with elements such as speed and context, they stay fresh throughout the duration, even the 15 minute opener. Take album highlight “Epigenesis” for example. The chord progression of the acoustic opening is prolonged in the swirling storm that hits after, and then further extended by garnishing the coarse burst-and-break approach with swirling leads that dance up and down the scales. Such strategies can be found across the album, and they are used to perfection, yielding some of the best progressive song structures I’ve heard this year.
Despite the shortest track barely missing the 10 minute mark, there is hardly any bloat to be found. ”Primordial Waters” is the only track that feels like it could do with a shave; the final 5 minutes contain too much repetition to prevent slack in the line, although there is a beautiful closing section with trilling clean leads that softens the blow. Aside from that small mark on their record, there is nothing on the album that appears non-essential. Even on the production front there is little to complain about. The denser sections are a tad on the loud side, but this enhances the feeling of being caught in a vortex, while clever mixing keeps the hooks afloat on top.
The Greatest Burden is, in a word, gorgeous. It has the unity of a concept album, with a consistent palette and recognizable range of textures. Yet with these tools it achieves amazing levels of dynamic songwriting. Through a mere 4 tracks, it cascades like a turbulent mountain river, drags you through the crushing darkness of ocean depths, topples you over the crest of a cataract into swirling vortexes and when you pop back up, you find yourself afloat a gentle stream as sunlight scatters off the waves. With this magistral work under their arm, Ghosts of Glaciers can stand triumphantly amongst the post-metal greats.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Translation Loss Records
Websites: ghostsofglacierstl.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/ghostsofglaciers
Releases Worldwide: September 27th, 2019