Heathe‘s On the Tombstones, the Symbols Engraved won’t be receiving radio airplay. As a continuous 37-minute track that loosely splits into three discernible sections, close attention is required to reveal the intricacies and technicalities. But it’s important that a band know how to develop intricacies and technicalities in an organic fashion for us, the dearest listeners, to stay focused and intrigued. It’s a hard task and usually, for me, this sort of recording technique can go either way. On the Tombstones, Heathe‘s debut record, is a collective effort of Aalborg, Denmark based musicians. Live, the band utilize a 7-12 piece orchestra; all the brass and metal instruments combine. It’s a vast live sound and the success of the album is if the depth and diversity of their live sound can be organically transferred to the controlled focus of a full-length. On the Tombstones is a record that, according to the band, “slowly moves from breath-taking blackened doom to enervating and noise hypno-rock.” That’s an earful.
Heathe meet somewhere between droning noise and atmospheric black metal at the beginning of On the Tombstones. Whirlwind vocal reverberations—that angsty shout common in atmospheric realms—nip at long, keyboard infested cranks of amplified guitar noise. These lengthy slabs are embellished with orchestral overlays: the tinny drawl of brass instruments mingle with the extreme. This is the stop-start beginning of the journey. The band have apparently moved away from the blackened edges since their demo tapes. Instead a sort of noisy hypno-rock, a massive soundscape of clashing throbbing noise, has been drawn upon more as a musical tool.
The opening 10 minutes is firmly rooted within rotten blackened realms with drone elements. It’s sordid and plodding and sort of meaningless. Trumpets and horns blare, amps crank, the shouts of men echo and electronic whispers whisper. Perhaps this is the shedding of the skin. The sound of a snake charmer-esque guitar slithers it’s way through the same droning riffs at the 14-minute mark, but that’s it for “new” sound. There’s not a lot here and the riffs are too flat and basic to carry through for this long.
An industrial throb and whirlwind of noise raises the album. It becomes more like a dark ambient film soundtrack, a people trapped in a psychedelic nightmare sort of movie. The depth of sound here is much more hooking, less predictable, less boring. The mix comes to life. There’s an awkward sounding difference in tone and depth; the record really does feel like elements of music recorded at different times and places in the band’s career. Nonetheless, when the band distance themselves from the frosty grips of black metal more unity and coherence appears. Ah, and here’s the hypno-rock: 27 minutes in. Malevolent drum grooves slalom in. We enter the muddy Bristolian trip hop scene, it seems. Strobe lights, ketamine and a throb, a constant throb of Massive Attack-esque tones. A hardcore swagger possesses the vocals that force their way in; this is a different band completely and it’s good, really good.
Regrettably, the On the Tombstones ends before it begins. The music feels like a prequel to a main event that never arrives. After a vastly troubling beginning the increase in sound was too gradual, too predictable; for an album to pick up after 25 minutes means that even the most compelling of close showing segments loses potency in the grand scheme of things. Heathe have the ability and the potential, but at the moment lack the songwriting chops to standout from the crowd.