It was cold. We chased the sun downhill and West, out of the snowy peaks of the Sierras and across their weeping faces. It gleamed through the murmured rain on the windshield, beat the slick cliff sides and shattered on waterfalls loosed from the ice above. The only sound in the car, save the pelting rain, was Hope Drone’s Cloak of Ash. No other music could accompany the pounding, screaming beauty of the land. No other beat could choreograph the ferns below and firs above. It was art in conversation with the snowbanks and in time with the rushing streams. Cloak of Ash was meant for this; it is devotional music, a hymn to gods of impermanence that themselves drift in and out of existence. With Void Lustre, Hope Drone reaffirm this faith without repeating themselves.
“Being Into Nothingness” opens on a desolate and beautiful landscape that the album never leaves. Hope Drone have changed little in four years, but while Void Lustre is cut from the same cloth as Cloak, it falls over a different shape. This material is more worn, almost threadbare, as if dragged across ragged stone. “In Floods and Depths” begins with the most sinister melody the band have ever written, and it’s not alone in its threatening tone. Void Lustre feels exposed and at times perilous. For all of Cloak’s fury, it was still enveloping; this album offers no such comfort.
While rougher, Void Lustre is also a more concerted work then Cloak of Ash. It’s shorter by fourteen minutes and reaches a distinct finale with “In Shifting Light.” The band don’t squeeze in as many theatric moments as they did in their last album and the work flows much more naturally, with all but one song stretching well past the ten-minute mark without losing any energy. The result is not as sonically diverse as the band’s previous work; each song has a clear slope and apogee, but it is a smoother hill to climb than one might expect. This is all in service of the album as a unit; even what tatters of lyrics can be deciphered cross phrases between songs wile continuing the band’s usual themes of frailty and impermanence.
With Void Lustre, Hope Drone once again demonstrate a deep understanding of aural space. Throughout the album the guitars coax out subtle harmonic shades and play with their own division. In the penultimate passage of “Being Into Nothingness,” the left guitar holds a pedal point for at least three minutes while the right guitar delivers the melodic motif, a technique that the band return to often. This is not a rhythm guitar role – there’s no rhythm to be had in continuous tremolo picking – but a textural drone. Just after this, “Forged by the Tide” opens with an asynchronous right-left crack of a chord, immediately entering a harsher, tighter space through simulated echo. Whatever role they each play, the guitars are rarely in complete synchronicity, and repeated listens tracking their individual paths through the noise reveal how the band produce an interesting album through subtle and creative arrangement. All this movement and space is beautifully captured by Chris Brownbill’s dry recording and Mell Detmer’s spacious master.
Void Lustre ends with an unprecedented and definite finale. Blinding tones pierce a thin mist and guide the album to its ringing conclusion; if it felt too consistent before, that was all in service of this moment. Though not as powerful and daring a statement as Cloak, this more concise and unified voice reaffirms the value of the band’s thoughtful and deliberate take on a sound that’s often hamstrung by simplistic writing and lachrymose banality. Like all the band’s work, it’s powerful and moving for reasons almost impossible to articulate, untranslatable from sound to text. With the power of a hymn and the sorrow of a dirge, it shines out from the dark.