Ivan – Silver Screens [Things You Might Have Missed 2020]

For those few keeping track, 2020 has been an exceptionally solid year for funeral doom. Convocation, Atramentus, Drown, Mourners and Lone Wanderer all put out top shelf bottles of distilled despondency, while golden boys Bell Witch returned to collaborate, mostly successfully, with Aerial Ruin. While each of these albums occupied a slightly different niche of the style, none wandered so far afield with such thrilling results as Australian duo Ivan on their fifth release Silver Screens. Though a veteran outfit, this was my first exposure to their truly unique mix of funeral doom, progressive minimalism and jazz, and with each listen I moved from bemused surprise to fervent admiration. Silver Screens is the rare album that generously gives you what you didn’t know you needed, and based on its scant internet footprint, it’s almost certainly something you’ve missed.

For the first five minutes of 19 minute opener “Silver Screens,” you’d be forgiven for assuming this is standard funereal fare. The guitar tone is chunky and low, the playing slow and the vocals tortured. But when the distortion suddenly drops and a vibraphone rings warmly in its place, eyebrows will raise. Eventually a violin joins in, and the lilting nature of the melody takes the song in a surprising direction. There is something…pleasant about this. Overtly so.1 Not a word generally associated with the genre, but then as the album unfolds, it’s clear there is little conventional about Ivan. There are big, solemn riffs here befitting the doom label, but their interplay with poignant, uplifting melodies and stark, sometimes angular guitar lines make Silver Screens a complex listen. 

Perhaps most impressive is the way they maintain the metal thread even as the album progressively becomes weirder and jazzier. “The Winds Will Scream” features some decidedly non-metal guitar tones and odd melodies. The song shifts multiple times, placing violin prominently forward and strategic changes in texture, but every time the distortion kicks in and the harsh vocals croak, it couldn’t feel more natural, or more funeral doom. This balancing act goes to an insane level on “Underneath the Tapestry.” For the first two minutes, the song is straight 80s jazz. The cheerful vibraphone is front and center, keyboards support with various affects and a playful rubber band bass line underpins the relaxed vibe. Surely, one thinks, extreme doom metal can’t integrate with this; it’s diametrically opposite. But when it arrives, the heavy riff and soaring tremolo fall into place as if there was a hole in their exact shape waiting to be filled.

Normally, I’d narrow my eyes in disapproval at a four song album that closes on a short instrumental,2 but “Crystalline” feels more like a victory lap than an uninspired punctuation. Metal is discarded altogether, but the violin lines are consistent with all that came before, and when the song closes on a plinking music box melody, it feels earned rather than cliché. Ivan‘s Silver Screens felt like an interesting novelty on my initial spin. After a dozen, it’s one of the finest metal albums of 2020 in any style. 

Tracks to check out: “Silver Screens,” “The Winds Will Scream,” “Underneath the Tapestry”

Show 2 footnotes
  1. It almost sounds Christmas-y at times to my ears, but that could be the hobo eggnog talking. – Steel
  2. This was the one weakness of the otherwise fantastic Ashes Coalesce by Convocation.
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