I have historically shown more than a little apprehension towards the post-metal tag. At first, I felt it screamed pretension, a trait that tends to break my enjoyment of music if not kept in check. Lately, though, I’ve reassessed my opinion after finding deep enjoyment of bands often placed within the post-metal spectrum—Astronoid, Downfall of Gaia, and more recently, Latitudes. The English five-piece started life as a purely instrumental act, but since their sophomore entry, they’ve injected a minimal dose of vocals into their records. Part Island, the fourth outing of introspective blackened post-metal, shifts that paradigm by doing away with purely instrumental songs altogether. In doing so, the band created one of the most gorgeous and sensitive pieces of post-metal I’ve ever laid ears on.
Emotionally resonant melodies and peaceful, dew-scented atmosphere make up the base of Part Island‘s sound. Blackened tremolo leads and drum patterns not normally heard in metal weave between and within the atmosphere, supplying intensity and heft. Exclusively clean vocals soothe the soul and riffs bleed from the blackened heart of doom. Together, these elements create a sound that epitomizes the intent of the post-metal tag, which in my mind is to transcend the boundaries of metal into something simultaneously more accessible than but just as intense as metal.
Just because a record is an exquisite example of what a particular genre sounds like doesn’t always mean it’s also an exquisite record. Luckily, Latitudes ensured that Part Island meets both of those criteria. A big part of that success comes from the songwriting, which maintains a high level of quality throughout a relatively tight forty-three minutes and change. Opener “Underlie” is a reliable example of what’s in store, starting with a melancholy acoustic passage before fading in trem-picked intensity. Like the tides, the song ebbs and flows with all of the crashing froth of the sea followed by the uneasy calmness of still waters which inevitably precede the next wave. In fact, the entire album elicits a vision of a determined individual in a tiny yellow raft braving a mighty storm, with songs like “Dovestone” and “Moorland Is the Sea” providing plenty of much-appreciated tension via slow, pounding riffs and dense tremolos. Special mention goes towards the closer and title track, which is a near perfect execution of a ten-minute epic. Emotive and bleak and somehow tinged with hope all at once, “Part Island” is a captivating journey filled with character and it closes out the album in magnificent fashion.
The other major player contributing to Part Island‘s excellence comes from the performances. Every member of Latitudes showcases an incredible knack for mature, restrained applications of their respective roles. Jon Lyon and his bass serve up a heaving undercurrent, more often felt than heard, upon which the other instruments ride (“Dovestone,” “Part Island”). Tim Blyth, Adam Crowley and Adam Symonds provide all manner of post-black licks, doomed chords and ambient synths. They also wonderfully execute their respective acoustic passages, paradoxically combining delicate optimism with inescapable loneliness (“Underlie,” “Fallowness”). Adam Symonds uses his soft, dulcet tenor on every track to tenderly guide you through the thick fog, in the hope that you will one day join him ashore (especially on “Moorland Is the Sea”). Last but definitely not least, Mike Davies intricately layers unorthodox yet minimalist patterns from behind the kit, applying everything from syncopated snares to funereal plods with aplomb (pick a song, any song).
We now arrive at a painful juncture, where I must bash one thing about Part Island. Despite the many attributes that elevate this music, it is the production that brings everything down a peg. This mix is fine. Everything gets a chance to bask in sunlight if only for brief swaths of time. But this excellent slab of post-metal gasps for breath beneath an ocean of brick. What this means for the listener is that the dense sections feel weaker than you would expect, and the fragile serenity comes off a little too strong by comparison.
Nevertheless, Latitudes have once again bequeathed upon this world a beautiful record in Part Island. Whether you feel apprehensive of the post-metal tag—like I used to—or not, this LP has something for everybody. What’s more, it does what post-metal ought to, exploring other arguably less metal-y musical realms without sacrificing its rightful place in the metal pantheon. It comes hamster approved and is probably also stamped with the seal of Steel, and as of this moment earns a full recommendation from I, the Word of Ken.