Hiraeth. It’s a word the Welsh use, describing the feeling of homesickness, but not just the yearning of one’s home town. Rather, hiraeth can mean the deep yearning one has for a home they can’t return to (or never really had to begin with), or the pain of not being able to reconnect with past loves or comforts. Hence, it’s a word that doesn’t translate well to the English language. You are probably wondering why I’m bringing up that word in this here review. If something ever evoked the feelings of hiraeth in the form of music, London’s “emokrust” collective Morrow supplied the soundtrack in their incredible debut, Covenant of Teeth.
If, like me, you shuddered at Morrow‘s self-described genre, relax and free your mind a bit. We’re not talking the stereotype of love songs slowed down, or grunged-up coming-of-age stories. Yet, for all the negative connotations that descriptor brings, “emokrust” fits somewhat. Honestly, if you wanted to be lazy and provocative, you could label this post-metal if it makes you feel better. After all, it does tie to Neurosis in spirit, but even then the label is a bit damning, as opener “Fathom” is the closest to sounding like them. It takes about three and a half minutes to launch, but once the song properly starts, it’s a tidal wave of methodical riffs, passionate vocals ranging from low roars to piercing female shrieks, plodding d-beats, and a beautifully somber cello that wafts in like the remnants of a pleasant dream.
It’s that cello that places Morrow above their contemporaries, giving these four songs a blanket of sadness and longing over a bed of sludgy post-metal. Closer “Cleaved Fang,” possibly the most somber on the entire album, opens with Nicole’s beautiful cello melody over a strummed guitar. Also of note are the lyrics, as main vocalist Alex penned some rather wrenching poetry (“Disperse in the clap of resilient hands/We sing in the eyes that we’ve painted on/We drew into the bark and let ourselves be/Ruled by the whims of whilom revery (for too long)”). “Forgiving Grin” lurches with intent, rumbling angrily with disgustingly thick bass, urgent riffing, and some rather unsettling screams. Speaking of screaming, the list of guest vocalists reads like a “who’s who” of crust and grindcore, featuring contributions by members of Wildspeaker, Masakari, Archivist, and Knifedoutofexistence, among others.
The one complaint I have with Covenant of Teeth is the production. While David’s instrumentation (translated: he plays all of the guitar, bass, and drums on here) sounds great, there are times when the vocals are a bit buried in the mix, such as parts of “The Norr.” The more ambient parts, such as the intro to “Fathom,” could also use a bit of a volume increase. Otherwise, I’m impressed by the sheer fact that this is a debut album, as I’ve not had 40 minutes fly by so quick while listening. And despite the songs’ lengths, there’s not a dull moment to be had, as the stories are given their proper time to start, build, climax, and end properly.
Covenant of Teeth is at once morosely somber and defiantly proud. Morrow took the dirt and grime of the downtrodden and made a work of sad beauty in their debut. In the ache of darkness, that is when the piercing of light is the strongest. Morrow supplied the soundtrack to that light. Damn good job.