There isn’t much more satisfying in life than the accidental stumble into something really cool. A relationship. A blog in which you would still be participating 7 years later. A record for which you had no expectations as you simply didn’t know it existed. It’s the last of these which is the feature of today’s review. I have much less free time these days so I spend less time sampling new music. A lack of interest in the first 2 or 3 minutes of a song is a death sentence for that record. Switzerland’s Soldat Hans and their sophomore album called Es Taut should have fallen at this first hurdle given its glacial pace. Should.
Es Taut has no right gripping me in such a vice after just thirty seconds. Intentionally slow and contemplative, it refuses to dangle a hook or ramp up the pace to demand attention. And yet I was immediately enamored. It broadly falls under the post metal umbrella but a more nuanced approach considers its other elements which include doom metal, post rock, psychedelic rock and jazz. While this could have been a mess, in actuality it makes for a unique and cohesive fusion – something like an even more expansive Maudlin of the Well. The doom crushes when things shift into top gear but the airier passages roll back the electrified surroundings into a landscape of serenity and beauty. There’s a great spaciousness and sense of atmosphere generated. I acknowledge that Soldat Hans are probably not for those with Angry Metal Deficit Disorders but I love their aesthetic which balances the heavy and light; Es Taut is an especially dynamic record, musically.
At its core it remains a metal record and while this means electric guitars, Es Taut doesn’t particularly rely on riffs. It stomps about appropriately in the doomiest moments but more commonly features layers of guitars which float between dense inter-weaving and relaxing simplicity. Their shimmering quality and the blend of layers and melodies contributes to the strong atmosphere but the listener’s attention is not demanded. There aren’t even any solos save for a couple of minutes buried within. In stead, there is a wider range of instrumentation which takes a more dominant role. A violin and cello frequently flow through the mix, lending a sombre inflection and tugging at your heart-strings when required. Furthermore, bombastic brass instruments consolidate the music’s tone and form an important part of the core of the sound. They aren’t just embellishments as they’re completely embedded. Finally, I would be remiss to omit mention of the excellent drumming; it commands the record’s pace and lends a thick, heavy edge such that Soldat Hans never drift too far in their whimsy.
Es Taut is an album of just 3 tracks over nearly an hour, the opener and closer of which hit 26 and 19 minutes. There’s something to be said about the gargantuan cojones in bookending with such tracks. Given these lengths and that much of the music is undemanding, it has the effect of washing around you, encasing you in your listening. In this way it evokes The Visit: there’s some unorthodox instrumentation, a heavy atmosphere and a really ethereal nature, but it’s not about moment to moment delights. It makes for a beautiful listen but I will only be returning, as with The Visit, for very particular moods. Its swaying, measured approach will not be for everyone and it can be repetitive. I’m never bored but a little more development and a few fewer passages which retread old ground would not have hurt.
The compositions which tense then relax, which flow and turn and which take their time arriving at their destinations, are truly mesmerizing and ensure that Es Taut is a special sort of release. I’m not pushing further in my award as I cannot say that it is compulsive listening – but it is singular and distinctly affecting. The grounding in rock and metal keeps things sufficiently familiar for regulars of this site but the sojourns through swing, jazz and psychedelia tread new ground in many ways. If you have a spare 54 minutes, I invite you to roll in the beauty that is Es Taut.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Wolves and Vibrancy Records
Websites: soldathans.bandcamp.com | www.soldathans.org | www.facebook.com/soldathans
Releases Worldwide: March 30th, 2018