The Otolith – Folium Limina Review

“I miss SubRosa, and I don’t understand why there’s no other band out there like them,” lamented a whining, entitled commenter poor, tortured soul beneath a recent review of mine. Well, ask and ye shall receive, as the saying goes. Here I am to present for your entertainment, enjoyment(!), and critical assessment, The Otolith, a band that has risen from the ashes and sports four members of symphonic doom quintet SubRosa. Missing is vocalist Rebecca Vernon, whose new project, The Keening, appeared on 2020’s Women of Doom compilation, which was also where The Otolith first hove1 into view. The same year, The Otolith also contributed a stunning cover of “Would?” to the Alice in Chains tribute album, Dirt (Redux). But we’ve had to wait almost two years for The Otolith’s full-length debut. With Folium Limina now here, will the band burst into life like a phoenix rising from the SubRosa ashes or go down in flames like Icarus?

The Otolith comprises former SubRosa members Sarah Pendleton, Kim Cordray, Andy Patterson and Levi Hanna, plus Visigoth bassist Matt Brotherton. And, it’s fair to say it more or less picks up where SubRosa left off. Singer and violinist Pendleton has said, for example, that the riffs for the epic “Sing no Coda” have been in the making for years, but it wasn’t until she had got through the turmoil of 2020 that she could start writing lyrics for it. Like their former project, The Otolith specialises in huge, avant-garde doom, with monolithic melancholy the order of the day. Sonorous, glacial riffs slide past and over each other like calving icebergs crashing into frozen seas as ghostly violins wend their way over the surface. The waters run deep and cold here, with the stunning 13-minute “Sing no Coda” opening the record and setting the bar sky high. Pendleton’s vocals are a haunting combination of soaring, almost-choral cleans (“Sing no Coda”); chanted, semi-ritualistic lines (“Ekpyrotic”); and deep, hoarse roars (“Hubris”).

Set to the massive, sweeping soundscapes conjured by the rest of the band, the result is mesmerising, drawing comparisons to the likes of Clouds and King Woman.2 The sawing violins—Pendleton and Cordray—lend an ethereal beauty to the record, particularly on the gorgeous “Ekpyrotic” and “Sing no Coda”. “Hubris” has a slightly harsher, doomier edge to it than some of the other tracks on Folium Limina, but this is softened to fantastic effect both by those violins and also by the key arrangements that creep in the back end. The use of sampled vocals in metal can be disastrous, but when done well—like on my 2021 album of the year, Kanonenfieber’s Menschenmühle—they can elevate the whole thing. So is proven by The Otolith’s masterful use of the final speech from The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin’s first true sound film. Like Chaplin’s speech, the track on which it appears, “Bone Dust,” builds gradually in intensity and fervor, rising to a fevered crescendo.

Indeed, as the world seems ablaze on so many fronts—including here in the UK—”Bone Dust” feels like the “anthem” or call to arms that 2022 needed—if epic symphonic doom can ever really be termed “anthemic.” At 63 minutes, Folium Limina just passes the hour mark but is executed with such confident skill that I am rapt from the distant church bell that opens “Sing no Coda” through to the final notes of the Isis-tinged closer, “Dispirit,” which fades out into static and the cawing of crows. Sporting excellent production, steeped in lush, rich textures, with everything perfectly balanced in the mix, the sound on show does justice to The Otolith’s incredible creation.

Perhaps I am alone in this, but I appreciated, more than loved, SubRosa. By contrast, I can say I am totally in love with The Otolith. Although cooking with more or less the same basic ingredients, for me, Folium Limina is on another level. Probably closest in tone to For this We Fought the Battle of Ages, the sludgier, more noise-driven elements of SubRosa’s sound have been dialed back slightly, in favor of a richer, more densely textured sound, without sacrificing the creative essence. Haunting and captivating, the phoenix-from-SubRosa-ashes is the wrong analogy for The Otolith, as the band’s creation here is not simply a rebirth but surpasses what went before.3


Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Blues Funeral Recordings
Websites: theotolith.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/otolithic
Releases Worldwide: October 21st, 2022

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Fucking “hove”? Idiot. – Doc Grier
  2. In addition to, of course, their former project
  3. How many fucking links do you need in one article?? – Pissed-Off Grier
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