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Swan Messiah : Feathered Hunter

Genuinely interesting, but perhaps too eclectic for widespread appeal: Swan Messiah's latest.

The world of Swan Messiah is a complicated one, not least as far as putting a label on it is concerned. Three tracks into 'Feathered Hunter', and you've already experienced a cold, joyless instrumental with vaguely Dolorian-esque overtones, some Chaos Moon style Black Metal-meets-Ambient-Doom, and an extended grimy, sludgy Electric Wizardy guitar-fest. And that's before things really veer off the beaten track.

That's probably only to be expected: if there's a consistency to project mastermind Matthew McKenzie's release history, it's that it has a certain inconsistency of approach. In part, as the Bandcamp bio admits, with refreshing candour, that's been due to an evolution of skills in the studio and as a producer. In part, it's simply an evident willingness to explore whatever vistas look interesting at the time, and - finally - in part, I would suspect it's a feature of the improvisational nature of the composing and recording process: "Most of my Swan Messiah material is written in the studio the day it is recorded and deconstructed and reimagined further from there. There is also an element of improvisation that is layered further to create musical passages".

Sometimes, that results in almost pure Drone/Doom releases. That's not the case with 'Feathered Hunter', which runs the full gamut of favoured influences: Drone, Noise, Industrial, Ambient, Dark Folk and Black Metal, all loosely united under a banner of Doom heaviness and oppressive atmosphere. So it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that 'Molasses Of The Dead', the next track to come online, wouldn't sound out of place on one of Nick Cave's more fatally-inclined albums, or that it'll be rubbing shoulders with some more Black Metal outbursts, something that draws on Abstract Spirit's off-kilter synthesised Funeral orchestration, and some blackened, industrialised Drone.

Ironically, given that this is Swan Messiah's most technically proficient and wide-ranging album to date, it's also the most difficult to recommend from a Doom perspective, and can only be considered an ideal starting point with which to become familiar with the band if swathes of variety grab your attention. Outright heavy noise lovers would almost certainly be better off picking up on the earlier 'Drone Alone' for some dark and oppressively absorbing instrumental Drone soundscapes. 'Feathered Hunter', by contrast, comes across as experimental, and determined to push personal and genre boundaries.

On one level, that works rather well: there's no shortage of quality of musicianship on display, the compositions themselves are internally consistent, and the album flows in a sensible manner, considering the contrasting nature of its elements. Guitars, keys, largely clean vocals and drums make up the backbone of the instrumentation, and they layer well into each other, whether the sonic textures are full and dynamic or sparse and gentle. Where I would normally have some qualms is in the prominent Black Metal passages: this may be a purely personal thing, but despite the similarities of ethos - and frequent overlap of musicians - behind Doom and Black Metal, I often find it hard to reconcile their interaction - or at least, to give it any meaningful Doom label. Fortunately - especially given my deep and abiding dislike of speed-is-everything blastbeat and double-kick - even these sections are fairly successful in minimising the worst of the genre cliches, though they do introduce some roughness and random noise into an otherwise clear mix.

On the other level, multiple listenings tell me that while I like (most of) this, I'm not much closer to knowing exactly what to call it. If anything, it gives me a similar feeling to early Krautrock albums, such as Amon Düül II's 'Phallus Dei' and 'Yeti': quirky, improvisational, sometimes flirting with frivolity, but nonetheless encapsulating as heavy a psychedelia as any of that time. 'Feathered Hunter' conveys that sort of attitude towards Doom: its challenging individuality, depending on the listener's mood, equally capable of seeming absorbingly eclectic or waywardly inaccessible. Highly commended for being genuinely interesting in both conception and execution, but those same qualities, in all honesty, will likely disbar it from widespread appeal.

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Reviewer's rating: 7/10


Tracklist :
1. Spiral Bridges
2. Feathered Hunter
3. Lake Colac
4. Molasses of the Dead
5. Gronn Himmel
6. Liquid Talons
7. Celestial Quorum
8. Secrets of Elysium

Duration : Approx. 56 minutes

Visit the Swan Messiah bandpage.

Reviewed on 2015-08-23 by Mike Liassides
Vanha - Black Lion
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