Since Justin Broadrick put the misanthropic industrial battery of Godflesh to rest and reinvented his work as Jesu, there have been a number of artists exploiting this relatively fresh niche of the metal fringe. Whether it’s the blissed out, shimmering hums of Nadja or the crushing distorted collage of The Angelic Process, the cross-breeding of metal’s weight with the airy atmospheres of shoegaze has been an exciting thing to follow.
Despite this, there has been little by way of new material coming out from this odd pairing. The recent tragic death of The Angelic Process’ Kris Angylus may have something to do with it, although Jesu lost its edge a long time ago and Nadja continue to release dime-a-dozen mediocre records just because dime-a-dozen idiots lap it up. So it’s great to finally hear some epic, moving and original ‘doomgaze’ once again.
As an international collaboration between American poet Matt Finney and Ukrainian ambient composer Heinali, Conjoined sees each ones’ art complement the other with a stunning and symbiotic exactitude. Elements of the aforementioned bands are all here and in top form. But Heinali shifts his focus from the music he makes alone for this project, making a successful leap from breath-taking ambient/classical meanderings into the swampy recesses of ultra-heavy, drone infused shoegaze.
Rigid, pseudo-industrial drums pound beneath wave upon wave of phosphorescent and titanic drones. Then come the vocals. Although not sung, they fit the ambience perfectly. Finney’s voice is cracked and world-weary, almost overpowered by the gargantuan swath of sound that Heinali generates. His tired voice is locked in the thrall of melancholy, and a read of the lyrics reveals why. He’s had a hard time. It’s a heartbreaking experience to follow them with the music; in the brief moments when the wall of sound subsides into sparse and cavernous ambience and Finney takes centre stage, all that can be heard are themes of loss, abandonment, betrayal, addiction and depression.
On closer ‘Lifetime’, Finney’s tale of jealousy and frustration seethes with pure emotion. For someone who rarely pays attention to lyrics, it’s truly fantastic. The fact that it is spoken word dominated by such an all-encompassing and beautiful sound urges you to seek out the meaning. You will feel everything the artist felt in that act of creation; it’s painful and exhilarating but also a hallmark of quality poetry.
Each track on the album has a very distinct identity and atmosphere, turning this EP into a dramatic rollercoaster of swelling emotions and dejected atmospheres. The opening chimes of the most ‘metal’ orientated track, ‘Under God’s Heaven’, set the scene for Finney’s monologue on the pain of existence and the despair of losing someone close to you. Weaved through the mammoth slabs of guitar are delicate and scintillating hints of synth that reminds of Jesu’s earlier work but… better?
Opener ‘A Chant’ is a hazey foray into simple yet potent shoegaze with driving and catchy drumwork, while the title track is underpinned by robust bass drones. ‘Postcard’ is a deeply disturbing introspection by Finney into something incredibly personal and upsetting, before it opens up into soaring, epic post-rock that almost redeems and heals the wounds that inevitably reopen every time someone reads those lyrics.
This is the greatest thing about Conjoined. The work of each artist seems to hail from totally opposite sides of the emotional spectrum. Finney’s lyrics are bogged down with bad memories and experiences I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but they are consistently dragged back from the brink by Heinali’s awe inspiring musical glory. In this sense, they are literally ‘conjoined’; reliant on each other’s strengths and weaknesses from which springs one of the most brilliant artistic collaborations I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. You can download this from Heinali and Matt Finney’s bandcamp for free, or put in a donation. I suggest you listen to this either way because it’s up there alongside Whirl’s Distressor for shoegaze release of the year. The download comes with an orgasmic treat at the end in the form of Heinali’s instrumental piece, ‘The Sun Will Rise Yet We Won’t Be Here’, a magnificent and moving work of ambient/drone. Also worth checking out is this brilliant video for ‘Under God’s Heaven’ by Freddy Loyd.