Tuesday 26 February 2019

Sweven - Red Giant to White Dwarf (2019)

Country: France
Style: Stoner/Desert Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date:
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | YouTube

Given that Red Giant to White Dwarf runs over an hour but features only five tracks, to suggest that this is patient stuff may be a tad redundant.

It takes three minutes to even start heating up, but those three minutes are enough to keep our attention. Peio Cachenaut's vocals are deep and resonant and clearly aim for a Nick Cave tone to them. Simply suggesting that Nicolas Armendariz plays keyboards doesn't come close to quantifying his contribution here. He conjures up a number of textures, one of them a drone that backs up most of the first song and another an agreeable old school Jon Lord organ sound. At points it goes for a hurdy gurdy sort of sound, which is really neat; by that point it had already combined with the guitars, to remind of Iron Butterfly.

Somehow, this opening song, which is called (Shades of) The Changing Man and which runs almost twelve and a half minutes, never seems excessive. It's not there to be an earworm but it's hardly a post-rock exercise in texture either and that middle ground is wide indeed.

One influence on this album that keeps getting cited is old school goth from the eighties and I can hear that. While it becomes more overt later on, the patience here isn't too far removed from the patience of the track that began that whole genre, Bauhaus's Bela Lugosi's Dead. However, I must emphasise that this does not remotely sound like that; it merely comes from the same roots.

Carrion Crows Skydiving, on the other hand, starts out like Tangerine Dream, ironic given that it's the shortest track on offer at a skimpy seven minutes. That's Armendariz's keyboards again, but they're soon joined this time by an agreeable riff from the appropriately named Joël Riffard and we quickly find ourselves in traditional seventies territory. Cachenaut's introspective vocal approach means that we don't stay there though, because he keeps bringing that goth feel back. He's more Jim Morrison here but clearly draped in black. I don't remotely have the background in eighties goth to suggest who he's echoing.

It's vocals and keyboards that leap out again on Whatever Knows Fear Burns at My Touch. I can't recall a rock album where the other instruments, especially the guitar, avoided the spotlight so efficiently! Riffard shows up with style, though, because the guitars crash onto this minimalist piece with effective dissonance, only to rush away again. It's clearly aiming for a heartbreaking effect and it does a pretty good, achingly slow job of it.

There's poetry here, but I didn't catch enough of it to suggest that it meets the challenge of the song titles. There's a fantastic line in A Funeral Pyre by Night though: "Wandering in the wastelands with a Bible and a gun." That's good stuff but the track fails to stand out as well as the others. It's easily the weakest song on offer here, though its presence is the sole reason for the last track to not be fully half the album.

That's Lift High the Veil of Maya and it runs over twenty-seven minutes. Holy crap! If the other tracks were patient, this one's a Buddhist monk who's been meditating so long and effectively that he's become mummified. It starts out softly to set the stage but there's some real heaviness on offer soon enough, which this album is surprisingly free of. It's emphatically stoner rock rather than stoner metal, because Sweven are clearly not interested in crunch.

Like much of the album, it's the keyboards of Nicolas Armendariz that lead the way. Nobody lets the side down here, though, and every member of the band gets a solid opportunity to make themselves notable. For quite a while, it's the rumbling bass of Quentin Aberne and the patient drums of Boris Senon underneath a wall of guitar that I'd call jangling if only that didn't conjure up inappropriate thoughts of U2. Cachenaut reprises his "Save me!" line often enough that we're almost at the point of wanting to help and, as always, Armendariz is never far from the action, in a variety of styles.

Like a few albums I've heard lately, from Ogmasun to Saor, I'm looking forward to enjoying this album, and especially its epochal final track, on headphones in the dark with no distractions.

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