Tuesday 12 December 2023

Mourning Sun - Bahía desolación (2023)

Country: Chile
Style: Atmospheric Doom Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 8 Dec 2023
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Here's something really interesting. It came to me labelled as atmospheric doom metal, though I see that they've used avant-garde doom metal themselves. That's not unfair as the opening title track kicks off, but much of this moves a long way away from metal, if not necessarily from doom, a miasma of bleakness pervading the album whatever style it's adopting. Bahía desolación means Desolation Bay and it definitely feels like the people of this remote outpost want a horror movie to happen to them and are depressed that it hasn't yet.

Mourning Sun hail from Santiago in Chile and this is their second album after Último exhalario in 2016. The band clearly belongs to its vocalist, Ana Carolina, who has a singular vision of what she wants it to sound like. She's the only consistent point between that debut album and this one, and even though it was released as recently as 8th December, nobody else playing on it is apparently still in the band today. I see a different line-up documented, as of 2023 with Ana Carolina the only continuing name. Then again, there's a lot here that I don't believe is played by the people that I see listed.

That's because there are two angles to this sound that aren't coming from the regular line-up of rock instruments, the typical two guitars, bass and drums. There's orchestration here right from the outset on the title track and there are sections in songs that feel avant-garde classical, never foreground but often interesting in the background, whether it's piano or strings or horns. Given that the other angle is electronica, it's very possible that all that orchestration is generated from synths, but someone's playing them and I have no idea who.

In fact, whole swathes of this album play to me like electronica. Distant Pulse is only the first one, its first three minutes free of metal and most regular instrumentation. Ana Carolina's voice floats over electronica, clouds of synths providing the backdrop and a piano providing melody. The piano prowls in Deep Downward, No Escape too, which waits a long while to provide some metal crunch, unfolding for the longest time as a dark take on synthwave that isn't the traditional darkwave.

As the album reaches the end of its first half with Ecstatic Magellanism, I felt that the overall tone had shifted into post punk. The crunch shows up a couple of minutes in, as it tends to do on many of these songs, but Ana Carolina continues to sing an ethereal post punk that owes more to vocalists like Siouxsie Sioux and Lisa Gerrard than anyone in metal. She finds some power at the tail end of this one, stretching herself in a direction that she'd steadfastly ignored for four songs otherwise.

She's more vehement in Ad Misericordiam too, pleading from the outset, but she begins Substral Allure as if she's a singer/songwriter and delivers uncharacteristically standard rock vocals late in Inner Crux, as if she's suddenly turned into a diva performing in a talent show. And, of course, the next phrase shifts her right back to ethereal vocalisation. For someone who clearly has power, she consistently avoids using it, preferring that light and airy but somehow still substantial approach.

I'm talking a lot here about Ana Carolina because this is clearly her vision and she shapes it with a fascinating vocal performance to which everything else reacts. However, she's not alone here and the backing musicians, as patient as they must be given that they're only called for when needed rather than all the time, are required to make this work.

Hermaunt Folatre delivers a heavy bass in Distant Pulse that's all the more obvious because of the lack of guitars above it. Those guitars, played here by Rodrigo Morris and Ramón Pasternak, get a few moments to shine, like when they leap out of a keyboard haze early in Ad Misericordiam with jagged chords, or when they deliver melodies in Deep Downward, No Escape in the vein of British doom/death. That leaves Vincent Zbinden Carter on drums, who is as notable for not hitting beats as hitting them. It's fascinating to listen to Ad Misericordiam from his perspective, because there are so many things he could have done that he doesn't and they bolster what he actually does.

It's fair to say that this isn't remotely what I expected going in and it took a while for me to adjust to what Mourning Sun are doing. Halfway through Distant Pulse, I was pondering on how this could be seen as metal, let alone doom metal. There's a long electronic midsection to Ad Misericordiam where the entire band could have popped down the road for a pint without missing their moment. The same goes for most of Inner Crux. I wasn't expecting avant-garde classical textures either and moments of Vangelis and Dead Can Dance.

It haunts me though and I want to see how Ana Carolina built this sound. It's clearly time for me to seek out the debut. For now, I want to listen to this one much more. It's a fascinating, exquisitely original grower of an album.

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