Yellow Eyes – Rare Field Ceiling

Band: Yellow Eyes
Title: Rare Field Ceiling
Label: Sibir Records
Release Date: 28 June 2019
Country: USA
Format Reviewed: Online stream

When I think of Black Metal I generally think of screeching vocals, fast, trebly guitar strumming, a hailstorm of drums and murky production. I’m no Black Metal aficionado, there’s a certain abrasive bleakness that’s never wholly appealed to me, that being said though I’ll dip my toe in to the black waters from time to time. So here it is that I found myself with the latest album by New York’s YELLOW EYES. Despite being my first exposure, the band has been around since 2010 and “Rare Field Ceiling” marks their fifth full-length recording (with a handful of split releases and EPs along the way). Although through six tracks and 45 minutes the band does demonstrate all those features I associate with Black Metal (up to a point), there are a couple of key twists to this music that I didn’t expect. Maybe it’s just a reflection that the term Black Metal can involve so much more than my limited understanding, but to me there’s something about this record that’s very much of it’s location: New York.

From the hypnotic introductory hum of album opener “Warmth Trance Reversal” the band bursts straight into a furious cacophony of whirlwind guitar, drums and distant screaming vocals. What is immediately notable about the overall sound is the interesting dissonant harmonies from the guitar. Throughout the album whenever I might start to feel a little dulled by a particular passage, the band shifts gears into a different tempo or rhythm and a new novel set of eerie guitar harmonies will break through. One of the first associations I picked up was mid ‘80s Sonic Youth (Evol/ Sister era). On “No Dust” for example, after an ominous, swarming, dragging, buzzing intro the band settles into a more propulsive beat and the guitars slice in with tones that are so familiar in atmosphere to me and take me back to my teenage years when Sonic Youth was one of my most listened to bands. Whether or not this is a direct influence or just a reflection of how the NY music scene has been shaped over the years I don’t know, but this fusion of angular, resonating, dissonant, No Wave guitar harmonies fits very well with the more recognisably BM elements of the music.

Aside from the effective blend of styles, “Rare Field Ceiling” is held together between tracks by a glue of esoteric chants and chimes and other such samples that build up the sense of the music being some kind of ritualistic event. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the closing track “Maritime Flare”, which starts out with reverberating chanting on top of a droning backdrop, that finally transitions into an eerie quivering guitar line, echoing like shards of ice, unsettling but without sounding so spooky as to be ridiculous.

I’ll be honest that one of the main things that usually puts me off Black Metal is the vocals. It’s not the ugliness or the dissonance necessarily, but I generally find the screeching style kind of dull. Although there’s nothing so exceptional about the vocals here, they fit the atmosphere of the music and are far enough back in the mix that they don’t swamp the excellent drumming and interesting guitar tones. Through every twist the band the takes the playing is incredibly tight. Each track is roughly 7 or 8 minutes long, but despite the odd dull passage, overall there are enough great rhythmic shifts and inventive guitar harmonies to keep my interest the whole way through.

Perhaps most inventive and surprising of all, the title track opens with a beat that sounds like a dancing skeleton and throws out a series of angular guitar lines, as the band shifts back and forth between furious barrages, stomping beats and eerie drifting spaces held together with ringing guitar. It’s atmospheric, hypnotic and powerful.

For sure the album is oppressive. Often the band will surge into a furious blizzard that can weigh down on the listener. It definitely feels intentional though. And this is the kind of the situation where I find it difficult to form a judgement about how “good” a recording is. I definitely need to be in the right mood to sit through all of this, it isn’t a “fun” record, but I can’t find fault with the execution. As a listening experience the album is interesting, surprising, inventive, atmospheric and very well played. There are no weak tracks and it’s definitely a world I’ll want to visit again, I just wouldn’t want to live here. 8/10 Tom

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