Bleaklow – The Sunless Country
The guys from Bleaklow did this one right – they knew that the final mix was going to be 20+ minutes long, so they leaked teasers, a few minutes at a time, over a period of weeks leading up to the release date, wetting our appetites for the final product. And the wait was definitely worth it – the full version clocks in at a massive 23 minutes and 58 seconds and is truly an epic rock beast. It’s textbook Bleaklow – relentless, pummeling, and absolutely perfect. If you’re already a fan of the band’s music, you’ll be pleased with this EP (especially if you managed to get one of the 25 hand-stitched CDs). If you’re not familiar with Bleaklow, here’s what I think…
I really enjoy being consumed by the books that I’m reading, and I often try to find music that “fits” with the intensity of the story (for 6forty playlists, of course). Lately, I’ve been enjoying The Arthur Series by Bernard Cornwell. In the books, the combined forces of the British kingdoms repeatedly face the invading Saxons in a battle formation know as the shield wall. A shield wall was a “wall of shields” formed by soldiers standing in formation shoulder to shoulder, holding their shields so that they overlap. Each man benefits from the protection of his neighbor’s shield, usually the man to his right, as well as his own. The soldiers in front have small swords for thrusting (no room for swinging large weapons), while the ranks behind use spears to reach the enemy. It’s brutal, slow, close combat. Described here by Derfel Cadarn (the main character) in book three, ‘Excalibur,’ during the battle of Mynydd Baddon:
“Aelle’s forces had pulled back a half-mile from Aquae Sulis before forming their line and now they waited for Arthur’s attack. Tewdric’s men marched under the Christian God, and at last, after straightening their shield wall, they closed on the enemy. I expected to see a conference between the lines as the leaders of the armies exchanged their ritual insults and while the two shield walls judged each other. I have known shield walls to stare at each other for hours while men summoned the courage to charge, but those Christians of Gwent did not check their pace. There were no meeting of opposite leaders and no time for the Saxon wizards to cast their spells, for the Christians simply lowered their spears, hefted their oblong shields that were painted with the cross, and marched straight through the roman graves and into the enemy’s shields. We heard the shields clash on the hill. It was a dull grinding sound, like thunder from under the earth, and it was the sound of hundreds of shields and spears striking as two great armies smashed head to head. The men of Gwent were stopped, held by the weight of the Saxons who heaved against them, and I knew men were dying down there. They were being speared, being chopped by axes, being trampled underfoot. Men were spitting and snarling over their shield rims, and the press of men would be so great that a sword could hardly be lifted in the crush.” (Excalibur, Bernard Cornwell, copyright 1997)
This EP is like a shield wall, solid, heavy guitar riffs on top of a trudging/driving rhythm section. It’s an excellent match for Pendragon legends – the kingdoms loyal to Arthur (500 AD) were fighting to rid England of the Saxon advance and life was a constant struggle. Bleaklow provides the perfect soundtrack to this desperate and dark story. No post- labels necessary for this record. ‘The Sunless Country’ is simply 24 minutes of perfect rock music. Or to describe it using Cornwell’s words, it’s “thunder from under the earth.”
The band has generously offered The Sunless Country as a ‘name your price’ download via their Bandcamp page. And definitely be sure to check out their other releases – all are great.