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.
Once again, a playlist inspired by the book that I’m reading. At the moment, I’m deep into ‘The Winter King: A Novel of Arthur‘ by Bernard Cornwell. I really enjoyed his Saxon series (book 6 ‘Death of Kings’ will be released this fall), and I wasn’t ready to start George Martin’s ‘A Dance With Dragons yet, so I figured it was perfect time to learn more about the Pendragon tales. And I’m glad that I did – the book is an excellent adventure. It’s been really interesting to read the story from a different perspective. Yes, there are a few familiar characters, but the focus is away from the popular Arthur legends. Although I have to admit, after watching Excalibur many many times over the years (and loving it every time), it gives the book a really interesting visual element – I can vividly picture several of the main characters as I’m reading.
This collection features 11 bands that have been filling my ears over the last few weeks. Not only is it a perfect accompaniment to my reading, but it also works nicely with our transitioning weather. Give this one a serious listen – it’s 66 minutes of really great music.
Please support the bands by buying their records and going to their shows. All of these releases are available to download and/or purchase online. Click on each band name for more info.
This collection has been archived. Send me an email if you are interested in hearing it (email@example.com).
Living Tall In Dallas – Like The Last -00:00-
Damascus – Mokujin -02:08-
Birds Of Fire – Rebel Cleric -09:58-
Killington Fall – Paths/Trails (Pt. V) -13:30-
Flyingdeadman – Five Knights Dying -20:22-
Aldrin – Der Øldrin -27:07-
Glorie – Full Circle -36:16-
Fire Spoken By The Buffalo – Broken Axe, Open Wound -40:23-
On Fire – Night Skies 47:14-
Kovlo – Rovaniemi -51:21-
The Shaking Sensations – The Obsidian Sea -58:26-
My goal with 6forty is simple – introduce people to music that they may not know; to pull them away from the mainstream and into the world of the independents. Because, in my opinion, it’s here that the music is most interesting, and definitely the most enjoyable. And if you’re visiting 6forty, then the odds are good that you’re already a fan, or you are open enough to join our team. To that end, Waking Aida has released two EPs that are making my job really easy.
Kamiokande and Hachiko are outstanding records. The songs are blissfully melodic, super tight, and always dynamic – instrumental rock at its finest. I’m going to avoid categorizing their sound since I don’t consider their music to be post, or emo, or math, or any of the other titles that folks are throwing around these days. It’s simply excellent rock music. Kamiokande kicks of brilliantly with ‘Underwater Level,’ a meandering fusion of guitars, bass, drums, and keys that has become my go-to summer song – easy-driving rock that reminds me of (old days) Kitchens of Distinction and the Swirlies (minus the vocals, of course). The pace slows down with ‘Sundances,’ 7+ minutes of interesting tempo changes, looping spoken word samples, and smooth guitars on top of a relaxed beat. The EP ends with the mighty ‘Stanley Ipkiss.’ It’s much heavier than the first two tracks on the record, starting off with quiet electronics, but quickly crescendos with agressive guitars, bass, and a pounding rhythm section that pushes the song, and the EP, to an abrupt, yet solid end. I love it!
The first thing you notice about the Hachiko EP is the outstanding cover art, done by Asphensia. The imagery is a perfect match to the music – bold, and brightly colored. ‘Meanwhile…at Lounge Doom’ and ‘That’s not my trick, Michael’ – the first two tracks on Hachiko – are textbook Waking Aida. Chiming guitars, rock-solid drums and bass, and more twists and turns than a rollercoaster. We get a 50 second rest with the calm of ‘Viewfinder,’ and then the EP winds up with two absolute bangers, ’7:45′ and ‘Nothing in Me Disturbs A Thing.’ I find it difficult to describe these songs to someone who hasn’t heard the band – the arrangements are fun and full of hooks, and at the same time, they’re still full-on rock songs that sound best when played extra loud. I’ve been following independent music for a long time, and when I listen to Waking Aida, I’m reminded of many great bands (ex. Tsunami, Swirlies, Lorelei, Lilys) and labels (ex. Slumberland, Taang, Simple Machines) who pioneered this unique style of rock (yes, most of those bands had vocals, but it’s the music that I’m referring to). And I’m even more pleased to see so many great new bands, including Waking Aida, who are taking this genre of music to a fantastic new level. I won’t bother listing the other bands, all you need to do is listen to any of the recent 6forty collections and you’ll get an earful of some of the best music being released at the moment. Kamiokande and Hachiko are two excellent EPs that have definitely found themselves on my best of the year list. I can’t wait to hear more. Click on the links below, turn up the volume, and enjoy the ride!