Ides of Gemini
posted on 5/2012 By:
Los Angeles trio Ides of Gemini is nothing if not evocative. For this particular listener, Constantinople conjures images of a caravan trudging into some unknowable wilderness, wrapped in the gauzy patina of memory. The music seems to speak of wide open spaces, but that vastness is always attenuated by a sharply inward eye. Constantinople is simple, plaintive, and haunting; you may find yourself traveling elsewhere, but these songs will have followed you.
Guitarist, principal songwriter, and veteran metal journalist J. Bennett has said that the focus of his songwriting for Ides of Gemini has always been to provide the most effective showcase for the voice of his partner, bassist and lead singer Sera Timms (also of velvety darkness-slingers Black Math Horseman). It’s a wise decision, given that Timms’s superlative voice ranges from an earthy, low alto to a starkly declarative upper register; her vocals are made all the more alluring by the unencumbered simplicity of their delivery.
With only three players, the songwriting naturally focuses on parsimony. Even setting aside the layered lead vocals and backing vocals of Sera Timms and drummer Kelly Johnston, respectively, these songs are crafted to wring the greatest effect out of a gestural minimalism. Thus, the tonal palette and principal songwriting motifs are highly uniform across the album. Although there are dynamic shifts, they take place on a highly compressed spectrum, and it may take the ear a few listens to calibrate to this. Still, once one’s ear has attuned itself, those shifts become great microdramas, as with the switch to distortion on the guitar for the slinky, descending swing into the chorus of “Starless Midnight,” or the jarring tremolo and uncharacteristically bouncy snare work that appear halfway through “Martyrium.”
Most of Constantinople’s songs feel like equal parts hymn and manifesto, but the watchword is always restraint. The drums effectively carry the melody on opener “The Vessel & The Stake”; they’re not just pushing a beat, they’re dictating the narrative pace. The chorus to “Martyrium” repeats “Go tell God…” for so long that one isn’t quite sure whether there’s an end to the statement. Not until the very end of the song is the thought completed: “Go tell God: ‘I am one of your heresies, like the beasts who pulled each piece apart from me.’”
Despite these strengths, the album truly succeeds because of the vital hinge formed by the conversation between its two central songs, “Resurrectionists” and “One to Oneness.” One is hesitant and timid, the other bold, declarative; their canny sequencing is, in fact, the key that unlocks the rest of the album. The settling of the carefully plucked guitar of “Resurrectionists” against the simple, almost languid drum beat seems to chart the beating of the heart -- patient, insistent, yet always threatening to flag behind. The lyrics speak of physical weakness and an intensely inward anxiety: “Cover me, I’ve lost my divinity,” and then the chorus, heartless in its naked lament, “How will I rise? This body was once mine.” That anxiety is the foil against which the album’s few moments of triumph stand out, as it is on “One to Oneness,” which banishes the previous plaint with its rippling cascade of drums and Timms’s most impassioned vocal turn: “I am the truth!”
Constantinople is not a flawless album, and those for whom the question of whether a given album or artist is or is not even rightfully called “metal” are unlikely to be convinced by Ides of Gemini’s gloomy, atmospheric lullabies. The band’s songwriting economy occasionally becomes counterproductive, as on “Slain in Spirit,” where the vocal melody is too unwavering in insisting that every phrase throughout the verses finish with the same half-note dip downward. It matches the downcast tone of the marching instrumentation nicely, but over four-and-a-half minutes becomes rather grating. Beyond that, it’s a little disappointing that all the songs from the 2010 demo The Disruption Writ are present here, meaning that only five of the nine songs are new. Still, the sound is different enough between the demo and this album to make hearing those older tracks a reasonably altered experience; the guitars are less of a distant wash, Timms’s vocals are slightly less wraithlike, and the human touch of Johnston’s drumming is a welcome improvement over the demo’s drum machine.
In the end, although Neurot is probably as good a spiritual home as any for Ides of Gemini, I’m not entirely sure for what sort of audience Constantinople will have the greatest appeal, and that’s okay. Like folk songs from an imaginary country, or a poem you wrote years ago and then forgot, these songs will meet you where you are. Maybe they can make something of your pain.
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