Release DetailsLABEL Bindrune Recordings
RELEASED ON 7/31/2012
What makes this project rather remarkable...is that it has managed to create ‘heavier’ music the further it gets away from traditionally ‘heavy’ sounds.
Blood of the Black Owl
Light the Fires
Frontiers are borders in reverse.
To the extent that the dream of America (that’s largely “America” - the idea, not the country) was that of a radical break from tyranny and tradition, the Western frontier promised newness. It promised a break from the musty accumulation of centuries of European history. That dream, however, also meant severing many links with the past - cultural as well as political. In that case, then, where do you find your music? How do you build on what came before while simultaneously burning the ledger? Setting aside for the moment the great violence done to the existing cultures and peoples of the New World by European colonizers and interlopers, Blood of the Black Owl’s fourth album, Light the Fires, poses an interesting response to the question:
What are the authentic American musics?
Posing a response to a question, by the way, is not really the same as answering it, and I wouldn’t be particularly interested in this if it attempted such a grandiose act of state-building explanation. Chet Scott’s Blood of the Black Owl has covered a wide range of stylistic ground across four full-length albums, but from the rumbling, droning funeral doom of the early material through the more spacious, ambient-inflected sounds that animate Light the Fires, the red thread (at least for this particular listener) has always been the search for an authentic reckoning with what it means to be present in a place that does not yet recognize you. Call it the manifest destiny of the spirit.
If you’ve encountered this project before, Light the Fires won’t present any jarring surprises, although the production and songwriting lean more heavily on a neofolk/ambient framework, lending the album a lightness of touch even in its heavier sections. Blood of the Black Owl’s music is, as always, deeply enveloping and highly ritualistic, indicated right from the start of album opener “Caller of Spirits,” with its hand-shaken percussion, pendulous drum strikes, distant fluting, and hypnotic throat-singing.
Throughout Light the Fires, most of the real heaviness is of a spiritual rather than a musical sort. This works well on a song like “Wind Eye,” where clean, soft-pedaled electric guitar and organ fiddling produces a stately but mildly disquieting effect that wouldn’t seem out of place on some of Earth’s recent outings. Light the Fires is not an album that rewards impatience, and while it sometimes meanders too much even for its own good - “Two Ravens at the Tree Line” being the worst offender for excessive length with insufficient development - if you’re diving into Blood of the Black Owl for pure meditative ambience, it still works just fine.
Light the Fires has something of a pivot point in mid-album track “Sundrojan,” which adds some electric guitars to build to a partial doom drone, but the increased weight is really felt with Scott’s vocals, which are simply so, so good here: so shamanic, so emphatic, so wide-eyed and full-throated. “Soil Magicians” returns to the deep woods of the album’s opening with flute, harp, running water, insect song, howling wolves, and buried whispers, but in general the last act of Light the Fires displays a canny progression toward heavier moments. The latter half of “Soil Magicians” turns into a still somewhat light, rippling dirge, with increasingly impassioned vocals, leaving it to the album’s closer to really bring down the firmament. “Disgust and the Horrible Realization of Apathy” feints with a warm organ opening that soon gives way to crunchy riffing and the most sustained ‘metal’ passages of the entire album, though even here Light the Fires never completely jettisons its thoughtful, smoke-wreathed aura.
There’s still nothing out there that sounds quite like Blood of the Black Owl. That alone should be enough to pique one’s curiosity. What makes this project rather remarkable, in my view, is that it has managed to create ‘heavier’ music the further it gets away from traditionally ‘heavy’ sounds. Chet Scott probably hasn’t found what America sounds like; probably no one can. But this album - this peculiarly engaging and warmly crafted album - does indeed put the spark to the kindling; light the fires; and burn down tradition to find both what came before, and what can be summoned after.
RelatedBlood of the Black Owl
A Banishing Ritual
2/7/2010 Blood of the Black Owl
A Feral Spirit
10/14/2008 Blood of the Black Owl