Attempting to find a unique voice in a burgeoning musical space is usually met with success using the right amount of experimentation. Finding the right balance and banding it all together can be difficult, but when achieved, usually results in something special. That’s just what Sorrow Plagues, a UK-based one-man project by David Lovejoy, is seeking to do on their second full-length album, Homecoming. With a myriad of genre descriptors (such as atmospheric, post-rock, and black metal), one can surmise what this record will sound like. Will it fall into the tropes of these genres and get lost in the rising tide of atmospheric black metal releases, or will it differentiate itself enough to stand out?
Opening the album, it only takes seconds on “Departure” to hear the influence of Astronoid’s brilliant debut, Air, on this album. Cascading guitar work, major chords, and a flowing melody open the song; trailed by tremolo guitars and strings which are staples of ABM. Following this bright introduction and a brief guitar solo, David Lovejoy’s wretched vocals reflect on the journey ahead with pensive trepidation through lyrics such as, ‘Here I stand / This road before me leads so far away from all I know / But I must persevere to save myself.’ Showing some progressive tendencies, this song serves as a great opener for the record.
The following two tracks, “Disillusioned” and “Isolated”, are solid but with few memorable moments; the former having a stronger post-rock identity than most tracks on the album, and the inclusion of piano on the latter. Lyrically, the album takes a darker turn at this point. Ironically juxtaposing desperate lyrics with the triumphant swells of the instrumentation, the album begins to show its DSBM (depressive/suicidal black metal) side. Despite the bleakness of the lyrics and vocals, these songs never feel completely hopeless.
Perhaps intentionally, the next song, “Irreversible”, is a turning point in the album where experimentation is the boldest and most successful. Less than one minute in, we are greeted by a distortion-free guitar solo by guest musician Lewis White. Within seconds of the one-minute-plus solo’s end, the song effortlessly changes identity to the album’s default state of impassioned vocal performance and expansive atmosphere. Toward the end of the nine minute track, we are treated to another guitar solo that takes the same stylistic approach as the first, but this time performed by the band’s mastermind, Mr. Lovejoy.
The penultimate track, “Relinquish”, starts with the strongest ties to traditional black metal on the album. The opening minute is rife with blast beats, tremolo guitar, and a more substantive vocal presence. Again, at just one minute in, we are treated to a modern, progressive guitar solo while the rhythm section transitions to a syncopated traditional rock and roll beat. The track makes additional shifts, including a spacious post-rock passage and a second guitar solo that bookends the song. Closing off the album, “Homecoming” showcases sparse but optimistic lyrics: ‘I promise you will find the fortitude / To face this adversity with a brave face.’ This final note of hope is accompanied by one final surprise in the form of a saxophone solo from guest musician Emile Hinton of For The Oracle. That’s right, a saxophone.
As stated earlier, finding the right balance of experimentation and tradition is key to being noticed in a growing musical sphere. Homecoming finds a way to innovate on the somewhat stale genre of atmospheric black metal. Adding progressive elements like guitar solos and a saxophone into the music broadens how this style can be approached. What holds the record back from being absolutely brilliant is that these innovations come only in small doses on the latter half of the album. However, it shouldn’t be understated that this is a good set of songs with excellent vocal work, production, and surprises that don’t feel forced. The achievements of this record deserve to be recognized and rewarded for their execution in the hopes that their next release will push boundaries even further.
Notable Tracks: “Irreversible”; “Relinquish”; “Homecoming”
FFO: Skyforest, Astronoid