In the year it’d taken to meticulously craft the easy-moving immaculacy of the self-titled debut from Portland, Oregon psychedelic rock/doom metal band Blackwater Holylight they’d crafted a sweetly memorable bridge between 90’s indie/art rock moodiness and 70’s heavy psych attuned organic sounds that was a sure highlight for 2018. With a year and a half’s worth of reflection I’d say ‘Blackwater Holylight’ was nothing less than a ‘best foot forward’ for the fledgling group but once this follow-up ‘Veils of Winter’ hit in mid-October it’d become clear that something’d changed in that span of time or, as it turns out, some meaningful tweaks to their process lead to a more natural and earnestly performed creation that only adds to their already solid foundation. Representing the alluring, the sinister, the hopeful, the stoned to high hell and every sort of psychedelic slow-swingin’ doom-rock emotion in between it’d be a great oversight to go another day in 2019 without recommending this fine second hit of their action.
‘Veils of Winter’ is pure relief, a drug for pain, and hug for the exhausted mind in need of a shove beyond its wrinkled growling chaos. It hits like a nuke from the first listen, and I suppose not only because of the huge distorted bassline from founder/bassist Sunny Faris that introduces “Seeping Secrets” but because it feels like Blackwater Holylight intended to be a nuclear event on their second album. The band have been pretty open about their songwriting process having changed for this particular album where Faris and vocalist/guitarist Laura Hopkins did less delegating during the (3-4 week) recording process, and incorporated the full input of their bandmates in this second album. The space and size of the production along with guitar tones, vocal harmonies, and greater dynamic of the full listen all achieve a higher plane in the hands of the strengthened creative collective of Blackwater Holylight. What does that mean? It a banging doom-creep of a record, a crawling and sprawling wall of thunder that I cranked the hell out of every time I pressed play. Vocal harmonies are slithering, swooning, and nigh misanthropic in their melodic narrative that feels plucked out of the early 70’s as often as it sways towards 90’s influenced artists of today like Chelsea Wolfe or the most recent Windhand record. Though some might fear there are too many cooks in the kitchen with five members, I’d have to say ‘Veils of Winter’ proves it can be done with taste and meaningful restraint.
In terms of mid-to-slow paced psychedelic rock acts no doubt Blackwater Holylight challenge themselves beyond the norm, tasking themselves with writing memorable songs without not relying on a repetitive gimmick or stylistic conglomeration to gain notice. The tonal range of the album is something to infer on your own but it does all lean towards downtempo paced doom rock that has a sullen, almost funereal quality on certain songs (“Daylight”), but Side B does a great job of mixing it up with celebratory meditation (“Lullaby”) and proggy folkish jaunts (“Moonlit”) that all balance into an even-keeled too-neat full listen. Side A, though, is the nuke, the radiation and the zombie hand punching its way out of the grave. “Motorcyle” starts off a big n’ nasty sludge chugger ’til it soars into exactly the sort of rolling cathedralesque groove you’d need to justify a title like that. “Spiders” makes the album for me not only because they’ve nestled it right at the curve of the full listen beyond Side A but because it shows how willing Blackwater Holylight are to change the mood along the way. Slinking lounge action, tons of fuzz, and oaken harmonized vocals all still indicate a deep love for 60’s and 70’s psychedelic rock and in that sense you’d still recognize ‘Veils of Winter’ in relation to the band’s debut but the ‘modern’ psychedelic stoner/doom metal production sound only empowers these sleepy mystic doom rock hymns. The heaviness is all front-loaded onto Side A but I appreciated the collective magnetic effect it’d had as I eased into their jam.
‘Veils of Winter’ became habitual to the point where I’d put off finalizing this review so I could keep that thread going. The full listen was consistently easy across the span of the last couple of months because Blackwater Holylight have filled its ~41 minute length without a moment of waste or excess. Highly recommended, as a successful leap in confidence and shared creativity from a band who’re relatively new but already hitting major highs. For preview purposes I’d suggest starting with “Seeping Secrets” and “Motorcycle” if you’re intrigued by their heavier doom side and “Spiders” for their softer, spookier side.
Woods lovely, dark, and deep. 4.0/5.0
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