山の神 — Undescended alpine spirits and the mutated souls of the ever-living exist as a natural residue of ancient existence, their restless wavering between our living torment and the unreachable haunt of the afterlife offer constant reminder to capitalize upon virtue in the present, to define the ‘self’ through action rather than tout beliefs, and leave no vengeful part of the self behind. Grenoble, France-based post-punk/post-doom metal trio Qoya gaze intently into the dark passages between worlds via their own perspective, a signature gait informed by equal parts altitude and adaptability on this, their independently released debut full-length. ‘Yōkai‘ concerns itself with Japanese and Slavic folklore not for the sake of creating some imaginative distance from the listener and their dream yogic craft but, instead to depict and generate an atmospherically charged yet still universally readable sensation of purgatorial estrangement.
Formed in 2018 as a ’79 post-punk and math/indie rock influenced quartet with a ‘Three Imaginary Boys’ sort of sound, Qoya should impress early coldwave/post-punk listeners digging through their thus far brief discography when they’ve hit upon ‘The Fall‘ (2019) EP, even if the style is almost entirely unrelated to what we find on ‘Yōkai’. From what I gather their bassist exited the fold soon after that recording and, in the process of incorporating synth basslines rather than performances, the remaining trio had a bit of a post-metal influenced breakthrough, morphing into a far more sentient and expansive form as the two year process of realizing this debut LP took shape. Citing nowadays Cult of Luna and the “cold doom” of bands like Hangman’s Chair as some manner of inspiration Qoya deliver the eerie warmth of modern post-music, the purely emotional reverberations of classic post-punk, and coldwave’s introspective disillusionment in impressive consort on the most exciting parts of ‘Yōkai’. The trio’s ability to transition between dreamlike post-rock dirges with either straight up doom metal riffs (“Poludnica”) or post-metal’s eye-avoidant cinematic tension is the major draw here in terms of stylistic blend but there is far more to the experience than a couple of slow-motion The Cure references and the ‘easy’ drybones of late 2000’s crescendo-core which youthful post-metal/post-punk connections typically serve.
The extended and adventurous nature of these eight 4-6 minute pieces lends well to a downtrodden yet meditative state, contemplation being the major goal and getting there with a bit of indulgent escapism which has no bliss or paradise in mind, only relief from a cold and solitary state of mind. Qoya smartly inspect the realms of the soul rather than the transcendence of space and time for their outsized sad-rocking explorations, grounding the listener in the pure black and waterlogged limbo of karmic observance and confessional intimacy, leaving the largely value void throwback post-punk market looking like performative gaudiness by direct comparison. The melodrama is not feigned or forced in spirit though the tone is patient and in the throes of pensive delirium. This means Qoya rarely go for the jugular here with more than a handful of directly predatory hooks and, because of this, we could compare their vibe to modern coldwave moreso than gothic rock/metal and consider the dynamic of a band like Nostra for a sense of instrumental weight and movement, albeit with vocals as the tone-setter rather than proggy modern metal riffs. The dynamic of the full listen admittedly comes from sub-genre blends and a unique sense of evolved post-music presentation which embraces full-on the confessional aspect of gothic music (see: the apex of “Pólnocnica”) and this is a carefully modulated ratio the band ought not to mess with too heartily beyond finding workarounds for typical post-metal guitar swells.
The visual presentation via maestro Karmazid and the sonic capture thanks to James Leonard / Plastic Lobster Studios (Barús, Epitaphe) is impeccably achieved in concert and service to the songs themselves, providing a rich flood of liquid black paisley hallucinations to accompany a moderately spacious production value creating a shared space between a variety of dynamic dependent and atmospherically specific sub-genre duties; It all works beautifully together in delivery of the final product and without any raw or naïve excess. I’d honestly not been convinced a young group of fellowes could match these high standards of presentation in terms of songwriting but between the title track and heading into “Waves” they’d convinced, well, hooked me into this world by way of the cerebral jangle of the two guitarists and the tempered, subtly poetic voice of Quentin Chazel. The sooner I’d experienced the hills and valleys of the full album the sooner the individual songs began to reveal their surprisingly memorable but never extroverted presence. It seems entirely unreal how sophisticated certain choices made by this relatively young trio are here considering ‘The Fall’ sounded like a load of jangly sweater-punk impropriety.
At one point I’d sat in analysis of ‘Yōkai’ and decided “Banshee” was an unnecessarily included phantom limb and in that moment it crossed my mind that if Qoya changed any aspect of this release too drastically I wouldn’t have liked it as much. This came alongside some concern for ‘Yōkai’ being one phase in an coming line of equally strong breakthroughs taken towards a final form. This is only worth mentioning because the thought was already covetous on my part, a good indication of a connection made beyond wanting to continue listening to the album even when I’d had other shit to do. From a more objective angle this is a record for folks who’ve dabbled in accessible gothic rock/coldwave and heard it all in terms of lighter, non-sludge/post-hardcore affected post-metal such as The Moth Gatherer, that isn’t to say that the coldwave vibe isn’t strong but that there is no danceable 80’s new wave aspect to this music. There are moments which thrill and others which flatten and the experience isn’t catchy or affected enough to resemble commercial rock or metal standards just yet. There is a world away from the norm revealed within ‘Yōkai’ and sustaining that core ‘underground gem’ appeal will ultimately lie within even more infectious songcraft and perhaps more vitally, keeping the two worlds that create the purgatory of the experience as separate poles not to be over-blended. As is, these guys aren’t just ‘onto something’ they’ve done something notable with their debut full-length. A high recommendation to the niche audience described previous, a moderately high recommendation to the general heavy music-attuned public.
|RELEASE DATE:||October 15th, 2021|
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp|
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