In gloaming observance of an unattended funeral, performed in masks and mimed in downtempo grace, these faceless and wrapped remains rest into sepulcher for the sake of those grieving at tandem physical/emotional distance. Dusk lit and live-streamed ghostly documentation provides logotherapeutic catalyst for the affected, a matter of chemical/emotional survival. Without rituals of closure and reflection the empathetic hope-subscribed folk among us lose their key existential argument, that life has meaning under all circumstances, even when all is hostile and miserably mounding death. This latest full-length from Portland, Oregon-based heavy psychedelic rock/doom-gazing quartet Blackwater Holylight acknowledges the slow, transformative walk from atrophy to resilience following debilitation and trauma by way of a darkest ’til dawn third chapter. More democratically writ and enriched by even fewer bounds, ‘Silence/Motion‘ explores a phenomenal thread of markedly gouging extremes be it nakedly intimate dread or sonorous, nearly rapturous acceptance of the long road ahead. They have survived, necessarily flaunting scars in the face of whatever trying collapse took place and celebrating the last couple years as impetus for earnest transformation.

From the shuffling ’79 by way of ’92 psychedelic stoner doom-rock of their self-titled debut (‘Blackwater Holylight‘, 2018) to the muscle car ready n’ fuzz-lording bop of ‘Veils of Winter‘ (2019) Blackwater Holylight were on a sky-high trajectory, using sublimely earthen stoner tones to bolster their brilliant use of harmony and varietal tonality. Their decidedly catchy and occasionally a bit deadpan songcraft was considered by many, including myself, a high watermark for gloom-heavy modern psychedelic rock. The then quintet’s ability to sport both ancient and modern features allowed for such expansion that a wealth of ideas superseded any need for directly reactive artistry, a period of exploration which could develop in any direction to a fine result. The globally shared events of 2020 which yet persist in various form and symptom certainly affected this trajectory and inspired a pointed burst of introspection which was perhaps dire and severe enough that it makes for stirring immersion and a bout of spectacular change for the group who’ve had a key line-up shift with the exit of co-vocalist/guitarist Laura Hopkins. Grief as a reaction to loss, externally prevalent and thoughtfully internalized, is the proposed source of tone in approach of ‘Silence/Motion’ but broadcast from an open-armed, naturally vulnerable spiritual ideal which necessitates strengthened resolve as the intended outcome.

What does this mean in a practical sense? Stylistically speaking the result could be described as post-metal/shoegaze-inflected crossover between somewhat more vocally driven cinematic forms of doom; An extreme metal tinged affect which still retains the buzzing heft of ‘Veils of Winter’ but presents Blackwater Holylight in an entirely modern context. As a result of production from A.L.N. (Mizmor, Hell), whom also guests on the album beside members of Inter Arma and Thou, the deluge of five ~5-6 minute slow-burning dirges that make up the bulk of the album present the experience with brilliantly consistent atmosphere. This works because these pieces are quite a bit more driven by the (now) sole vocalist, bassist and guitarist Allison Faris whom is presented in minimal layers and with a bit more control. Looking at the credits I would naturally assume that ideas/songwriting traded back and forth between Faris and guitarist Mikayla Mayhew lead to each picking up either instrument depending on the track in studio and this only helps to create some variety in approach from song to song. This is probably more noticeable if you’re prone to several repeat listens in one setting or, during a long trip. Chaotic as any explanation of what ‘Silence/Motion’ will ultimately be, the listening experience is entirely fluid and a refreshing sort of “going for it” tonal shift for the band.

There’ll be no side-stepping how different ‘Silence/Motion’ is, though, as Brian Funck‘s (Thou) throaty hiss beside Faris‘ lilt on opener “Delusional” crops ups almost immediately. The dirge of the song itself relies upon the staggering, defeated doom metal riff which presents a dissonant low to start while the frazzled fuzz of its tone matches the severity of said snarling. From that point it is worth noting the adaptive keyboard work of Sarah McKenna whom gives us celestial bemusement on “Who the Hell”, cathedralesque floods and piano slamming cinema on the title track, lucid dream-pop shimmer tones on “Falling Faster” and beyond, showing both versatility and colorful illustrative tones throughout the tumult-toward-resolve narrative ‘Silence/Motion’ presents. Fans of ‘Veils of Winter’ will certainly recognize Blackwater Holylight‘s voice and some of their past signature/sensibilities in approach of the cumulative strokes of “MDIII” and the captivating indie rock-gaze of standout rainy day single “Around You“, my personal favorite piece on the album, but the finale still has a one last whirl into untrodden lands before we exit. Ending the album on “Around You” might’ve been a sort of transcendental bit of closure but, that’d have been too open-ended and instead the initially easygoing curl of “Every Corner” sets us up for a jamming prog-psych trip which breaks into a blackened death-roaring stoner metal ride ~4:05 minutes in before cooling off again. This ends up being a brilliant way to close the record, a burst of the unexpected which works incredibly well within an album that is at once alienated by life and wisened by way of its own fearless approach.

Trying experience giving way to purpose or personal revelation is a trope within popular music narratives throughout the ages for good reason and we could ascribe this notion here in summation but that’d be unnecessarily cynical and/or a bit tone deaf. I’d instead choose to view Blackwater Holylight‘s intent as bravest exploration beyond expected boundaries in earnest on ‘Silence/Motion’ — There is very little in the way of self-conscious or too-sweetly prepared affect on the full listen and this ultimately shines endearing light upon the band for their willingness to directly feel their path forward during a period of considerable growth beyond demolition. Sure, it is a notably different record than some will be expecting but all for good reason and, more importantly, the result holds up beautifully to reckless amounts of repeated listening. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
LABEL(S):RidingEasy Records
RELEASE DATE:October 22nd, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Heavy Psychedelic Rock,
Doom Rock/Doomgaze

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