ARÐ – Take Up My Bones (2022)REVIEW

In utter solemnity, preservation and perseverance. There is a following, a well-read and in line cult of sombre benevolence gathered around the tomb’s tale told within every word chanted by musical director, conductor, author and philosopher Mark Deeks‘ doom metal project Arð. An uncounted yet imposing number of voices gather and harmonize in presentation of that which grants ‘Take Up My Bones‘ its weighty, dramatic gravitas — A portrayal of an historic two centuries long monastic pilgrimage of saintly remains wherein the religious timbre inherent to this debut full-length from the Northumbrian artist resounds in the spirit of the devout in accordance with newly Romanized England in transition to fresh conquer and shifting religious regime. Depending upon your own cultural relativity to the arch’d halls and pageantry of medieval English Christianity the greater emotional journey of this debut should trigger alchemic opiatic reaction similar to that achieved within long upheld tonal traditions of worship’s song, a certain head down, arms folded sonority in observance of ancient unspoken mysteries. In plainest terms, we witness man accepting that which is bigger than himself and well-meaning legion following in spirit.

Formed by Deeks, whom you’ll recognize as the keyboardist/co-vocalist in Winterfylleth since 2016’s ‘The Dark Hereafter‘, in 2019 Arð was named with the intent of conveying the identity and heritage attributable to one’s own native land as the main thematic focus at hand, presumably with a focus on historicity; This goes hand-in-hand with his 2016 PhD thesis, which’d taken a broader look at linkages between heavy metal’s quest for identity via methods similar to the romantic nationalism of the 19th century. No, this isn’t a political venture in any sense. The broader subject Arð is concerned with is the fellow’s homeland in its pre-Germanic conquered state as the Kingdom of Northumbria, which as far as I recall (probably from Forefather lyrics) is the birthplace of the first true kings of England as well as the precursory bounds/annexes of kingdoms of York and Scotland. From that point we can hone in on ‘Take Up My Bones‘ specific narrative which concerns the two hundred years following the death of Northumbrian Christian Saint Cuthbert in 687 CE, wherein his remains, coffin and reliquary were worshipped and protected by all walks of life, ultimately leading to his consideration as the patron saint of Northern England, a symbol of unity and Christianity by certain measures. Well, it’ll take at least a few days worth of referential reading [1] [2] to figure exactly why he’d become such an enduring symbol of identity for a certain peoples and why cult would rise around his remains. The details are thoroughly interesting, well worth your study time, but for our purposes the journey in solidarity is what matters most.

Self-described as “Northumbrian monastic doom metal” the gorgeously rendered upward-angled and chamber resonant sound that Arð presents on ‘Take Up My Bones‘ is first and foremost a wholly professional recording. Without extending too far beyond the focused rapturous hymnal crawl of its mid-to-slow paced rhythms ‘Take Up My Bones‘ is stunningly cohesive, neatly presented and able to earn quick fealty from me via fine art direction and an affecting full listen unperturbed by amateurish or half-formed ideals. In terms of their sound, which smacks of unique style right out of the box, this’ll be a record with few suggested contemporaries here in 2022. Gushes of funereal-yet-melodic extreme doom metal-sized instrumentation feed a non-traditional, humbled tone which is admirably presented without a single rough edge or strained performance. The major voice and leadership of these pieces, which present as quasi-hymnals, is of course the immediate signature of choral vocals by way of monastic chants and dramatic folk ballad phrasing — A simple enough idea executed with impressive vision.

Beyond a few bits of spoken word set within the opening narrative verses of “Burden Foretold”, “Raise Then the Incorrupt Body” gives us a most naked ear towards Deeks‘ reverent vocals beyond the group-chanted layers that dominate most of these songs. Placed for effect in delivery of the revelation of Cuthbert‘s remains being disinterred and famously, miraculously intact, this third piece is both the shining peak of the album’s greater modus and the apex of Side A‘s incredible conveyance of the larger narrative. Though this serious cathedral-housed dramatism initially smacks of almost too lofty ambition for a debut no goal appears unattained and none of the artists appear overstretched within said ambition. This includes former Winterfylleth guitarist and current Wolcensmen leader Dan Capp on guitar, Callum Cox (Atavist) on drums, and cellist Jo Quail (My Dying Bride, Myrkur) all providing exceptionally polished work that could only have ended up this finely set with a strong vision in place. The larger point ot make is that all things appear considered as Arð presses on, this surety of self and sense of purpose made a very strong impression upon me from the first listen.

While vocals certainly overtake the reigns in development of the outsized personality and phrasing available to Arð, the piano plays an equally essential role in developing the rhythmic voicing and flourish available to each of the six longform pieces on ‘Take Up My Bones‘. On the title track we find the more subtle crescendo emphasis and progression revealed in unison as traits of the major piano-voiced elements on the album but as we move onward within the narrative of the album this becomes increasingly prominent, eventually landing upon the progressive slow-wheeling of “Banner of the Saint” providing the main hook and “Boughs of Trees” giving miraculous respite alongside some of the more emotive cello accompaniment on the record. Though I’d loved to have heard a bit more of the guitar/piano harmonized lilt of “Raise Then My Incorrupt Body” throughout the album this is probably my old mean brain needing a bit more Peaceville three’s abject sorrow in the mix. The experience is all the more timeless for its use of piano as supportive voicing for most every structure, and I’d venture to guess most of these pieces were composed on the instrument to start.

There is more to read, more to consider, and perhaps years worth of listening to do in appreciation of all that Arð bring about on this finely crafted debut album, a non-traditional doom metal record fittingly voiced for its ancient heritage-minded themes. It strikes me as a cut above most melodramatic doom metal-paced variations available today, a work intending to impact the willing and chisel a great mark upon the right ear; I am clear the right ear in some respect, yet not by way of any too-familiar comparison, much of what the eternal wake of ‘Take Up My Bones‘ does lands Deeks‘ work in a high-brained world of its own. I couldn’t help but be ridiculously immersed, enough to read up on all manner of relevant subjects, so of course I owe some serious respect to any artist that can inspire both the cerebral and the emotional. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Take Up My Bones
LABEL(S):Prophecy Productions
RELEASE DATE:February 18th, 2022

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