So close. So, so close. For the first half of True Widow’s second album, the frustratingly titled Circumambulation, I was convinced I finally had an A+ album on my hands (or rather, in my ears). In the end a second half slump denied it the prestige of being the very first; but damn if it didn’t come close. Circumambulation is one of the darkest, heaviest, gloom drenched albums you’re likely to hear all year, and one of the best too.
The band describe their sound as ‘Stonergaze’, a fitting moniker for a sound that captures the droning, looping style of bands like Kyuss and mixes it with the ethereal, downcast atmospherics of Shoegaze. The result is a record that is brilliantly brooding and apathetic; one that oozes a dread-filled atmosphere right from the moment that fuzzy guitar first kicks in.
The sound is tinged with more than a hint of metal influences throughout, obviously of the gothic and doom variety, and manages to balance being relentlessly heavy without being overwhelming. It’s as if every note has been dragged through a bog en route, and it dovetails brilliantly with the airy, haunting vocals.
Nowhere is this combination of light and dark better seen than on FOUR TEETH, the album highlight and quite simply one of the best songs of the year. The predominantely male-led stoner vocals are swapped for some vintage shoegaze work from Nicole Estill and then thrown together to create a track that, in spite of being driven by some of the darkest guitar you’re likely to hear, is somehow euphoric as it builds to a shimmering climax.
On first listen I could foresee no way how any album with a song this good could achieve anything less than the top grade. Enter stage left – mid-album slowdown and standard stoner indulgence. Following up something like FOUR TEETH with a track as comparatively tame as NUMB HAND is fair enough – it’s an atmosphere piece and a solid, chugging piece of work; by no means bad, but disappointingly ‘solid’ – following that up with a seven minute ride to nowhere? Goddamnit guys, you had me!
To their credit, TROLLSTIGEN isn’t actually particularly bad. It’s better than most of their ilk’s forays past the six minute mark – gloomy, dripping with atmosphere and perhaps the best example of the brilliantly dark gothic vibe that pervades the album. The problem is it’s just a bit monotonous. And when you deal in a mix of drone metal, stoner rock and shoegaze, you really can’t afford to get much more monotonous.
All is not lost however, and the final trio, in particular HW:R, do their best to pick up the slack without ever truly hitting the heights of that magnificent opening. Even when they aren’t firing on all cylinders the basic formula of droning, dark guitar and pounding drums remains impeccably executed. Throughout, True Widow show themselves to be masters of timing, judging each crunch of guitar to perfection, each shift in style, each chant of vocals.
Is Circumambulation as brilliant as it could have been? No. Is it still brilliant? Yes. Is it the most atmospheric album of the year? Yes (Sorry, Sigur Ros). Does it challenge the likes of stoner-gold Lonerism? Most definitely. And shoegaze kings MBV? Right up there.
What really makes this album so great is how it defies expectation. When you throw together the disparate genres and styles that make up the sound of True Widow, the last thing you expect is for it to be so endlessly listenable. It has just enough poppier elements that should be familiar to any fans of indie for it to be accessible, but enough added to that for it to be a unique experience. You’ll struggle to find better background music than this all year – or any music for that matter.
Listen to: FOUR TEETH, HW:R, S:H:S