My Metal Jacket
Over the last near-decade, arena-sized folk rock has lodged itself quite firmly into the American music scene. One entrenchment not likely to give way anytime soon is the rural outdoor music festival. This is for good reason – they come fleeing from noisy metropolises and find themselves in small towns and amongst sprawling farmland. They traverse the rocky hills and blue-grassed dales of America, for music, and what true music lover could then refuse a service in worship of the land? And so our zeitgeist must include, among others, The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, My Morning Jacket and of course, Avicii and Aloe Blacc’s “Wake Me Up.”
A less visible groundswell, but still deep, is the ever-continuing refinement of doom metal, whose ringing chords often illuminate those same rolling hills, but with a light of a slightly more ominous hue. The paths of the two have crossed surprisingly little over the years. Heavy is heavy, and folky is folky, and never the twain shall meet.
But North Carolina’s SØØN believe they shall meet – and soon!
Sorry… With Vol. 1, the band have made their mission statement – to offer a blend of big crunchy guitar tones, slow tempos, rustic touches, reverent paeans to nature and spirituality, and a generally welcoming and sympathetic demeanor. The opening track is entitled “We Are on Your Side,” and that sentiment is delivered without an ounce of irony.
Musically, SØØN attempt a number of approaches to their hybrid style, some more effective than others. The quiet-loud plaintiveness of “Your Side” is anthemic, simple and does a fine job drawing the listener in. “Burning Wood” and See You Soon” are both short and sweet, offering more soft-loud contrast and several solid melodies – many of them vocal.
“Gold Soul” ups the folk factor with string accompaniment and some kind of country bongos. “Glass Hours” comes in all badass with staccato drumrolls and riffage, but once the real song begins, the vocal cadences and chord progressions make the song sound unmistakably like Coldplay. COLDPLAY.
“Mauveine” is likely meant to be a palate-cleanser. A plainsung ballad with cello, acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies, it lilts along in a stately kinda way. The folk is strong with this one, and it can be either lovely or grating, depending on one’s taste in ballads.
“Datura Stramonium” represents the climax of Vol.1, rising from humble tom-thumping origins to full-blown psychedelic spectacle. It is a rousing track, layered with care and executed with verve. Each instrument is allowed to shine, with drummer Thomas Simpson and bassist Rob Walsh holding down large portions of the song, while Stuart McLamb and Mark Connor tease strange atmospheric noises out of their guitars in order to complete the ceremony. “Rise” acts as a mostly-ambient capstone, with a thick, bassy tone throbbing behind McLamb and Walsh’s vocal revelations.
On Vol. 1, SØØN show quite a bit of savvy in their dynamics and arrangements, as well as in the structure and runtime of the album. It’s digestible, often memorable, and has a nice arc to it. Folk and doom metal are both present in pure and potent enough form to please fans of both (though the band’s Facebook does state “Genre: SOON ain’t DOOM”). While the band have more work to do before they hybridize the rustic and the crushing as well as a band like Baroness, Vol. 1 makes it clear that these hale and hearty Carolina fellows are well-prepared for the challenge.