31 Oct 2014

E.P Review: The Ilk "All Hallows Eve"

Reviewed by Grey Malkin (The Hare & The Moon)

From out of the wooded darkness this Halloween comes the new download EP by The Ilk, 'All Hallows' Eve', a follow up of sorts to their magnum opus 'The New Dark Age' (reviewed elsewhere on these pages and nothing short of a masterpiece of pastoral, psych prog electronica). Once again this most mysterious of acts (who knows who or how many are behind their sinister whimsy) have conjured something utterly unique and truly, darkly spellbinding for this, the most haunted time of the year.

The EP opens in an eclectic and pleasingly eccentric vein similar to 'The New Dark Age' with 'At The Forest Break', a shuffling beat exploding into a call and response between a John Barry-esque woodwind and piano section and some searing fuzz psyche guitar. Swathes of mellotron add an orchestral melancholy dread; this music is bathed in a particularly English sense of the gothic, the ghosts of Syd Barrett, Kevin Ayers and Gabriel's Genesis combining to create a spectral, lost vision of Albion. Entirely instrumental, the EP never once loses momentum or the listener's interest; instead it switches stylistically within the same song, often throwing some serious sidesteps and thrillingly unpredicted twists and turns. This is especially so in 'Variation On A Theme by Vernon Elliott' where chiming glass drones merge into a stately, baroque harpsichord; this then reverberates into some dreamily psychedelic Rick Wright organ until the song finally ends on some freakout wah-wah guitar. (Vernon Elliot, of course, is the man responsible for the classic soundtracks for Oliver Postgate's Ivor The Engine, The Clangers and The Pogles). Final track 'Is The Nightmare Black Or Are The Windows Painted?' sees its mellotron choir merge into an incredible lead guitar break and a cacophony of percussion in a breathtaking sequence of musical movements before muted, echoed voices hover ghost like over the squelch and whirr of vintage synths. Next, a female choir sing in a constant loop over a truly sinister keyboard hum and church organ, the sound of wood creaking and clocks ticking overhead. It is a shiver down the spine moment and would not be out of place soundtracking the gothic Victoriana of movies such as Morgiana or Valerie And Her Week of Wonders. Brutal waves of distorted guitar then emerge from the cathedral of sound to bring the track to an appropriately dramatic close. It must be noted however that, whilst these tracks progress through various styles and cadences, they remain absolutely melodic and often deeply emotive. This is the genius of The Ilk.

Indeed, The Ilk are fast establishing themselves as one of the UK's foremost yet most hidden purveyors of modern dark, progressive English folk. They have a hauntological bent but are additionally very much in the lineage of English prog acts such as Camel, Caravan and Mike Oldfield as well as outsider artists like Coil, The Legendary Pink Dots and some of Julian Cope's wilder escapades. Most of all though, they are The Ilk and at the moment there is no-one else like them. Light a lantern, lock the door and stay out of the shadows. Spend All Hallows' Eve with The Ilk.

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