4 Apr 2018

Trappist Afterland - Se(VII)en

Trappist Afterland, the vehicle for the sound and visions of Melbourne based Adam Geoffrey Cole and his fellow travellers, have subtly and gradually become one of the most crucial and critically acclaimed psych bands of modern times. Album such as 2015’s essential ‘Afterlander’ and their most recent masterwork ‘God’s Green Earth’ have spread the word, as have extensive European tour schedules and a carefully and beautifully presented repressing of their back catalogue by both Sunstone and Sugar Bush Records. Trappist Afterland’s richly detailed and esoteric instrumentation (bowed psaltery, hammered dulcimer, cittern), not to mention their spiritual and existential convictions and themes and their enduring melodies have placed them in the position of an Incredible String Band for our times. This new opus then comes at a time when their critical fortunes have never been as high and not only does it not disappoint it adds to their deserved reputation and takes the band into new and deeper territory.

Opener '1+1=3' begins with the hypnotic and circular mantra style guitar that Trappist have become known for, hand drums and tabla picking out a steady, processional pace as Cole's distinctive vocals intone and incantate, with flutes and strings weaving in and out of view. Heady but also tight, economical and without indulgence, there is a quiet, inherent brooding power to be found in Trappist’s singular and inspired vision. 'Burning Bushes' guitar is yet more insistent, building and layering amongst violin and finger cymbals, hinting at some of the early work of Six Organs of Admittance (such as Dark Noontide), a dark hued tension developing as the song grows and loops, lost in its own trance. Sounding more haunted than 'God's Good Earth' and sparser and more stripped back than its predecessor, the opulent and esoteric 'Afterlander', 'Se{VII)en' is Trappist Afterland distilled, refined and at their most pure. 'Elm And Bracken' is a case in point; with its haunting Jew’s harp and harmonium this is a ghost of a song, walking the earth in its percussive earthly chains, every footstep a funereal drumbeat. Here Trappist have much in common with their spiritual and musical brothers Stone Breath, the persistent and rhythmic strum and beat becoming its own heartbeat.

Next, 'Forest Mass' enters on a hushed bed of finger picked guitar, Cole's vocals yearning and desperate, moss covered and rooted in the heart of the woodland. Eerie backwards sounds drift through like mist between trees, a lament to the shadows, leaves and branches. 'Knot In Wood's mandolin march is hugely stirring and deeply emotive, the eastern tinged strings whipping the song into a dervish of pleading and devotion whilst 'Sundog', a paean to a lost companion, is bookended by a moving spoken word piece by Alan from Kitchen Cynics, the piece a funeral mass of quiet dignity and beauty. 'Stickboy' meanwhile is a delicate and wistful work that reminds this listener of Joseph Budenholzer's Backworld project, both pensive and wounded but filled with earthy beauty. 'The Blood in the Wood' begins as a chant or prayer, before the steady, hand drum calls time to a swirl of strings and percussion. As the song builds pace you can feel the hairs on your neck rise; Trappist Afterland are an immersive experience, they are not and will never be background music. 'This Clock, Tick Tock' broods and buries itself into the soul, vintage synth punctuating the guitars with a spectral melancholy until album closer 'Trace Your Root' offers a brightness, sitar and flute emerging into sunlight, reminiscent Mike Heron's 'Audrey' and a thing of genuine loveliness.

'Se(VII)en' then is a further triumph for Trappist Afterland, a new jewel amongst their already burgeoning treasures. Perfectly formed for newcomers and old hands alike there is a profound vision and cohesion to this work that suggests a timelessness, that in twenty or thirty years this album will be seen as a classic psych release of this (or indeed any other) era. Seek this out without hesitation; highly recommended.

Grey Malkin

Available through Bandcamp (below) and from the splendid Sunstone Records.

And UK folks have still got a couple of chances to catch him over the coming few days, performing with the illustrious Keith Christmas, Kitchen Cynics, David Colohan and more. Info here.

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