|Musical Style: Progressive/Gothic Metal||Produced By: Sombre Holiday|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA & Canada|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Sombre Holiday|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 52:59|
An Hour Of Light, the spring of 2014 independently released Sombre Holiday third full-length album, doesn’t sound remarkably different than its predecessors, In Search Of Understanding… (2009) and Four Shadows (2012). Founding members Terry (lead vocals & guitars) and Trevor (drums & percussion) Friesen, for instance, continue to traverse musical waters that stay true to the groups ‘Sombre Holiday’ namesake: Melancholic metal and hard rock not unlike mid-period Deliverance but merged with a strong slant towards Gothic influenced Saviour Machine progressiveness. Further blend in swarthy and subdued doom-like moments that bring to mind Veni Domine (think Album Of Labour to 23:59 era) with melodic undertones hinting of Stryper and the upshot is the unique Sombre Holiday sound.
An Hour Of Light finds Sombre Holiday further refining and broadening its musical horizons. Whereas Four Shadows reinforced a heightened progressive heading, An Hour Of Light builds upon said progressiveness - the groups trademark intricately woven and complex songwriting remains - while leaning towards a more brooding and contemplative direction. This reveals itself in how Sombre Holiday makes wider use of acoustic guitar to place greater emphasis on its already renowned atmospheric elements. The gist being a delectable intermingling of lighter moments with the heavier that serves to add another dimension to the already multifarious Sombre Holiday abilities.
Best embodying said versatility is “Night Falls”, running the gamut from its tranquil and airy first half (that almost brings to mind Pink Floyd) to the more aggressive and heavier hitting second. The lighter side to Sombre Holiday also can be found in the introspective lacings of the acoustic and guitar distortion to “Transparence” and classical instrumentation and Spanish guitar characterizing ballad “The Dangers Of Loving A Love Story”. Acoustic guitar also defines the at times bluesy and at others guitar feedback driven tinctures of the eerie “Death My Friend”.
Sombre Holiday has by no means forsaken its trademark heaviness. Consider “Night Surrounds” from its muscular mid-paced focus bordering on traditional metal (but still allowing traces of piano) and every bit astringent “The Apology Progression” in approaching doom metal territory (including a fitting acoustic guitar solo opening). “To Whom We Cry” provides a contrastingly upbeat milieu with an all out raw aggression that almost speaks of speed metal (with some guitar harmonies smoothing things out).
The group’s progressive tendencies reveal themselves in seven-minute epics “The Commiseration Of Souls” and “Ascendance”. Former plays up an intricate form encompassing a far-reaching melody, larger than life bass line and multiple instrumental interludes. Latter highlights the lighter touch as a semi-ballad, with keyboards, piano, acoustic guitars and extended instrumental run at the end setting the luxurious tone. “Inside The Incense Circle” proves a barnburner, shorter than the previous two but not lacking in the technical department with its stilly done opening, searing main body and haunting church organ driven closure.
I cannot think of a better vehicle to convey the multi-faceted Sombre Holiday sound than Canadian front man Terry Friesen. In past reviews I described his style as “deep and somber” while suggesting of “Jimmy P. Brown (Deliverance) and Eric Clayton (Saviour Machine) or even Matt Smith (Theocracy) singing in a lower register”. The same holds true here due to his darker and emotional timbre aligning with both the Gothic and the progressive to melodic aspects the group brings to the table.
An Hour Of Light finds him continuing to come into his own from a guitar standpoint. Rhythm guitar wise, he can dish out a wallop with the best of them (don’t underestimate the Sombre Holiday heaviness) but also bestow melodies and harmonies of a refined nature. The albums stronger acoustic penchant, of course, attributes directly to him. Soloing shines as well, with blistering lead work adorning “To Whom We Cry” and “Night Surrounds” and that of a melodic heading “The Commiseration Of Souls”.
California based drummer Trevor Friesen proves Sombre Holiday is a bona fide two-man talent. He contributes his technical drum rolls and fills throughout, delivering a heavy hitting touch to the albums keyed up material but also able to temper his playing when things head in a calmer and more toned down direction.
Credit the group for the dark but riveting album artwork that - as with past covers - complements the swarthy musical leanings at hand. An Hour Of Light also sees the group progressing in the production department in giving rise to the crisper and all around cleaner feel.
Sombre Holiday maintains its penchant for intelligent and well thought out lyrics. The group’s first two albums drew upon the Book of Proverbs in conceptually weaving a story of one man’s struggle to choose between lady wisdom and folly. Topics covered on An Hour Of Light are equally reflective in touching upon Grace during weakness, crying out to God in times of struggle and the purpose of the Cross.
It is true that An Hour Of Light does not sound remarkably different than the first two Sombre Holiday releases, but therein lies its brilliance! How many bands can you name, for example, that merge such different styles and moods - from the melancholic and disconsolate of Gothic and doom territory to the ethereal and airy hints of the progressive and melodic - and make it work in such a complex but highly logical package? Yes, An Hour Of Light might be more contemplative in the process - and overall lighter from its use of acoustic guitar - but proves no less a work either way. Hence, Sombre Holiday remains one of the hard music worlds best kept secrets that I cannot help but very strongly recommend.
Track By Track
“Night Falls” represents one of the albums more progressive. The song opens its first half still and reflective as piano, bluesy guitar and atmospheric overtures lead the way. As things build to an emotional crescendo, hard rocking guitars cut in that soon transition to a keyed up instrumental section carried by searing lead guitar. Initiative decelerates as the momentous scene drifts to its climactic close. Lyric snippet:
In the dark
The shadows are progressing without apology
Returning without remorse
They are the devisers
Invisible to me
Bringers of pain
Bringing down the soared
Smoke fills the room…
Night falls again…
‘Transparence” could not be more chilling and introspective, slowly drifting its lengthy as eerie keyboards and piano merge with occasional haunting lead guitar. Vocals are forlorn as it gets. The song fades out after three and a half minutes only to return in the form of offbeat sound effects and a haunting aura that has a horror movie soundtrack written all over it.
“The Dangers Of Loving A Love Story” comes across as a melancholic semi ballad. Violin makes its presence felt throughout, with laces of acoustic guitar and trenchant rhythm guitar interweaving with what could not be more of a bereft scene. The Spanish guitar that carries the instrumental moments adds to the creativity at hand. Lyric snippet:
I search for You and see so many patterns-
Patterns in Your body-
That look like suffering
Webs of decay, fires of disease,
Flagrancies of death
And I wonder where You are
How will this end? How does it end?
Where is Your righteousness and glory?
The danger of loving a love story
A more musically fitting track in “Death, My Friend” could not follow. The portent milieu of its predecessors carries here, as acoustic guitar propels the song front to back with occasional bursts of guitar feedback highlighting the backdrop. Bluesy lead guitar shoulders things instrumentally.
After four songs on the laid-back side of things, Sombre Holiday delivers a well-timed heady duty piece in “Night Surrounds”. Mid-paced but muscular in form, the song moves its length to staunch rhythm guitars while maintaining the trademark Sombre Holiday sublime proclivity. Terry Friesen builds upon the charged scene with his searing lead guitar work. Fittingly, piano helps carry the final minute.
Album takes a heavier and more progressive turn over its second half. It starts with “The Apology Progression”, a chugging and doom-like monstrosity that gives rise to an overriding bottom heavy feel. Mournful and disconsolate the song - as befitting the doom genre - churns its length to heavyset drums and unbridled aggression. Interestingly, acoustic guitar solos both open and close things. Lyric snippet:
The sinner sees her in shadows,
Lurking in the shelters of the night.
The sinner lies to her in sorrow
Shading every hour of the light
The sinner shows remorse
Then returns unto his origin
The sinner cries in grief
Shedding tears of salt and blood
“To Whom We Cry” hits like a ton of bricks. The song quickly fades in to guitar feedback before taking off at an unrelenting clip, fast and bristling its remaining distance as Terry Friesen decorates the backdrop with his fiery soloing. This one proves there is a more contentious side to Sombre Holiday in no uncertain terms.
“The Commiseration Of Souls” ranks with the albums best. The song sets a mid-paced song with a deep sense of melody, maneuvering its seven-minute length in intricate fashion to throbbing bass and tightly woven guitar harmonies. Multiple instrumental excursions stand out, ranging from brazen soloing to a Spanish guitar solo. Adding to the reflective scene are eerie sound effects closing the final minute. Veni Domine cannot help but come to mind. Lyric snippet:
And now I see His hands, His feet
The One who lives-
The blood on His brow-
The entire realm of nature bows-
Make an offering
To a soul divine
See His hands, His feet
The One who lives destroys
“The Incense Circle” proves short but intricate. You will find your share of variances at hand, including the quietly done opening with its lush harmonies, the dominant guitars that crash in and out of the mix that help carry the spirited minutes that follow and the ominous closure that transitions from church organ to keyboards and piano.
A return to an acoustic heading presents itself on “Ascendance”. The song comes across tranquil in form, almost with a semi-ballad feel as piano, emotional guitar harmonies and violin establish a lavish atmosphere. Final three minutes are instrumental as acoustic guitar and piano take the majestic atmosphere to its climactic closure. Lyric snippet:
Again I cry out to You
Again and again
Do you tire of me and my weakness?
Will you rescue me?
Will you save me again?
I need to see You
I need to see You again
Come and reign
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Night Falls” (5:06), “Transparence” (4:56), “The Dangers Of Loving A Love Story” (5:04), “Death, My Friend” (3:53), “Night Surrounds” (4:28), “The Apology Progression” (5:16), “To Whom We Cry” (4:46), “The Commiseration Of Souls” (7:29), “The Incense Circle” (4:49), “Ascendance” (7:10)
Terry Friesen - Lead Vocals, Guitars & Keyboards
Trevor Friesen - Drums & Percussions
Isaac Friesen - Violin