Published Sep 14, 2016Light Falls, Wrekmeister Harmonies' newest offering of experimental drone and heavy metal, is not an easy listen — but then again, it's not supposed to be.
On the album, lead composer and musician J.R. Robinson sonically examines an overarching theme of horrific change and, as on 2015's Night of Your Ascension, he includes a historical narrative. Light Falls takes its name from If This Is a Man, a memoir written by Primo Levi, an Italian-Jewish Auschwitz survivor who was imprisoned at the concentration camp from 1944 to 1945. In his book, Levi questions if it's possible for prisoners, amidst their treatment as "sub-humans," to retain humanity as they come to gradually accept horror as the norm. To help covey this concept compositionally, Robinson recruited a small collective of players including Godspeed You! Black Emperor musicians Thierry Amar (bass, contrabass), Sophie Trudeau (piano, violin, vocals) and Timothy Herzog (drums). The post-rock paragons are a fitting accompaniment to Wrekmeister Harmonies's atmospherics, which, for the first time in the band's recent catalogue, extend beyond the three-track mark.
The album's trio of opening songs flow into one another starting with "Light Falls I," an instrumental with a string-driven melody over which Robinson intermittently chants. Harmonic incantations filter in as the sonics whirl and warp before descending into dangerous doom on "Light Falls II - The Light Burns Us All" and hauntingly minimal arrangements on "Light Falls III - Light Sick." The stark contrast conjures up feelings of anxiety and, in this space, it is difficult to prevent one's mind from wandering to Levi and the torture he endured.
Lighter acoustics also move Robinson into more personal territory on "Where Have You Been My Lovely Son?," where he yearns for a lost connection with his child. This simplicity, which resurfaces again in the album's closer, a striking reprise of "My Lovely Son," elevates the apocalyptic crash of "Some Were Saved Some Drowned," the most musically weighty moment on the album.
As a whole, though it's compositionally beautiful, Lights Falls leaves the listener deeply emotional — both distressed and saddened. However, this strong reaction is artistic success for Robinson. At its core, the album is about transformation, developing from a place of abject horror, and Robinson wants us to feel it. On Light Falls, he achieves just that. (Thrill Jockey)