The colour black is a much frequented subject in the world of rock ‘n roll. Bands like Black Label Society and Black Sabbath, albums like “Black Holes & Revelations”, and then songs like “Paint It Black” and “Black Dog” have all left their mark on music’s history.
However, none of these band-, album- or song names have ever made me feel so much depression and despondency as the name Black Walls. Images of a troubled Franz Kafka writing the end to “The Trial” while dying of tuberculosis, as well as Edgar Allen Poe’s dark abyss in “The Pit and the Pendulum” start to roam my mind. I just imagine being confined to a small room, no windows, its walls tinted in the darkest black I can imagine. Despair.
RELEASE DATE: 15 September 2014 | LABEL: Little Crackd Rabbit Records
However, the sophomore album of Ken Reaume’s solo project Black Walls does not inspire the listener with the horror pre-imagined above. The title track that opens the album possesses a darkness that embraces with womb-like warmth rather than chilling cold. “Communion” is a song that makes me drift off, like a foetus in its amniotic fluid. The contemplative lyrics confirm me in my wish to “ […] fall asleep for years.”, leaving me in a profound numbness, rather than having me want to kill myself. The advent of some tremolo-picked guitars are like becoming aware of something outside the womb; a hand of a stranger, the listening ear of a father.
The singing continues, repeating the same words, but now backed by a soft drum beat and the occasional guitar. The song almost seamlessly blends into “Field Two”, which speeds things up just a little. The metre of the words is faster, more layers of instruments are added and tremolo-picked guitars replace the almost obligatory string-section.
“Communion” was recorded by Reaume as a way to come to terms with the loss of his father, and its especially in the meditative lyrics of the first two songs that this becomes apparent. What strikes me the most is the utter lack of hatred and aggression that the music portrays. “Respectful” is the only adjective I can come up with that describes the way I feel about the way Reaume treats his father’s death.
The next song “PTSD” sees the words fading into mere syllables, confirming the influences of religious and classical music that faintly shine through in the previous songs. The singing now reflects the Gregorian chants of the early middle ages, as well as the modern classical music of John Tavener. Not unlike his “Funeral Canticle”, “PTSD” contains a “grand theme” that slowly builds up – layer after layer – pervading the whole song.
I now realise that I’m going through the album song-by-song; something which I generally hate doing, yet “Communion” displays such a tight unity between the individual tracks that it sometimes is hard to distinguish which song you’re listening to. “Untitled” is a song sees Black Walls coming closest to post-rock, but that fact is not as obvious as it should be. It’s a refreshing song, yet since the drums, the guitars, and basically everything else sounds the same as the rest of the album, it doesn’t come out the way it could be. I often find myself overhearing the track, not remembering it when I arrive at the next track “Funeral/Wake”.
This track ends with Reaume subtly reprising both “Communion” and “Field Two”, and here, in my opinion the album should have ended. However, one more song comes on, which is a “Maximum Black”-remix of “PTSD”. It completely destroys the authentic theme of the original song in favour of a sound that creeps more towards a post-rock and doom metal kind of feel. The song is far from being a bad song, so whether that’s a bad thing I’ll leave up to the listener. I personally liked “PTSD” in its original form.
With “Communion” Black Walls do perhaps not live up to their name – that is to say, to the sentiment that the group name induces. However, “Communion” definitely is an album that has its own face. The personal backstory may not carry through all the way to the listener. It might not be completely relevant, but “Communion” definitely surpasses the personal feelings of loss, and becomes an album that could carry meaning for anyone.