Saṃsāra is a Sanskrit word that means “wandering” or “world” and it is connected with the Eastern concepts of karma, reincarnation, and the cycle of aimless drifting, wandering, or mundane existence. Back in 2015, Adelaide’s foursome iiah explored the situation of being lost in that “mundane existence” on their first self-titled EP release. Now they are back with Distances, a way more confident and ambitious work with profound thoughts on the life cycle as a whole, accepting it for what it is instead of suffering inside it. “Karma rights all wrongs” are the first lyrics to be heard on the album, and they beautifully condense such a complex idea.
RELEASE DATE: 05 May 2017 LABEL: Self-released
The album opener “Polaris” seduces right away with its initial crystal delayed guitar. It builds up with demisemiquaver guitar lines, pads, e-bow sounds, a fatty bass sound, driving drum rhythms, and one classic trick: softening the sound right before the distorted climax. Actually, playing with dynamics is something iiah got very good at developing, as they do with the sequence “Voyagers” (climax) / Kintsugi (anti-climax) / “Gravity (Release)” (climax again).
The vocals may create some controversy, though. When listening to “Samsara” for the first time I was surprised by its voice projection timber. Actually, I found myself internally craving for either softer or harder vocals instead of that middle, opera-style voice I was hearing. After a few listenings I realised that besides giving the band a lot of personality, the hard-to-classify vocal timber could actually keep the audience undecided between soft and hard worlds, without providing a final answer, and thus giving them freedom to choose for themselves.
Nonetheless, iiah seems to have taken an excellent “less is more” decision by leaning more heavily into the instrumental side as it ended up empowering both lyrical and non-lyrical tracks. Individual contributions of the band members sound more present, making the final result greater. They even got in touch with local musicians who ended up shaping the songs beautifully: Ethereal chorals, trombone, trumpet, violin, viola, cello, and outstanding vocals from Maggie Rutjens in “Samsara” and “Passages And Awakening”, to mention some.
The latter song, “Passages And Awakening,” is indeed one of the most genuine and best tracks of the album, and perfectly sums up the big step ahead iiah have taken. With its conceptual take, emotive and dense textures, and rousing instrumentation, Distances beholds a certain musical maturity that is hard to achieve. It offers a perfect reward of calm and serenity to the individuals who actually made it, who actually survived the “wandering” of that distant samsaric world we usually call Earth.
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