If there’s anything harder than writing instrumental music, that is (writing) instrumental music with vocals. Wait, what? Yeah, I actually just said that but please allow me to expand further. The key to intelligent and entertaining instrumental music resides in the thin harmony that ties all the instruments together like an exceptional chef would mix all the ingredients together to unleash the combination of flavours in a recipe. Similarly, musicians, especially those belonging to the “no vocals club” that we all love so much, require such skill to unleash the music’s full potential and adding vocals on subtle instrumental patterns makes it just a whole lot harder. When vocals are used as “just another instrument”, mixing all the flavours is a very challenging task as in order for the vocals to simply “melt” with the rest of the music, they neither be too thick or thin, too high or low. The right balance between instrumentals and vocals resides in that fragile harmony, which is extremely hard to reach, but when you do, the music flows so splendidly natural.
RELEASE DATE: 22 January 2016 LABEL: Debemur Morti
So guess what Latitudes finally achieved with their newest release? Exactly! The Hertfordshire (UK) quintet pulls off the extremely challenging task to add vocals to a predominantly instrumental and atmospheric record, mastering the perfect balance between all instruments and sung sections, just like the chef in the horrible analogy I made in the previous paragraph. Luckily, Latitudes possess that certain aptitude (that is inherent to musicianship itself, if you will) required to write elaborate music patterns with the addition of sung sections and a vocalist, and Old Sunlight, the band’s third album, is the perfect representation of a haunting instrumental soundtrack adorned with equally haunting vocals.
Old Sunlight is the musical transposition of Latitudes’ great aptitude in blending and mixing prog-rock, atmosphere, sludge and stoner metal onto a semi-instrumental base. If the band’s debut, Agonist was explosive and abrasive in its sludgy build-up-to-climax progression, and their sophomore, Individuation, while less predictable, was much more distended and relaxed, Old Sunlight perfectly sits in between the styles and overall vibe of its predecessors.
The record presents a summary of the band’s previous offerings all concentrated in a newer and fresher form, which allows the quintet to expand the boundaries of their sound. Given that this is the Hertfordshire quintet third release, it’s natural that would sound like a mix of the band’s first two albums, however, don’t fall into thinking that Old Sunlight is simply an aggregate of its predecessors, because there’s so much more to this album than the sum of its preceding parts. If it’s true that Old Sunlight is the marriage of Agonist and Individuation, and as such does a really good job at combining the strengths of each respectively, it is also true that this new record adds plenty of novelty to Latitudes’ music. For as cliché as this will sound, with Old Sunlight Latitudes finally unleash their true potential, drawing influences from King Crimson, Rush, Mastodon, and even black-metal acts like Blut Aus Nord, other than the genre’s standard like Neurosis, Pelican, and Isis. Just listen to any of the seven songs on the record to hear that for yourself.
On Old Sunlight, Latitudes really do take their music to another place of their own making by mixing elements of their previous albums combined with newer and wider influences pushing their music into wilder directions and territories. The result is a captivating (close to a) hour of atmospheric, semi-instrumental modern rock where each of the seven songs helps building a part of the immersive soundscape that permeates from the record.
“Ordalian” starts off the journey warming up the listener for the plethora of sounds showcased on the album. Starting off as a ghostly presence, the track grows in its haunting intensity before exploding into a bombastic climax. Graciously paired together, “Amio” and “Gyre” just work so well, with the former providing the perfect eerie build-up so by the time the latter kicks in we are hooked and craving more. These tracks are heavy, tight, and fast, but only anticipate a few of the album’s highlights as the British quintet has few aces up their collective sleeve. “Altarpieces”, the heaviest track on the album, with its groove and massive guitar riffs sounds like a crossbred of Metallica, Pantera, and Pelican (it is so good!). Reminiscent of the band’s darker influences, “In Rushes Bound” with its choral vocals, spectral intermezzo, and massive “wall of sound” metal riffing successful summons the dark and eerie atmospheres of black metal, sounding as risky in theory as incisive in practice.
Although Latitudes drive their inspirations on all the aforementioned bands and genres, their unique timbre is clearly audible throughout the 47 minutes of the Old Sunlight, so it is no surprise that the most intriguing track on the album is also the most interesting in terms of influences and personality. Sounding like a psychedelic mix of Poseidon-era King Crimson and Pelican’s Forever Becoming, “Body Within A Body” clearly showcases the vast array of influences permeating Latitudes’s music and rightfully crowns itself Highlight of the Album. The song is a stylistic whirlwind of prog, atmospheric, space and psychedelic rock, featuring one of the most interesting intermezzos on the album, and one the most memorable riffs of the year so far. All without sounding pompous, overblown or uninspired, as the track cleverly moves back and forth from Seventies’ prog-rock to modern sludge metal. As the title suggests, this is actually two songs in one, with a true progressive rock core that shines through the beautiful instrumental arpeggios weaved around it.
Beyond the dialectical analogies Latitudes’ music truly possesses a transcendental unifying character as it links the multitude of styles that exist within the rock genre into a single entity; a body of experimental prog-rock encapsulated into a bigger whole, the sludge rock tone that distinguishes the record. Firmly and comfortably standing on their five pairs of feet, on Old Sunlight Latitudes remodel their new identity without self-referencing, compromises or revivals of ambiguous taste and sorts. Much more simply, they produce a record that breaks the boundaries of modern metal by progressively opening to other influences varying from prog and psychedelic rock to pure experimentation. The quintet skillfully moves from one influence to the next with confidence and firm grip to produce a record that speaks modern as well as references the tradition, encapsulating the past, present, and future of experimental metal.
Three years in the making, Old Sunlight is an extremely captivating piece of intellectual music. Reasoned and balanced in all its components, the record nimbly moves between both ends of the rock scale from the less to the more extreme. In sonic terms, this means a colourful cornucopia of stylistic variations all along the spectrum of progressive and experimental rock, from its more expansive and relaxed moments to its heavier and more abrasive forms. Comfortably sitting between progressive rock and experimental metal, Old Sunlight is like an exciting rollercoaster ride. With their explosive highs and atmospheric lows, the seven tracks on the record offer their own different take on atmospheric music. Climbing up and down the high and low frequencies of its own soundscape the album sounds exciting, fresh, and extremely “personal” with the extra layer added by the inclusion of sparse sung sections only adding to the album’s extensive sound catalogue and well rounding up its “rougher” edges. From the occasional listener to the hardcore connoisseur (and everyone in the far between), Old Sunlight generously offers a reward for any fan of these sonorities. From delicate melodies to harsh metallic riffs, from sludgy atmospheres to expansive prog-rock crescendos, the results are all equally enthralling.