It is well known that Irish mythology is some of the richest and tumultuous in all of culture, with special emphasis on the deeds of great tragic heroes, be they founders, rulers, lovers or warriors, or all of the above. Cúchulainn, the berserk warrior who took the name of his master’s murdered hound, is a truly moving story immortalized in verse and song, but never have I heard the full drama and fire of a twisted Irish tale being expressed with such vigor as Partholón have poured into their debut album, “Follow Me Through Body”.
RELEASE DATE: 30 October 2016 LABEL: Self-released
Sources disagree on the exact order, but most consider Partholón and his followers the second wave of inhabitants, and the first to settle Ireland after Noah’s flood. Partholón’s story is full of darkness and glory alike, as he is credited with bringing many technological advancements into the world, while also going through one of the first instances of adultery and jealous rage in Irish folklore, only to be wiped off the face of the Earth, along with all of his followers, in a single week of plague. The myth goes on to explain that Partholón’s nephew, Tuan, somehow survived the calamity. Through a series of animal transformations, he managed to return to human form, remembering all that he had seen and all that had befallen his kin, and restoring the tale of Partholón to memory, centuries later.
Perhaps it is this aspect of the myth that gave Irish band Partholón the name of their debut album, but the stunning force of their music is definitely inspired by the tragic character for which they are named. Forty years ago, this myth would’ve been the perfect canvas for a prog-rock concept album, which is why I find it so refreshing that “Follow Me Through Body” is anything but! In fact, we’re dealing with one of the most muscular and unapologetic post-metal releases I’ve heard in years. The sludgy, post-hardcore roots grown by Isis and Neurosis decades ago are clearly visible here, and their continuing life and primal pulsing were enough to make me love this album almost instantly.
Partholón are masters of the epic post-metal buildup, which they employ both on individual tracks, and throughout the record as a whole. The method is plain to see, performed without needless artifice, and immensely satisfying. It is this understated purity which gives a truly remarkable strength to the album. The scathing vocals set a gut-wrenching standard for intensity, to which the instrumentals rise with painstaking deliberation and purpose, over and over again, like a tide of anguish, throughout four massive tracks. And to bring extra emotional and textural weight, the vocals sometimes become doubled, superimposing two different types of growling, to harrowing effect. This happens only at key times during the tracks, and it is this restraint that lends the technique its shocking power.
This style of composition brings a certain mood with it, an unmistakable echo of the chilling weight of Isis’ early work, the same hypnotic, cold rage coursing through the music, the same overwhelming feeling of uncaring beauty, like galaxies colliding.
The production complements this mood expertly, which is no surprise given the man at the mixing desk. Magnus Lindberg has not only helped write one of the best albums in 2016 – Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas’ masterpiece “Mariner” – he has also supercharged “Follow Me Through Body” with fantastic mastering. The various elements are balanced in terms of volume and texture, and there is an added touch of brilliance embedded in the sound – a dry, dolorous, isolated atmosphere that blooms from the spartan composition and crowns the record’s atmospheric aspirations. It’s almost as though one can visualize every sound in a plane of its own, as though there’s a protective and enhancing layer of silence enveloping every texture, allowing it ample space to resonate, while still meshing together with everything else. The drums might sound too subdued at times, but overall I think that adds to the organic appeal of the record – a heartbeats rather than war drums philosophy.
“Follow Me Through Body” is a powerful album, but it is a staggering debut. Innovation isn’t its strong suit, but it doesn’t need to be; the sheer confidence of execution, the carefully dosed ebb and flow throughout the album, and the highly charged concept, all recommend it as one of the best post-metal releases of 2016. And that means sharing a stage with Sumac and Cult of Luna themselves. In all seriousness, I cannot recommend this album enough, especially if you’re pining for something more… vintage, within the genre. Here’s hoping this is just the first leg of Partholón’s journey.