Every so often you come across a band that is truly an enigma, and that is exactly what Silent Whale Becomes A Dream is. In the scope of global post-rock they are still relatively obscure, which is exacerbated by their conscious decision to remain shrouded in mystery, with individual identities pushed to the back to stress the importance of being viewed as an artistic whole. Ask the average post-rock fan about the biggest bands and I suspect their name wouldn’t arise often; however, staunch genre enthusiasts and fellow musicians speak of them with hyperbolic phrasing typically reserved only for true legends. Sonically, they embody a flair for the dramatic and a maturity of songcraft that few possess, yet their oeuvre consists of only nine songs.
RELEASE DATE: 18 November 2017 LABEL: Elusive Sound
All of these elements play exquisitely into their signing with Elusive Sound, a boutique label known for being judicious in their selection of artists, focusing on bands ripe with promise who are ready to achieve a new level of performance and artistic flourish. Yet, even in this context, Silent Whale exists in something of a different stratosphere. One of the Elusive label-runners, Peter Pires, has been excitedly celebrating the acquisition of this band for almost a year now, hailing it as exactly the kind of signing that he dreamed of when founding the label in 2015. So it would be understandable if Requiem stood as one of the most anticipated releases of 2017, but in alignment with Silent Whale’s contradictory nature, it has instead found its way into the world as a quiet storm. But regardless the level of attention it has garnered, Requiem stands as one of the rare albums that lives up to its lofty billing – possessing the uncommon ability to balance the siren’s-song quality that draw listeners into its dreamy calm and the sheer force to overwhelm entirely with a single powerful gesture.
It should be noted, this is not entry-level post-rock. There are no hooks to hum, no easily-accessible compositions to add to a playlist you’re putting together for a friend who you think will dig instrumental rock music. Requiem demands a focused, almost grim attention to detail from its listener. But this is a good thing; as we progress as fans of the form, it’s important to be challenged by artists, and that is certainly what one will find within this album. The second track, “Cor Contritum Quasi Cinis,” functions in a similar fashion as an atmospheric interlude might, but it’s eight minutes long instead of two. That should give you an idea of what you are getting yourself into with this record – it’s often dense, moody and slow, but all in service of what ultimately emerges as a triumphant wall of sound, an almost symphonic tribute to despondency and regret. It is an album with artwork that depicts children playing in the ocean, but cast in an ashen pallor which suggests that rather than joyous representatives of hopeful youth, they may instead be long-suffering ghosts washing back to shore from the deep. Point being, this is not a fun record, but it is a record of immense power.
Anecdotally, it is currently wintry cold in Vermont, and as I was driving today listening to Requiem, it occurred to me how appropriate this record is for this exact moment in time. As the inevitable, ever-looming nightfall began to encroach on a stark, dying landscape, there came a moment where the final remnants of sunlight burst across the greying sky, and for a few moments an otherwise unforgiving world revealed a profound vision of beauty, which was blanketed by darkness as quickly as it arrived. This moment had much in common with Silent Whale’s sonic aesthetics. The 18-minute opening epic “Dies Irae, Dies Illa” doesn’t offer the promise of hope as it awakens from its initial quiet into its roaring middle third, but it speaks to the unlikely brilliance of staring into the void and allowing oneself to become engulfed. Like a towering wave in the midst of a violent ocean storm, there is an electricity in the instant at which you give in to its power. Working as an extended metaphor, there is a passage where the instrumentation blurs together into a maelstrom of distortion, feedback and crashing cymbals, like losing yourself to the sea; the few minutes of ambience that close the track act are an effective denouement, when one comes to terms with fate – the often ruminated-upon theory that one experiences a few moments of indescribable bliss before drowning.
The middle half of the album is largely dedicated to a meticulous crafting of atmosphere, feelings of unease, hints of majesty hiding just out of plain sight, the ever-widening expansiveness of the darkness. It is less about overpowering the listener with thunderous bursts of furious sound and more about setting the stage for what ultimately lies at the end of the journey. The final third of “Recordare” brilliantly sets listeners up for the album’s climactic track. It very deftly encapsulates the feeling of floating quietly with the knowledge that something massive and intimidating is looming somewhere just beyond the horizon. That behemoth, in fact, has a name: “Lacrymosa Dies Illa.”
The first third of the closing track features the album’s most (nearly) accessible moments, with a distinct bassline and consistent drum beat propelling the composition forward. There is almost a feeling that redemption rests just a little further ahead, as the strings swell to meet the sky in triumphant fashion. But what transpires is appropriately open-ended. The concluding four and a half minutes of this track play out like an epic final struggle between man and nature, in which the victor is left untold but there is a heroism on all accounts. It wouldn’t be correct to say that Requiem ends on a hopeful or uplifting note, but there is a sense that you have borne witness to something rare and important. It is moments of transcendence such as this that have garnered Silent Whale Becomes A Dream their reputation. In the face of weighty expectations, this is a victorious moment for artist and label alike, a validation of the hyperbolic exclamations of those devoted to Silent Whale prior to this release, and hopefully a launching pad to a wider audience going forward.
This article was published via a nominal contribution by the submitter to help us cover blog expenditures and keep AD running, but there was no agreement on content and all opinions belong to the author.