Dark Romance walks into the Blackness of Death and Oblivion
The especially grim album cover says it all: this album is about deep, dark DEATH.
The lead male vocalist comes in with an accompaniment of the ambience of one of Hell’s more barren plains. To listen to the opening track, ‘Gift’, is to listen to a sinister whisper in an empty, blackened, eternally dead place where skies are smouldering with black fire and smoke of satan’s hatred for life. That whisper is living in the very land of Death, where even the spirit of Charon is choked off and long dead, and there is simply no hope for life. THAT is how Fields of Aplomb have set the tone for their newest offering.
‘Tirade Against Him’ wades in with strings and monotone, droning morbidity and an exquisite female vocal who apparently thought she was singing at the lonely funeral of a suicide. Maybe she’s mournfully watching a lover hang himself on barbed wire. The music becomes, slowly, more frenetic and the guitars begin rising into a klaxon-like howl as the fearful energy of the music raises the listener’s level of concern, and then drops off completely.
‘Bellow’ begins with low sounds and percussive, ominous thumps, and both vocalists are now whispering in Hell. I absolutely believe these two people are holding a microphone between them in The Bad Place. The music does not rise much, preferring to stay… down there, way down there where it’s too dark to see, and somehow too dark almost to even hear. A piano provides a dramatic and bright counterpoint so that the listener does not slash his or her throat during this track, sort of like the old ‘Faces of Death’ films playing carnival music during an electrocution so the viewers don’t freak out. This reminds me of painting prison walls in bright, cheery colors to reduce violence. Only this band and Black Sabbath can guide you through Hell and keep you alive by providing just enough light to stay your own hand from committing damning suicide.
A little bit of inspiration from the ol’ Sisters of Mercy is shown the listener in ‘Constant’, which has a generous and lush touch of dark ambience, similar to some of the guitar feats of Switchblade Symphony as the male vocal channels Andrew Eldritch. Is that man dead yet? He was always dead, coming out of the womb. So was this guy. I’m in a grave with a crumbling corpse, masturbating to rot, moving my hand faster as he starts croaking and screeching, the music rising to some kind of reluctant climax, like a fetus struggling to stay in a dead womb. The vocalist seems to be talking to himself from two different perspectives, one ponderous, one hanging from a dungeon wall with nails in his balls. Sounds like me when I don’t think anyone is around… This bizarre dialogue comes down with the music, the guitar wailing out through a mixer, and the ponderous side of the male vocal takes over as a heartbeat characterizes the percussion, taking on a martial quality with an occasional fill. The song begins speeding up again with more howling guitars as the vocalist begins uniting his two perspectives in their pain. He’s hanging off that dungeon wall and he knows the walls will hold his soul. I can hear him down the brimstone corridors of this subterranean musical landscape. The… song? ends with that morbid heartbeat and fades into the flatline of blackness.
Morbid keyboards and drums from a summary execution begin ‘Forever By My Side’, and the female vocal comes in with the same darkly romantic melody from ‘Tirade’. She’s an angel in black lace, singing in the lair of sleeping demons. Lullabyes for devils. The death ambience is still here, whirling around the mind of the listener as the black angel sings about still memories and death, and generally the ends of things, the sweet bitterness of being past the end. Let’s slit our throats with this lady, shall we? I’m certain she’ll just stare down at us with a sadistic smile and continue to sing sweetly from the shoulder of that sleeping demon; she already has her mourned lover ‘forever by her side’.
Traditional retro-punk/goth guitars on phasers whirl again around the bitter male vocals in ‘Guttered Wrench’. He’s dripping with hatred, despair and hate, and the music is painting a picture of rotten vengeance-lust behind him. He sounds like he wants desperately to cut someone’s heart out, filled with the most vile sentiment and latent wrath. The song builds up, which is a consistent pattern on this album, with keyboards, guitar and percussion all subservient to the grinding larynx of this baleful figure. He must have his teeth bared the whole time, fists balled around the hilts of blades of surgical steel; that’s what his voice sounds like. The music accompanies him perfectly, partners in dark revenge. Certainly the result will be murder. Competent guitar soloing helps to bring the song to a close as the madman fades into the music.
A glorious cathedral organ brings us to ‘Salvation’, with strings and dramatic drumbeats summoning the listener into a saving beam of light in this dark sky. Something good is finally coming, and there is a powerful reprieve from the utter doom through which the listener has been pulled like a drowning swimmer by a punishing devil. The listener is finally out of the blackness, rising up into light as layers of strings, organ, the drums, everything, all comes together like a slowly ascending madrigal of different voices. This entire track is meant to set a mood before the climax and conclusion of the story of this album. It’s somewhat describable as a sound sculpture. It ends with a lonely string sample, mourning the passing of the light and fading away, passing into oblivion.
‘Hindrance’ comes in with weird electronic mewling in the background as string and bell samples alert us to the presence of some kind of interrupting presence, something warning us that the ‘Salvation’ of the listener or the protagonist is not to be. A strange voice like Big Brother is heard in the background, later, announcing things to come. Could it be some faschist leader or a prophet of apocalypse? The bells knell on into silence and the strings fade as the voice grinds bombastically to a halt, like a mad scientist plotting annihilation. Whose?
The female vocal enters on the track ‘Feathers’ after keyboards and sparing percussion set a sparse but melodic atmosphere for a buildup to the climax of this story. At times she sounds like Debby Harry singing at a graveside. Imagine ‘Dreamin’ in Spring’ at half tempo with Judith backing her up, in a minor key. Truly Diabolus en Musica. Peter Steele has nothing on these folks for dark atmosphere. Azrael probably sleeps to this; I would be afraid to do so. If I played this out loud in a cemetery at night I would expect to see hands pushing up through the ground by the stones. After all, the lady is gently summoning the dead to rise in her loneliness. This is a siren song to revenant corpses.
The finale is the title track. This grim opus begins with a morbid, subtle dark drone. The male vocal cuts in with a reticent-sounding guitar. The vocalist recounts a bitter past and offers to escort his loved one into a future of darkness, going into the black unknown to face together the unavoidable oblivion of death. Now we can slit our throats, wrists and ankles. Just fill the tub with piping hot water and slide in, use the razor quickly and close our eyes, and die. The horrible man from Fields is with us, talking us through it like Kevorkian, and we will die together with him; the echo of his death reenacts right there in the room with us, showing us the way into the comfort of the soul-destroying Black. Let’s hit the last wall together now, gently, as the strumming rhythm guitar and chorus of darkly comforting background voices lends the sought company the singer wanted so badly in these last moments, like old friends around a deathbed. This is the end, there is no hope, sell me to necrophiliacs. Close the coffin and nail the lid down. The song ends like dirt hitting the box, and finally it all ends.
Eerie sounds and strings bring us to the Bottom of Hell, like standing near the portal in a game of Quake, and I tell you that even Trent Reznor could not have scored your suicidal death like Fields of Aplomb will do it. If I ever want to shit myself to death in fear, I’ll play this blackened CD.