Moonlight – Audio 136
17/01/2005 § Leave a comment
Label: Metal Mind
There’s obviously something in the water in Poland at the moment since nearly every band on the Metal Mind label put out a good album this year. And some of these albums were not only good, but exceptional. I was never a huge fan of Floe, in spite of the fact that it was hailed as being the musical equivalent of chocolate fondu, and Candra showed some sparks of brilliance, but they were only sparks and not enough to start any kind of blaze of enthusiasm going. It’s like I ended up appreciating Moonlight bank to front, not as a metal band, but more for the finesse of the music they are now making. I can only now look back at the older material and realise how good it was, whereas at the time I found it a little dull.
Audio 136 was a total surprise for me. I knew that Moonlight were one of classier outfits on Metal Mind but I never expected them to come up with something like this. This, along with Naamah’s Resensement, showed an impressive evolution in ability and songwriting the likes of which I haven’t come across for a very long time. Moonlight are clearly unafraid to experiment and depart from the sound that they were once appreciated for. Now they will hopefully gain a following of far more discerning listeners who will be able to appreciate the new stuff as well as the old.
There are two things that make Audio 136 so impressive. Firstly, the song structures. Normally this would refer to a few rhythm changes, time signature changes and some quirky and kookie arrangements. There’s nothing of the sort here. Moonlight also never employ different instruments, but are thoroughly creative with those at their disposal. The way they are able to make a clean guitar sound as smooth and fluid as water running over the bassline, or the way they can create several very funky rocky riffs out of the simplest of chord sequences shows how their musical imaginations have come on in leaps and bounds. The changes mid-song are not so much to do with speed and rhythm, but tone, and the tone that Moonlight employs is almost a funky, jazzy and rocky one. The latter of these points is the most important because Moonlight have altogether done away with their metal roots, since there is not one power chord on this album. Their sound has matured in the most beautiful way and the result is uplifting.
The songs that really show this off are tracks such as Words, which has some wonderfully funky sections, and the marvellous New Life, which is the closest the album gets to metal. This is an interesting point because there are time in Words where the riffs border so close to metal without actually getting there that it’s like the desire to do metal ran away with Moonlight and they had to reign it in and turn the distortion down. Some of the resulting cadences seem therefore quite clipped and precise and wanting to burst into metal at any moment, but Moonlight always keep them harnessed, which, far from being frustrating, shows that we can appreciate the lighter sides of the genre even if it doesn’t mean banging our heads up and down for five minutes.
The bounty doesn’t stop there though, since halfway through the album we come across the sublime Kontakt, which is a shimmering, gracefully beautiful ballad that almost transports you to another level of being. Kontakt also brought home to me just how staggering Maja’s voice sounds on this album. She really is learning to use her voice as an expressive instrument, switching between loud, husky, sultry and sad as the song’s colour demands. It’s so refreshing to hear an artist sing with meaning and feeling about the song’s topics rather than just seemingly reading notes from a page or singing lines parrot fashion. The way that she sings ‘I don’t care what you have to say’ at the end of Don’t Look Back is one of the best examples of this, as well as ‘Will you ever dare to look inside me/will you take your chance’ on the beautiful 13.
Unfortunately, the album is let down by a couple of fillers, Rosemary’s Baby and the oh-so-inventive Rosemary’s Baby [Reprise] at the end. I’d like to think that these tracks were catalysts invented to generate some sort of atmosphere to steady the listener and create the right mood for the album. There’s certainly an argument for that, seeing as if the album’s first track was Air, we wouldn’t be as well primed for it if we hadn’t heard the little snippet beforehand. Still, these songs are dull to listen to in their own rights, so they’re still fillers in spite of the function that they were maybe intended to perform.
In spite of this, the album is not let down by having these little bits of ballast. Audio 136 is a strikingly beautiful album which is streets ahead of so much other material produced in 2004. The combination of the honest lyrics, ingenious songwriting and angelic singing make it a truly exceptional album. Nevertheless, it is likely to disappoint Moonlight fans who really enjoyed the older material and aren’t too enthusiastic about music that is a little avant-garde and bends the rules which the bands set themselves. For the rest of us, Audio 136, though not a metal work at all, is an exquisite and humble album that has the potential to stay with you for a long time after you first hear it. These are some of the most unassumingly creative sounds to hit the scene for a long time.