I always joke–at least I think I’m joking–about one day enduring way too much of society that it is going to make me move into the woods forever. In my time on this planet, I don’t remember humankind nearly being this annoying and practically impossible to handle, from people shoving their political and religious beliefs down everyone’s throats with no regard for anyone else’s feelings to watching government officials we elected act like children.
While I’m not so sure society and the world falling into decay is the best thing for humankind, all of the drawbacks to their existence aside, it sure is fun to think about. I’ve always been on the side of the political fence that anyone who gives himself/herself a label likely isn’t worth paying attention to and people who use what is supposed to be a pathway to love and acceptance as a means to persecute others should burn in hell, but I don’t actively seek their demise. Yet, again, if we’re playing fantasy land here, it’s always fun to think about all the evil in the world, all of the things that keep people down and prevent them from being happy suddenly uprooted and burned to a crisp. Empires have fallen since they have been things and leaders always find gigantic ways to fail, but I’m not so sure society ever will crumble to pieces in our lifetimes.
That didn’t prevent A Storm of Light, the long-standing project helmed by Josh Graham, from thinking pretty deeply about it and letting the destruction play out in their minds and their music. While always a band that leaned into the doomier sides of things, they’ve never been as dark and bleak as they are on their new album “Nations to Flames,” their fourth overall and their most divisive to date. These songs are awash in human failure, destructions of government, and the dissolution of religions, boiling humanity down to just flesh and bones, leaving us with just ourselves to fend for survival. It’s depressing and smoke filled, but it’s just the sobering statement people need to hear about now, when no one agrees on anything and everyone thinks everyone else is wrong.
This fourth record by A Storm of Light is a shocker right from the moment you hit play, simply because they sound like an entirely different band. Sure they have evolved from their beginnings playing close to the Neurosis line (Graham is their former visual artist, after all), making some radical changes on 2011’s “As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade,” which found them going more a direct rock root, with some doom and post-rock mixed in for good measure. But on “Nations,” the band takes another sharp left, this time toward industrial rock, sparking thoughts of Killing Joke and Ministry, along with dashes of metal and early hardcore. It’s a forceful record, the one with their most songs to date, and it’s a bleak, charred, hopeless journey, but one that, musically, should keep you enthralled and on edge.
“Fall” lets the chaos erupt immediately, with the sound of riots in the streets and fury, and when the chugging thrashing rips open, it sounds like the boiling over of emotion, the darkening of humankind that has been predicted by so many. Graham’s vocals are noteworthy from the start, lathered in effects that remind of Al Jourgensen’s wild howls and fitting the music to a T. In fact, this approach takes place on the bulk of this record. “Apostles of Hatred” is ominous and sinister, but also disarmingly melodic and catchy at the same time. It certain lets the menace cut a path, yet you might be surprised to find yourself willing to rise up and revolt against the forces that corrode. “The Fore Sermon” is gritty and sludgy, the first real serving of doom heaviness on the record to this point, and even Graham’s vocals take on a more brutal approach.”Omen” is the most Ministry-style track on the record, as it chugs, mauls, and talks of blindness, though I’m sure it’s not just in the physical sense. “Dead Flags” gets off on a burly bassline roll, static, and some weirdness, and whirring guitars and clips of leaders trying to whip the masses into a fury gives the song a bleak, fear-mongering edge.
“All the Shining Lies” and “Disintegrate” are decent cuts, but not the best tracks on the record, allowing the middle of the album to sag just a bit. “Shining” is the slower, darker of the two, while “Disintegrate” is noisy and doomy. Things pick up, funny enough, on “Lifeless,” a confrontational, explosive cut, where Graham urges, “Let’s become the weapon!” as the band wails behind him and you can practically imagine disenfranchised citizens taking up arms for a great march to fight or die. “Soothsayer” is a chilling interlude, where more clips are used of people talking of plagues and black destruction about to unfurl itself across the land, and that leads to “You Are the Hunted,” which swelters and pulverizes, with the vocals stepping back a bit but the drums taking the lead role, thumping and pounding you into submission. Closer “The Year Is One” is an all-encompassing instrumental, with the band achieving scary, world-altering tones, more voices swirling and conjuring a sense of confusion over whether this is the beginning of something new or the end (or both), and the album ending on a note that hints at total apocalypse.
Opinions are certain to vary over “Nations to Flames” because of how different it is, not just from their last record but their entire catalog. A Storm of Light is starting to feel like a project that could shape and shift as long as Graham keeps thing running, making each record an adventure unto themselves that you cannot possibly anticipate in advance. The band’s turn toward industrial sounds on their new album suits the dark material very well, and the band does a good job getting their point across and sounding destructively renewed. This is a record that not only should make you consider what’s becoming of our world but what we can do about it. A Storm of Light deserve credit for sparking such intense, relevant thoughts, and for keeping their music on edge, constantly changing, and exactly how they want it to sound, backlash be damned..
For more on the band, go here: http://astormoflight.com/
To buy the album, go here: http://southernlord.com/store.php
For more on the label, go here: http://southernlord.com/