This is heavy… an atmospheric, elegiac, yearning, defiant, soul-scrubbingly cathartic, harshly beautiful suite of doom, noise, metal and indie esoterica. But most of all, it’s heavy. It’s a commitment – four side-long songs totalling 90+ minutes – and it’s also bloody good.

Samuel Goff and Abdul Hakim Bilal (along with several of the guest musicians) are mainstays of RAIC (the Richmond Avant Improv Collective) but where RAIC goes broad with its jazz-improv-avant-lounge-world influences, Among The Rocks And Roots goes deep, Moria deep. And who knows what monsters you may happen to uncover in the depths.

Heavy of sound, heavy of theme. The AR&R project began in 2015 as an exploration of struggles with “addiction and ensuing sobriety” and without a lyric sheet to tell me otherwise, they’re still ploughing that furrow – we’ve all been there to an extent and in one form or another, right?

Pariah is a constantly evolving long-form suite of self-acknowledgement, a hazy tale of excess, (self?)rescue, and finally departure. None of this may be true but that’s the story the sound tells to me. Feel free to think of it as an ambient album – if your ambience is tortured soul-pain, catharsis and the possibility of redemption.

So what does it sound like?

Track #1, “Pariah”, lulls you with a low industrial drone and then… wham! Pummelling drums and avalanche bass (I love this bass sound that sounds like a large bag of gravel slamming into the side of your head) and a throaty rasp yelling, “Pariah!” What follows is a storm with several eyes of relative calm, including (I think!) a cello respite. Often brutal, the track evolves and twists over its near-20-minute length and despite the constant morphing, it’s relentless, an immersive listening experience with a hint of drowning, salted with a heavy (did I mention it was heavy?) sense of pervading doom and depth. Finally, the cello is joined by saxophone and together they drag us upward towards track #2 “Triumph”.

Cymbals wash over a steady almost-metronomic pulse… vocals (part way between song and ritual chant) enter as Goff begins to blatter the drums. Are we summoning up or calling down; inner demons or outer angels? Either way, we’re soaring, passing through a collage of distorted protest, blurred commentary and fragmented drama. The title is “Triumph” and this is appropriately optimistic (despite the screams?) – rise up! – and ends oddly but perfectly with a few seconds of gospel singing.

“III” starts in the mosh pit – don’t think, don’t even listen, just feel the galloping bassline, roared lyrics (lyrical roaring?), tachycardic drums and move yourself. I have no idea why but I’m imagining this furore of metronomic drums, crumbling-concrete bass, shredded-larynx vocal exhortations taking place in a church, probably the bell tower.

The final side – AR&R unplugged? Well, to begin with… – it’s titled “Love” and begins with arpeggiated acoustic guitar and sweeping strings; this is the ‘ballad’. Bear in mind that track title and consider, timewise, this is a full third of the whole album. After the torment comes beauty and peace? Wouldn’t that be nice.

But delicacy never lasts and here it’s underpinned by a sense of uncertainty – when will everything erupt again? – and there are numerous moments, shifts, in which a climax or sudden turn feels imminent; slowly, inexorably, the weight increases…

Slowly, “Love” becomes a slow-swirling vortex of sound – a violin squirls, voices chant and intone, drums are both waves and breakwater, bass shading in the open spaces. Eventually, we return to the murky (and heavy!) slow pounding and buzz-bass with grated vocals. And just in case you thought we were heading for a happy ending, it all ends on the repeated question, “Will you miss me when I’m gone?”

Twisting and writhing rhythms and tempos, shifting textures and colours, Among The Rocks And Roots understand the value of change, of opposites, of yin and yang – soft and heavy, light and dark, hope and despair – and the power and shock of the transition between states. Samuel Goff and Abdul Hakim Bilal know the truth is in the transformation.

As an album, Pariah serves as a cry of pain, anger, therapeutic expression, and hope (while avoiding anything so trite as resolution) – good for whatever deep dismay or endless struggle that ails you.

Listen and feel.

Cacophonous Revival CRR-022

Abdul Hakim Bilal – vocals, bass, electric and acoustic guitar, synthesizer
Samuel Goff – drums, percussion, vocals

With special guests:
Erik Schroeder – saxophone
Jimmy Ghaphery – saxophone
Jessika Blanks – violin
Robert Andrew Scott – violin, keyboards, string arrangement
Richard Schellenberg – guitar
Straw – sound collage
Maura Pond – vocals
Zoe Olivia Kinney – cello, piano, vocals

Pariah is available from on CD, vinyl or download from Cacophonous Revival Recording’s Bandcamp page.

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