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30 May, 2008

Review: Blessed are the Bonds (The Pax Cecilia, 2007)

Fancy some free music for the weekend?

Last year, New York band The Pax Cecilia distributed their album 'Blessed are the Bonds' as 'proper', pressed CDs in 'real' digipacks absolutely for free, to anyone who requested them, merely in return for a promise to spread the word – yes, they want people to copy their CDs for friends.
In February that ceased, with the dwindling stock of CDs being held back for (free) distribution at concerts. However, the album is now available for download from their website in non-DRM'd 192kbps .mp3 format. It's still entirely free, but if you like what you hear, there's a PayPal donation link on the download page.

'Blessed are the Bonds' demonstrates a high level of musicianship, production and general professionalism – this isn't the band's debut album (their 'Nouveau' CD was distributed the same way) and they're not unsigned because of any lack of ability. Rather, it's an apparent desire to distribute the music from band to listener without the restrictions of an intermediary, plus the implausibility of pigeonholing music which combines progressive metal, post-rock and ambient soundscapes, from a band with limited idea about where their tastes will take them in future. Interviewed for Deaf Sparrow last September, Kent Fairman mentioned a desire to follow 'Blessed are the Bonds' with a full-on 'heavy' album, or maybe something which "delves even deeper into conceptual elements and the possibilities of recording technologies". Not an easy career plan to market....

The opening tracks in particular are post-rock from the metal end of the rock spectrum rather than the more orchestral sound of Godspeed You! Black Emperor or ethereal sound of Sigur Rós, yet admirers of those bands, Explosions In The Sky and even the dark ambient Bass Communion would also find much of interest in subsequent tracks.
The (stereotypical?) post-rock climaxes are extremely heavy, but other sections incorporate melancholic piano and strings; few bands manage that balance without the very disparate elements feeling 'tacked on'.

Labels are of limited use, of course, but one I'd be particularly reluctant to use is 'post-metal', as that term is generally understood. A fairer description, referencing a band many are likely to have heard of, would be 'Godspeed You! Black Emperor does metalcore, with occasional vocals'.

The vocals/lyrics may be a slight weak point, particularly a couple of instances of incoherent shouted vocals, thankfully brief. There are minimal vocals overall: two tracks of the nine are fully instrumental, three have less than a dozen lines of lyrics each and the remaining three are primarily instrumentals. I haven't given the lyrics much attention (though my immediate impression is that they're overblown); it's claimed that there's an overall concept, but I'm afraid that has eluded me so far.

One thing I have noticed is nice sequencing: though each track is strong enough to stand alone, I find the album works particularly well as a coherent hour-long trip.

As I said when I discovered Gazpacho last December, I don't have a new favourite band, but I'm certainly happy to recommend you give 'Blessed are the Bonds' a try, if any of the above sounds interesting.

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