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The Slaves - Spirits of the Sun

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Artist: The Slaves

Album: Spirits of the Sun

Label: Digitalis

Review date: Sep. 7, 2012

One of the driving forces behind my passion for drone is the music’s role as a bridge between what we easily define as “music” and the tipping point where music ceases to be “music.” Silence provides us a reference point against which we can recognize sound as music. Therefore, it is the absence of silence that allows us to begin the journey away from that which we recognize. It is within this dense atmosphere the music can focus on vicissitudes of culture and all that occurs around and within the purity of sound.

Mood for thought: The Slaves’ Spirits of the Sun. On the one hand, the band seems exquisitely aware of the origins of the traditions they inhabit; on the other, the Portland duo reach ambitiously toward an impossible spiritual purity. The traditions of drone are steeped in a folk-like spirituality, but Spirits of the Sun carries a doom-infused drone borne of the darker side of spiritual tradition. This gloomier sound juxtaposes a spiritual yearning, brought to the fore on the first track by Barbara Kinzle’s choral-esque vocals, and retained throughout the album despite steeping in a writhing, discordant drone.

The result is a difficult freedom. The audience is faced with the alternation between the opening up of a vast field of spiritual possibility and the constraints placed up on the individual engaged in authentically rigorous practice. Doom has never shied away from preaching the pain associated with religious dogmatism and practise. The Slaves take that message, and color it complicated with the cathedral heights associated with spiritual awakening. The music becomes dense with feeling and carries a firm conviction of its own conflicting ideology, just as spiritual practice can. There is no heaven without the threat of hell, no hell without the promise of heaven. This is played out in true drone minimalist style so that it requires immersive high volume to gain the full experience of every subtle nuance.

Birch Cooper’s abrasive guitar work and Kinzle’s churchy sounding synth and the mutual ethereal vocals push and pull to create tension as the sounds meet and contest each other. The audience is confronted with the alignment in which messianic repair and one’s inner civil war are inventively linked. Remarkably, within the listening experience lies the question of impact. Are the costs of redemption allayed by the promise of heaven or are the realities of human existence an inescapable hell? The sounds on Spirits of the Sun vacillate between these two symbolic musical gestures and the audience is left with the beauty of an almost perfect sound amid the baggage of cultural questions.

By Lisa Thatcher

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