Sora Shima were staples in the New Zealand post-rock scene for some time. They shared the stage with royalty like Jakob and Mono, and put out some great music.
The band slowed down and fell into a hiatus about five years ago. You know the score – guys get a bit older, work commitments start taking over, suddenly they have families, and the band goes on the back burner. Their last release was the 2014 album You Are Surrounded.
I remember in late 2016 my friend David Zeidler (of Young Epoch fame) asking me to recommend some post-rock acts from my neck of the woods for an A Thousand Arms compilation, which were relatively new at the time.
From memory I suggested Jakob, Sora Shima, Hiboux, Into Orbit and Kerretta. Three of those acts made it onto the first edition of Hemispheres(Hiboux featured in the following edition).
Chatting with Jason from Sora Shima, the fresh surge of interest in his band as a result of that compilation inspired him to revive the band and get things up and running again.
They’ve had a handful of gigs in the past year and have been working on new material and getting back on track. Out of nowhere they’ve dropped two fresh songs.
“At the Edge of Hope Is Despair” is a brilliant return to form. A guitar line at the start reminds me of Tides of Man – which can only be a good thing. And the drums sound immense – really full and vibrant and spacious. So many drummers try to emulate that sound that John Bonham gave us in the song “When The Levee Breaks” and Sora Shima have come darn close. All the instruments come together in a searing, triumphant crescendo that leaves you panting for more. I’m reminded of the recent Hubris album.
“Loss” is more cinematic ambient, full of mournful swells and dense textures. A nice counterpiece to the first track.
There’s no story behind these tracks, no waffly bio. It’s just shy of 7 minutes worth of music. But it’s damn tasty and exciting to have new content from such a great band. Keep an eye out on the Shora Shima Facebook page for some news being announced in the next week.
While you’re at it, buy their back catalogue off Bandcamp. They’re only asking for $3 for their entire collection, which is criminally underselling themselves.
Sam Butler is likely best known for his time as the bass player for Banks Arcade. Recent life changes have signaled time for new opportunities, allowing Butler to explore different avenues.
He put the word out last year, wanting to start a post-rock group. I even had him over at one point for a jam in my bedroom. But a shift to the sleepy town of Nelson put those plans to rest, so Butler decided to see what he can do on his own. The result is the over time EP, put out under the moniker of Distance.
The timing seems slightly comical, considering all the jokes circulating about how we are about to get flooded with bedroom albums and solo projects due to the covid 19 lockdown period, but don’t worry, this is actually quality output.
Butler shares with me about the inspiration behind the EP. The immense Nelson Pine factory plant in Richmond is responsible for producing a lot of the MDF, plywood and timber that we use in our part of the world. You can see the constant plume of “steam” churning out from it’s chimneys at all hours.
Butler noticed this during a commute to work one day and it got him thinking about the water cycle. One thing led to another, and before long he’d formed a song in his head that revolved around the concept of water. Wanting to extend himself, he expanded upon the theme, introducing other elements of nature, and in the end settling on five elements he loved about New Zealand: water, trees, sky, mountains and people.
Most post-rock music is instrumental by nature, leaving the music open to interpretation by the listener. But I do love when post-rock artists use an overarching concept to influence and inform the songwriting process. It can result in a more interesting final product, which invites the listener to interact with the themes and messages of the music on a deeper level. Take Ranges, hubris. or Lost in Kiev, for example.
“coalescence” is the original water themed track that jump-started this project. Butler shares that “throughout the song, raindrops fall, coalesce, create puddles, rivers and streams, and then finally join the ocean, where they crash about in the final climax.” Guitar notes with plenty of delay and thunderous drums echo within a sparse chamber before sharply plucked bass and monstrous layers of guitar consume everything and engulf you. I especially love the blink-and-you’ll-miss-em drum fills towards the end of the track.
It’s clear that Butler is a fellow believer, having paid his dues at the altar of Jakob. The rolling bass line in “coalescence” and the hollow snare tone on “tectonic” – there’s no mistaking where he drew key inspiration for those aspects of the music from.
Butler utilises wonderful field samples, of rolling water, of crashing waves upon the shore, of tranquil birdsong, of people chatting. These recordings lend themselves to the concept that anchors the music, as well as adding an georgeous textural layer to the sounds.
I just adore the birdsong in “undergrowth”. The music contains tribal percussive elements and grunty riffs that sound like the lovechild of Jakob and Tool.
The heaviest track is “firmament”. It sounds crushing and huge, a dense slab of noise which threatens to overwhelm everything.
One of the better known Māori whakatauki (proverbs) is:
He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata
What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.
It’s a nice touch naming the final track “(treasure)”, knowing that the working title was “People”, making me guess that the name is alluding to the whakatauki.
The track is very much a nod to the origin of ambient music: Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. We hear hustle and bustle, distant sirens, people connecting. Similar to “Coda” from Pillars’ outstanding 2019 record Cavum, it’s a touching track that explores mundane yet magical aspects of life, and a brilliantly soft finish to a great collection of music.
This is an extremely promising release from Butler, and certainly exceeds all expectations in terms of quality, considering it’s a lock-down bedroom project. Looks like I missed a grand opportunity, given that we could have teamed up to start a band when he lived in Wellington. That aside, over time is well worth your attention, with well crafted songs that sound great, and an understated concept of gratitude that we would all do well to remember in trying times such as these.
Hubris. was birthed amongst giants, playing their first ever show with our very own Jakob in May 2015, which also happened to be the release show for their debut album Emersion.
Five years on the Swiss post-rock quartet have made a bold statement with their third album Metempsychosis, a stunning musical exploration of Greek myths and legends.
I’ll begin by discussing the first track I heard: lead single “Heracles”
Choosing to locate their lead single as the final track on the album seems like a odd, if not potentially risky choice. Metempsychosis is just shy of an hour long, and in this current age of singles and shuffled playlists, how many listeners are going to last throughout the entire album to reach the best song?
I guess it is in keeping with the theme. If you’re discussing legends and writing an opus of an album, you want to end it by smashing it out of the park with a grand climax.
“Heracles” commences with some reverberating guitar chords and some lovely percussive elements that slowly grow, adding wondrous dynamics that sweep you away. They suck you in with fully fledged passages, just to drop out and leave you panting for more. The sleepmakeswaves influences are apparent, and that is definitely a good thing. “Heracles” is a damn strong song and you’d be surprised to find out that it’s almost ten minutes long, seeing how it carries such great momentum.
If you read the description of the track, you can start to understand some of the story behind its composition:
“the song Heracles tells the story of the Greek Hero Heracles, also known as Hercules. He was not only given the chance to be born in the first place when Zeus intervened at the trial of Heracles’ mother who had been sentenced to burn at the stake, but was the only mortal who was granted access to Mount Olympus after his death. The song’s repeating patterns echo Heracles’ own life, as he was constantly tried, most famously by Zeus’ resentful wife Hera. The song is divided into twelve parts alluding to both Heracles’ labours and the different stages of his life, the last two being musical illustrations of his rise to Mount Olympus and his place among the gods until the end of times.”
How cool is that? The composition of the song reflects the story, with twelve parts connecting to elements of the legend.
It’s a shame that I’m not more familiar with Greek legend, which would provide some great context for the stories that inspire these incredible songs. Have you ever considered that music can take on a personality? Thankfully “Icarus” has a spoken-word section detailing the flight and folly of the Icarus, who you may know as the boy who flew too close to the sun and lost the use of his wings when the wax that was keeping the feathers adhered melted.
It’s reminiscent of Range’s title track from God’s of The Copybook Headings, or plenty of Lost In Kiev songs. And true to post-rock convention, the moody music and suitably chosen spoken word track work together wonderfully. The narrative guides us through the tale. We revel in Icurus’ joy as he soars through the sky following his creative escape, and vicariously feel his Father’s terror when as he powerlessly witnesses his son’s demise.
One reason I love concept albums like this is that they invite the listener to unpack and explore the source story or material. Like Listener‘s last album about inventors, or Frank Turner’s recent record that explores inspirational historic female figures, or even Iron Maiden songs based off history, poetry and prose (“Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, for example) these themes and concepts are so interesting that they compel you to go searching down a Wikipedia wormhole to learn more about the Greek antagonists that loan their names to these song titles.
Conceptually, this album is stunning. Musically, it’s just as grand. It’s a soaring, sweeping, expansive masterpiece. Hubris. have crafted something legendary with Metempsychosis, befitting of the stories which guided their writing. It’s a stunning album that sweeps you away on a journey from epochs past, drawing from many conventions of the post-rock genre whilst managing to remain fresh and exciting.
Daniel Hay: So the main reason I’ve been handed over this interview is because my band actually opened for Alcest on your last New Zealand tour, and you’re one of our biggest influences, so I was given this opportunity.
Neige: That’s great, what was the name of your band?
The Dark Third, we played the Auckland show, which if you recall was in quite a small underground venue.
Ah yes, that’s so cool.
So I wanted to talk about the live side of the music first. I actually went to both shows on that tour, in Auckland and in Wellington, and they were both quite different, which I felt was quite interesting. Wellington was quite a meditative show, whereas Auckland was quite aggressive and a lot more metal. And I recall, you actually changed your encore song from Deliverance to Percees de Lumiere, is that something you do often, changing the songs to fit the room?
No actually, we never really do this, so that may have been the only time. Because we work with a computer project, it’s not simple for us to just switch to another song if we want. So that is strange. But yeah, I remember as you said these two shows were completely different. The first one was quite atmospheric and intimate, and the other one was intimate in a very ‘punk’ style.
It was moved to that venue last-minute. I greatly enjoyed that show, because it showed a different side to your music. The heavier songs, everyone got quite into it, as if it was a punk show, as you said.
Yes, but it was a great show. It was so much fun. People were actually doing mosh pits and stuff.
Yes I remember then fondly. One other thing I noticed from your live setup then was, in contrast to a lot of bands in your area of music, you didn’t have many guitar pedals.
No, no. It’s because I think having like 20 pedals is bullshit. I mean, you don’t need 20 pedals, I have always had two or three. Distortion, delay and reverb. I am then using my guitar volume and tone control to get different gains during the songs. I’m trying to do more with the least amount of gear possible, because when you travel and when you play that many shows, the more gear you have, the more chance there is that something doesn’t work properly. So we try to have very limited amounts of cables and pedals.
And for me, a song works fine just how it is with melodies, and all the rest is just to embellish the sound and make it even better, but that’s something you do more in the studio.
And with the new record, this is a bit of a heavier one, are you going to change any of your live setup to reflect that?
It’s more or less the same, but I am using a different distortion pedal, so the new one is a bit more metal. But the rest, the reverb and delay, they are the same. My shitty Bose delay, and I have a Hall of Fame reverb pedal that I really love, it’s very simple.
So onto the new album, which I’ve been loving recently. It is a bit of a heavier record, which interests me – a lot of bands in your area of music tend to either get progressively heavier or progressively softer. You’ve sort of jumped around a bit and gone from one extreme to the other, with this being probably the heaviest record under the Alcest name, what inspired you to take this direction this time around?
Yeah, that’s a really good point. I mean, we’ve already done the heavy band going soft with Shelter, so that’s something that I’ve done already. And this time it’s heavier and darker because I was in a moment in my life when I had a lot of anxiety and a lot of darker types of emotions. And it was after the very, very long touring cycle of Kodama, so I was feeling really exhausted. I kind of lost touch with who I was, because you are on tour, you are always surrounded by people and you’re doing very down to earth things. And I feel I lost touch with my real essence, because I’m a very spiritual person. I like to spend some time in nature.
And you don’t have time to get to nature when touring.
Yeah, or even just being alone and reflecting. That’s something that you just can’t do, so I had this frustration and anxiety accumulating. And when it was time to write new music, I guess everything just came out. In a very violent way, actually.
This almost feels like the first Alcest record with actual metal ‘riffs’ on it, not just black metal tremolos.
One other style of music I’ve noticed in this record is at times it feels quite post-punk, particularly in the prominence of the bass guitar. You’ve mentioned The Chameleons as an artist you admire in the past, was that a conscious influence on this record?
Absolutely, that kind of music I’ve been listening to since I was a teenager, so it’s been a really big part of my influences, especially the guitar leads and the guitar sound. I’ve never really been into like ‘heavy metal’ or things like that, I’m more like an indie kid with some black metal. So my type of guitar leads are more like the type of guitar you can hear in The Chameleons or U2 or The Cure, as opposed to Iron Maiden or Metallica.
So all their guitar work has influenced me, for example the chorus that I put on leads. And I love the bass in post-punk too, the rhythmic patterns. But it’s very subtle, it’s not something you can really hear in Alcest’s music clearly, but it’s definitely there.
I think this is the album I’ve heard it the most out of your material. It’s actually quite a groovy record, which isn’t a description you’d expect to put on an Alcest album – for example Sapphire is carried quite a lot by the bass in it.
Definitely, yeah that song has quite a bit of it.
And obviously, I have to throw in the obligatory question about touring New Zealand again. You mentioned Kodama having a long touring cycle, is this one going to be the same?
I really wish we would go back to New Zealand, and I think we will. It’s a part of the plan, probably next year actually. That would be awesome, we really loved touring there, it was the first time for us and we have so many great memories and met great people. And the crowd was very good too, they were… enthusiastic.
Yes it was a great tour, and you’ll have to find a way to the South Island next time. Much better nature there if you need a break too.
Hopefully. Both shows were a success last time so perhaps we can.
Well thank you for your time, and good luck with the new album release. I’ve been enjoying listening to it and I think the fans will appreciate the new sound. I hope to see you on the tour as well.
Spiritual Instinct is out on Nuclear Blast Records October 25th
The last ten years has seen the mushrooming of an important and flourishing progressive post rock / post metal /math rock scene in Australia, much centred around Sydney. Melbourne’s Laura had passed the baton to the likes of Meniscus and sleepmakeswaves, while We Lost The Sea started playing around in that blackgaze space – not Deafheaven or Alcest, not Cult of Luna, but bringing some new ideas with their first release Crimea.
Then with their second release in 2012, The Quietest Place on Earth, We Lost The Sea had found their style and were poised to push forward, before the tragic loss of singer Chris Torpy.
Their momentum broken, they hit back two years later with the four stories of sacrifice in Departure Songs without a vocalist. As great as the album was, it relied heavily on a couple of spoken word passages and long intros. It was as though there was not enough confidence to tell a story with music alone, and it meant less of the light and shade was provided by guitar, bass, drums and keys. Closing an album of pure crescendocore, “Challenger Part II” is as triumphant and melancholic a build-up and release as you will ever hear, but we were left with a degree of structural sameness that sold their ability short.
Image: Intrepid Photography
It’s taken four years to release a follow-up: Triumph & Disaster. And it’s certainly a triumph. Built of seven tunes, the epilogue with vocals from Louise Nutting (Wartime Sweethearts), everything good about Departure Songs is there, with a whole lot more. If the code for Departure Songs is found in A Quiet Place, Triumph & Disaster owes more to A Day and Night of Misfortune: Day, but that comparison shows just how much more thought and effort, not to mention experience, went into the new record. I can only imagine the discussions held over which note should be played next.
There are themes that reappear through the album and within songs. A wailing alarm appears as a warning at the opening, only to find it was an unheeded portent as the end of the world is soundtracked by a far more desperate and distressed siren. Within each song phrases and riffs come and go and return, and there is so much depth and variation in the structure and moods and between the songs.
Gone is the reliance on crescendocore, with “Towers” and “The Last Sun” each starting off at full strength with those sirens. Which is not to say we don’t get that powerful and emotional build-up because we do, but WLTS have brought a whole new level of complexity to these tunes.
Where Departure Songs was all about the destinations, Triumph & Disaster is about the journey. It’s a very different experience.
It’s hard not to feel a strong influence from Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, or at least some commonality of ideas and influence, and indeed Ron Pollard appears as a guest on the album and has sat in on performances of “Towers” in recent shows while supporting Russian Circles. What this marriage means apart from subtle intertwined melodies and interlocking phrases, is the intense driving moodiness and darkness that underlies so much of the album.
Image: Intrepid Photography
WLTS already knew how to create long, heavy, driving, repetitious passages and contrast them with sprinklings of dynamic, fluid exploration. Five years of playing Departure Songs has simply given them a treasure chest of ideas that have taken them to the next level of telling a story without words.
And it’s a bleak story. We all die. What can I say? We didn’t listen. If “Give Peace A Chance” and Edwin Starr’s “War” were the songs of the peace movement, it’s hard not to feel right now that Triumph & Disaster isn’t the tragic theme for Greta Thunberg’s address to the UN:
“We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money.”
Triumph & Disaster is out October 4 via Bird’s Robe Records (Australia) and October 25 via Translation Loss (US), Holy Roar (UK) and Dunk!Records (EU).