The release of the captivating White Hoarhound in 2012 really propelled Alunah forward, with Awakening The Forest continuing the good work a couple of years later. Solennial is their fourth album but first to be released via Svart Records. While their penchant for heavy down-tuned riffage has placed them at the fore of the UK’s burgeoning doom scene, Alunah’s own style is more ethereal than heavy slugging doom outfits such as the much missed Wounded Kings.
Within their dark passages are psychedelic phases that reach back in time to a more binary age while the grooves and solos carved out by the band enable them to reach out to an audience possibly not ready to be poleaxed by the likes of Electric Wizard. The pearl in the Alunah oyster is singer Soph Day who has a beguiling voice that could melt your ice cream before Mr Whippy has even handed it through the hatch. Her multi-faceted vocal tones are at times sublime although a black magic mix of sorcery is usually within arm’s reach.
This album, which incidentally is blessed with some incredible sleeve artwork courtesy of Adrian Baxter, features eight tracks and stretches across 45 minutes. As with so much of the great material UK doom fans have been able to enjoy in recent years, Solennial was recorded under the deft hands of Chris Fielding at Skyhammer Studios, itself owned by Jon Davis, the singer with battle metal mavericks Conan.
While doom often pounds you into merciless submission with its repetitive and unrelenting aural attacks, Alunah adopt a less abrasive approach and Solennial follows on from the excellent Awakening the Forest, although if anything the growing maturity of the Midlanders is in evidence early on. You kind of feel Alunah are now comfortable in their own skin. They are sure of their place in the world, able to pursue their own melancholic path without the need to seek approval or confirmation.
‘The Dying Soil’ is the first and shortest of the eight songs, acting as a somnambulant scene setter, full of mysterious twists and gentle cascading rhythms. The tempo gradually warms in intensity before it bleeds into the next track ‘Light of Winter’ in which Alunah’s familiar fuzzed up bass line surfaces for the first time.
Soph has a vocal style recognizable for being both beguiling and bewitching at the same time. As the riff surges take on greater urgency ‘Light of Winter’ starts to grow in stature as it quickly takes on the form of a future stage favourite.
A delicate softly spoken intro leads into ‘Feast of Torches’ but this song quickly lights up like a beacon, some riveting riff interplay from guitarist Dave Day and bassist Daniel Burchmore with Soph sounding close to her most sublime, with her spiralling vocal cry falling like snowdrops. As always with these majestic Midlanders you get that wonderful juxtaposition of beauty and the beast, good and evil, and where one goes the other is never far away.
‘The Reckoning of Time’ is one of the album’s darker tracks, full of somber expressions, drummer Jake Mason providing a monotone backdrop to an aural canvas of bleak sonnets with just occasional guitar spirals throwing a shard or two of light across an otherwise cold landscape.
Alunah are in captivating form on ‘Fire of Thornborough Henge’ a song full of mystic powers with some wonderfully kaleidoscopic grooves tussling alongside the deepened rough cuts generated through Burchmore’s relentless bass badgering. As for Soph, her almost fragile vocals would make angels weep while the prog flourish towards the end makes this a compelling composition even by Alunah’s own exalted standards.
Emotion levels ease off a little on the monstrous ‘Petrichor’ on which Alunah administer more lessons from the darkside. Not for the first time in their career Alunah turn to an eerie wooded world in which to carve their engaging soundtracks. In fact at times it seems such is their relationship with a kind of pagan forest and mysterious woodlands that their forthcoming UK tour should be sponsored by the Forestry Commission. This is not the only song on the album to be enhanced by the sensitive cello playing of Charlotte Nicholls, and the union succeeds in adding another layer to Alunah’s comforting blanket of doom.
Penultimate piece ‘Lugh’s Assembly’ has that distinctive Alunah quality that has become so familiar in recent years. The bassline is so fuzzed up you almost feel someone will get their clippers out to bring it back down to size. The tempo is tantalising, the infectious momentum steadily building over a cascading cushion of guitars that quickly works their way into your bloodstream.
Having touched on Alunah’s appetite for woodlands then what other possible Cure song could they seek to cover than ‘A Forest’. Initially trialled at a few live shows it became an instant favourite to the point where fans were disappointed if it wasn’t on the set-list. Using it to sign off an album of the highest order is a great touch, and certainly no easy exit. Alunah haven’t simply copied The Cure’s masterpiece but shuffled its contents and then reformed and re-presented it in their own inimitable shape.
Almost as a tribute to the 80s goth giants, the first distinctive guitar strums are as they were back in the day but then Alunah take ‘A Forest’ into a whole new direction. The pace is more pedestrian, the atmosphere and ambience much darker although the final presentation every bit as engrossing as Robert Smith’s original. Soph actually brings a more distressed dimension to things with a tangible sense of fear in her voice…. When she sings “I’m lost in the forest” you really fear the worst.
Fortunately for all of us she navigates through the darkened maze to emerge blinking into the light. Alunah are far too good to stay in the shadows.