Friday, 22 March 2013

Ice Dragon - The Soul's Midnight (album review)

What began as a stolen weekend night of mead-drinking ended up, through a few twists and turns, as a four song EP by none other than the band Ice Dragon.  Trying to predict the band's next move is like trying to predict the movements of a wild animal:  there are certain paths or directions one might expect the band to head down based on their history, but when and which one remain forever shrouded in mystery, as it should be.  Usually they blaze their own trail, confounding many, but always earning well-deserved respect and converting a few new believers along the way.

It would be unfair to call 'The Soul's Midnight' a return to form but it is a return to more familiar territory in the wake of the group's last two efforts, 'Greyblackfalconhawk' and the double sided single "Season of Decay" backed with "The Humble Titan".   The former traveled a depressed and anxious noiscape of drone while the latter displayed touches of shoegaze pop.  'The Soul's Midnight' largely shoos away those melancholic vapors and doffs the impenetrably dark glasses for a spaceman's visor.

One night, the band released a single on their bandcamp page called "The Soul's Midnight".  The accompanying facebook message pleaded for friends and fans alike to take them seriously:
We just finished a great bottle of homemade mead, given to us from our friends in the band Merlin. We can't figure out how to tag them because we're drunk. Anyway we made a new song too and rather than be assfaces and give a "release date" and leak the cover art and tracklisting and all that stupid bullshit bands do nowadays. HERE YOU GO. It's free. Don't make fun of us if it sounds bad, please. We made it tonight. We're drunk.
Later the band re-mixed the song while high:
So, we made a HIGH version of "The Soul's Midnight". The original is still on there and that is now the drunk version. We're not "signed" so we can do whatever the hell we want, and this is what we want. We hope you want it too.
Later still, the band re-recorded the song altogether and that third version is now the official version one finds on the bandcamp album page.  The new version features cleaner and more lively vocals with a less murky sound.  This mead-inspired song is a slow ride down a dark tunnel.  Echoed and ghostly vocals, deep toned low end rumbling, esoteric background noises and slow and deliberate drumming.  To these ears it's the closest thing to the classic Ice Dragon sound the band has unleashed since 'Tome of the Future Ancients' dropped a year ago.  In between the band has released a total of 8 albums, EPs and/or singles, in various incarnations, exploring the far corners of the musical world without ever repeating a step in the process.  This one trips out beyond the pale and into the cosmos.

Similarly, the next track "Understanding Ouroboros" has a somewhat less straight forward history of its own. It was originally released October 20th of last year as part of the A Gallery of Rogues II free compilation on Thrashead's bandcamp page.  Near as I can tell there are no differences between the version that appears on 'The Soul's Midnight' and 'Gallery of Rogues' aside from a superior mixing job with a re-imagined emphasis on guitar.  This song was added to what was "The Soul's Midnight" single soon after the "Get High Version" appeared.  Again, it's closer to classic Ice Dragon with those ghostly and mournful vocals taking center stage and a terrific crash-led drum riff.

"Stellar Door" and "Winterwind" were then added to the mix and the "Get High Version" removed to finally turn "The Soul's Midnight" into a four-track EP, but even then, that wasn't the end of the story.  With "Stellar Door" Ice Dragon succeeded not only in planting a brilliant and beautiful image in the listener's collective heads, they somehow truly captured the spirit of what such a heavenly object might actually sound like with swirling static.  It's a stunning however necessary narrative step to get to the final statement of the EP, "Winterwind".  Like the other three vocal tracks on this EP "Winterwind" has been given the re-touch treatment.  From facebook:
Joe said that the only album I could get all George Lucas-y on was "the soul's midnight" since it was weird to begin with. So I've been messing around. Winterwind is much cooler now I think. Fits that 3'oclock mood. I hear those bells all the time.
The differences are noticeable right off the bat.  Where the original version feeds back to open the song, the "George Lucas-y" version fades in slowly during the feedback emphasizing guitar once again in the mix.  The drums are muted, especially cymbals in the new mix, with the drums possibly even having been re-recorded. If Ice Dragon only accomplish a single thing with this EP and it's multifarious forms it's the importance of mixing and mastering.  Importance is the wrong word, but they show the listener what mixing means to a song, how the slightest change can alter the mood of a work, vividly.

The original "The Soul's Midnight" (now the "Drunk Version") and the "Get High Version" along with the original "Winterwind" should now be considered Ice Dragon relics, collectors items, if you'd like to call them such.  They would make for excellent box set material in the future.  (Dear Lord in Heaven, if you exist, please allow your agent Satan to unleash an Ice Dragon box set on the pitiless ruins of the future.)

It's a testament to this band's work ethic (and my own sloth-like pace as a reviewer) that they have already put out two new EPs since the release of 'Soul's Midnight' (one as Tentacle, the other as The Mangled Dead).  'The Soul's Midnight' has a story to tell, both in the real world and in the world it creates.  It seems Ice Dragon have taken the best part of 2001: A Space Odyssey (Jupiter and Beyond) and turned it into this EP.

Highlights include: "Understanding Ouroboros" and "The Soul's Midnight"

Rating: 4/5

Total Run Time: 23:00

Ron Rochondo - Vocals, Synths, Drums
Duane Carter - Lead Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Other Etc.
Joe Confalone - Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Other Etc.

From: Boston, Massachusetts

Genre: Rock, Stoner, Doom, Sludge, Drone, Experimental, Psychedelic

Reminds me of: Soul Thief, 2001: A Space Odyssey

Release Date: January 11, 2013

Suggested listening activity for fellow non-stoners: walk through glowing shimmering heavenly doorways into ...

Better Review:
Temple of Perdition

Ice Dragon facebook

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