Despite crafting some of the best "doomgaze" I've heard, Morgan Bellini's projects have been woefully under recognized, at least in my mind. His older work as Vanessa Van Basten was incredible, rivaling the sky-burning grandeur of Nadja with its massive melodic slowcore, blending the industrial-tinged pneumatic power of Swans and Godflesh while weaving various influences from classic darkwave, Teutonic psych / prog, Scadinavian black metal elements, and the "post-metal" (ugh, forgive me) crush of later Neurosis. Perhaps it was the band name (naming your band after a person, real or no, is usually a stumbling block for potential listeners), or the fact that Vanessa Van Basten were entirely instrumental. For whatever reason, even though one orf their later albums came out on the high-profile label Robotic Empire, the duo remained a cult entity. And that seems to be the case as well for Angela Martyr, again with the name, but this time a little more in synch with the feel and look of this slightly different band that's essentially a Bellini solo project. It's safe to say that if you are one of the few people who were as bewitched by Vanessa Van Basten as I've been, you may well connect with this semi-continuation of that kind of slow-motion, earth-moving, skull-crushing majesty. But it's pursuing that sound down a very different avenue. It's definitely something of a misfit on Avantgarde, a label best known for its, er, more avant-garde black metal offerings. If anything, this album shares some of that gauzy, glazed-over beauty you get from the stuff that comes out on the Avantgarde side-label Flowing Downward. In any case, 2016's The November Harvest is great stuff.
To date, it's the only album from the band. The label mentions the likes of Godflesh, Slowdive, and Dance Of December Souls / Brave Murder Day-era Katatonia as touch points for the music; as much of a hodgepodge as that might seem, it's actually pretty accurate once you get sucked into the monstrous undertow of Martyr's sound. Dissonant guitars ripple over the beginning of "Deviant" as it morphs into a dark, metallic gloom-pop melody, Bellini delivering his vocals in a droning, honeyed croon that meshes nicely with the driving heaviness and swirling sludginess; his multi-tracked vocals and sonorous tone slightly reminds me of a young Layne Staley crossed with a bit of Chino Moreno. That aforementioned black metal influence is so faint as to be almost imperceptible, heard in the swarming tremolo-picked guitar riffs that move in currents beneath the album's stately pace. Detuned guitars grind and lurch through the frequent time changes and sometimes angular songwriting. It's an arresting sound, dark and brooding, the drumming possessed of a somewhat industrial feel, and the overall sound is immense. The more I listen, the more I feel the spirit of the more imaginative and abrasive heavy alternative rock that was coming out in the early 1990s. Definitely a weird kind of lost nostalgia hovers over the album. But there's this pending apocalyptic atmosphere as well that clings to every crushng chord and soul-stirring lyric.
Some of the songs feature guest performances: on "Deviant" and "Serpent", Bellini incorporates Valentina Soligo on strings (probably viola and violin, from the sound of it), to striking effect; for the songs "Deathwish" and "Negative Youth", he's joined by backing vocalist Igor Rojas, who assists with soaring, soulful harmonies with Bellini. Huge doom-laden grooves plow through "Georgina" and "Deathwish", the latter rumbling with killer guitar tone and strange, bluesy undercurrent even as it falls into an almost Jesu-like enormity. Darkening thunderclouds amass over each song. "Serpent" slips into even slower and more pulverizing downtuned heaviness, with the looming presence of funeral doom-like crush creeping through the gales of billowing guitar noise, which often expands into huge cloudscapes of dreamy distortion and looping noise. Time signatures become more complex on "Negative Youth" and "On The Edge Of Next Time" turns into a kind of industrial doom-pop with machinelike percussion and more of that funeral-doom guitar tone. At the end, the almost fourteen minute title track finale brings all of these sounds together into a massive industrial-tinged shoegaze / noise pop epic, with a midway detour into sprawling, lovely electronica, and it's awesome.
Actually, you know what? Do you miss the feeling you'd get from the expressive, textured rock of stuff like Hum, Failure, and Swervedriver? This brings it. Slower and much, much heavier, with the weight of a collapsing star, but man, it brings it. Comes in a DVD-style digipak with a twelve-page lyric/art booklet bound into the packaging; quite nice, with some really striking typography.