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coverpic flag Norway - Full Moon 239 - 02/22/16

Juhani Silvola
Strange Flowers
Periskop

On initial listens, Strange Flowers invites a comparison to Earth's magnificent The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull - slow, spacious instrumentals dominated by the ominous thud of drums and ever-circling arcs of hypnotic guitar. Jihani Silvola's compositions may not be as glacially slow or cavernously deep as Dylan Carlson's, but there's certainly an affinity; a tendency to paint in broad, epic strokes that evoke awe, desolation and melancholy.

Opener 'The Gods That Built This Place Were Mad' is archetypal desert blues, peppered with deft guitar work. It's neither original nor particularly exciting, but it sets the scene effectively for the music to come. Things start to get interesting on 'Vents Of The Underworld', as eerie, effected sounds throb and weave across a slow, sad bed of beats and strings. It's a deeply atmospheric four minutes that could easily have stretched out for twice as long. 'Strange Flowers Bloomed' is perhaps the track that evokes Earth the most, as overdriven guitar lines are doubled on violin by Silvola's wife Sarah-Jane Summers, tracing a Middle Eastern-sounding melody.

For me, 'The Last Modernist' is where the album comes off the rails, its motorik beat and rockist posturing upsetting the atmosphere established by the first three tracks. Thankfully, 'Black Breath, Black Blood' brings back the atmosphere in earnest as churning drones, violin screeches and distortion gradually boil over into terrifying discord. 'Nyctophonia' is the calm after the storm, a placid, inviting space in which to take stock.

'The First Beast' feels like 'The Gods...' revisited, but more ambiguous in tone, more melodically complex. Silvola lets rip on the electric, stretching bluesy figures into screeching pleas for salvation. It builds in intensity across six-and-a-half minutes, earning its impassioned crescendo - but begs to be intensified even further, to cross the threshold into oblivion. 'All That Is Solid Melts Into Air' acts as an epilogue, casting a level gaze back across the musical landscape, the air shimmering with tremolo and dusty with violin, before the album dissolves into nothing.

While there's plenty to enjoy about Strange Flowers, including some excellent playing and spacious production, it's a little too mannered to draw me in deeper. Backed by his brother on drums and wife on violin, Silvola sounds like he's playing it safe, lacking the guts to take the necessary next step towards creating a truly gripping work of art. Hopefully, Jihani Silvola will follow this release by taking that step. I'm keen to hear what comes next.

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