Our Ceasing Voice – That Day Last November

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Artist Our Ceasing Voice
Album That Day Last November
Genre Post-rock
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Label Frontal Noize (CD) / Revolvermann Records (Vinyl)
Released Jan 18 2013
Rating Very Good

Our Ceasing Voice have always been a group whose command of atmosphere and visual soundscapes is one that rivals even the most gargantuan of post-rock acts. So much so, in fact, that their music can quite comfortably sit alongside some of the darker, more sorrowful metal bands, such as Neurosis or Amenra, despite Our Ceasing Voice not being a particularly heavy band themselves. This is in large part due to the emphasis on bass, and the very low, deep end of the musical spectrum. Many songs may contain huge crescendos that carry with them high, soaring guitar lines – and they’re always sensational – however these unquestionably flutter atop a relentlessly dark and atmospheric backdrop (painted by the bass guitar and synths) that never abates. Another element that lends credence to earlier comparisons with post-metal bands is the occasional use of very deep and mournful southern/folk vocals. However this aspect of Our Ceasing Voice‘s sound has never previously been at the forefront of their compositions; on 2011’s ‘When the Headline Hit Home’, vocals intermittently appear to lend a sense of traversal to the music – a kind of piecemeal reward for journeying across the vast landscapes crafted by long instrumental passages. For all of the above reasons, ‘When the Headline Hit Home’ was an exceptionally masterful experience that went criminally under-discovered for the longest time. It’s now 2013, and we have a new record to mull over. So how has the band’s sound changed in the two years since ‘When the Headline Hit Home’, urm, hit home? Well quite a lot, in fact.

Our Ceasing Voice‘s latest release, ‘That Day Last November’, is “a dark and gloomy record, situated between hypnotizing ambient and something that once was post-rock”; or at least that’s the assertion made in the press release for ‘That Day Last November’. “Dark and gloomy” is exactly what one would expect from an Our Ceasing Voice release, and such a description fits the bill as snugly as it did two years ago. “Something that once was post-rock”? This part sounds a tad pretentious. It’s not wrong though. As a supposed post-rock band, they are one of the more difficult to pin down, genre-wise – now more than ever before.

Right out of the gate, the opening one-two punch of “Afterglow” and “Until Your Chest Explodes” demonstrates that Our Ceasing Voice are no longer a post-rock band working their next attempt at perfecting a widely-understood formula. If anything, they had already achieved this in years prior and are ready to move on; as such, genre constraints no longer bind them. A newfound vocal diversity is showcased in “Afterglow”, featuring gruff vocals in addition to some strained yells bringing a rich and multi-layered quality to the opening track. Pushing the envelope even further, “Until Your Chest Explodes” features surprisingly clean and melodic vocals (though a mournful rasp still lingers), courtesy of Matthew Ryan, with such a conventional song structure that could in a sense be compared with stadium indie rockers, such as – and bear with me here – Snow Patrol. I’m talking structurally, not sonically. The song plods through a long, lyrics-centric verse devoid of any significant dynamic changes, before exploding in a final chorus featuring big, melodic hooks and, again, layered vocals. “Until Your Chest Explodes” could be considered Our Ceasing Voice‘s “pop song”, and it’s great too; although make no mistake, it will not be crossing the radiowaves any time soon. If there’s a recurring theme here – it’s vocals. In 2013, Our Ceasing Voice are making music that reflects where they are as artists and what it is that they want to achieve. Right now they have chosen to favour explicit storytelling over the implicit narrative formed by sweeping instrumentals. As such, this is not ‘When the Headline Hit Home: Part 2’.

And that’s where this album gives me a slight bitter taste. Slight. The increased use of vocals should not necessarily be a condemning characteristic of an album. But when a band is so adept at crafting exquisitely dense and dark atmospheres, it somewhat detracts from this strength when lead vocals are brought so far forward in the mix. Such descriptive and narrative lyrics (for example in “One of These Nights”: “The days passed slowly yet darkness came fast and, while the thin coffee in his dirty cup went from cool to cold, he sat quietly and rolled another cigarette”) were written to be heard – that much is clear. And so they should be; Our Ceasing Voice write lyrics so detailed and intriguing that you can’t help but want to process them. But as you’re doing so, the music in the background – far away in the background – is almost entirely dismissed. There is a balance to maintain and I feel that Our Ceasing Voice have at times embraced their new-found narrative focus so tightly as to neglect the importance of instrumental prowes.

But there’s a flip-side, and I feel as though there are audiences that will absorb this new style of songwriting with absolute elation. A somewhat similar album, FareWell Poetry‘s 2011 release ‘Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite’ was a critical darling, and if you’re one of the many who really enjoyed the poetic aspects of FareWell Poetry‘s music, then I might have just found you your new favourite record in ‘That Day Last November’. Furthermore, such an emphasis on vocals and more “typical” song structures enables individual tracks to establish their own identities. Where ‘When the Headline Hit Home’ was a singular journey, ‘That Day Last November’ is a smorgasbord of memorable moments, propelled only more gratifyingly by the rich diversity of vocal deliverance; for example the powerfully-booming spoken-word segments in “One of These Nights” and, most impressively, the desperate and electric screams used to build songs such as “What Used to Be a Battle Song” and “The City that Once Had a Name” to blood-boiling climaxes.

Our Ceasing Voice have crafted an intricate and interesting record in ‘That Day Last November’; one that it is difficult to not enjoy. The extent to which you enjoy this album, however, is dependent upon you – your tastes as a music fan. To those with a penchant for variety, hooks and more refined “songwriting”: you might just prefer this new album. To those who yearn for sweeping, journeying and epic post-rock music: you might, on the other hand, be faced with minor disappointment at the helm of this new record – especially if you’re a fan of ‘When the Headline Hit Home’. But in the end, ‘That Day Last November’ is an album that you should check out, because regardless of on which side of the fence you reside, Our Ceasing Voice are a talented and creative bunch of musicians dedicated to pushing the boundaries of what they and their peers are capable of creating, and they’ve crafted an album that should be celebrated by fans and critics alike.