Album Reviews

Rose Kemp – Unholy Majesty

(One Little Indian) UK release date: 1 September 2008

It seems like an age since we first got a taste of Unholy Majesty album when Rose Kemp released the single Nanny’s World and to say we were impressed is something of an understatement.

Has Unholy Majesty and has it been worth the wait? Well; for the most part, yes. First of all there’s Kemp’s voice, which is bordering on the operatic throughout. She is clearly gifted and is capable of soaring above these songs like an angel with slowly blackening wings. When she drops the operatics, Kemp inhabits the same fearsome space as a young Polly Harvey, which is no bad thing as it gives her songs a tense edge, when it would be easy for them to sound a little too smooth.

Unholy Majesty starts off with a beautiful double blow. Dirt Glow dawdles along at a snails pace, slowly letting guitar and violins twist themselves into a daunting tryst. It broods with a delicious, malicious intent, allowing Kemp to exercise her vocals to their best effect.

At this point it’s worth noting that Rose Kemp is the daughter of Steeleye Span‘s Maddie Prior and Rick Kemp, because in its first couple of minutes, Dirt Glow is nothing if not a particularly well composed and executed folk song. It is theatrical and intense, and you can imagine it being sung with passion at pagan weddings.

Eventually it is rudely punched into the rock world with some simply cavernous drums. It probably shouldn’t work, but the melding of folk to metal (and by metal we mean pounding ’70s Black Sabbath style) seems to make perfect sense.

Nanny’s World continues the Sabbath stylings, taking blues and burying it beneath avalanches of drums, rampant guitar, and keyboards for whom the adjective “seethe” was invented to describe.

Bitter and Sweet could well have come straight from PJ Harvey‘s Dry album, which is no bad thing. A fairly understated vocal from Kemp – with her Bristol accent very much in evidence – struggles to make itself heard against her band as they fight to control as much of the mix as is possible. As such it’s thrilling stuff, a musical tempest raging from the speakers threatening to blow your eardrums in.

And then Kemp lets her folk roots get the better of her. Natures Hymn is pretty, but sounds weak against much of the rest of the album. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of folk, but it doesn’t quite work here, and when the prog rock keyboards make an appearance you almost want to build a wicker man, sit in it and dare a local to set it on fire. It might have a sweet vocal, and genuine Gaelic feel to it, but it doesn’t belong on an album called Unholy Majesty.

Likewise, Flawless stumbles about not quite knowing what to do with itself. Starting with an artfully hammered piano, it quickly dissolves into a sensitive ballad but one which leaves you thinking that Kemp has missed an opportunity.

With Saturday Night however, Kemp rediscovers her touch, taking a delicate song and building it towards a crushing crescendo. By the time she ends with The Unholy she’s back into the theatricality of it all. Kemp threatens to “cut your fingers off” in a manner that is pretty damn convincing, her double tracked vocals hiss like a witch sizzling on a bonfire.

There’s a genuine sense of menace here; as the song builds, combining all the elements of folk, heavy rock, and psychedelia it becomes clear that Kemp, when at her best is not just a gifted vocalist but arranger too. It’s a high point and as majestic as this patchy album gets.

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Rose Kemp – Unholy Majesty