Throwing Snow (aka Ross Tones) and Augustus Ghost (aka Hannah Cartwright) are not afraid of the dark. In fact, they revel in it. All of this makes their debut album as Snow Ghosts, A Small Murmuration, a little ill-timed given that the UK is currently melting in the sun.
The pair met in 2008 and discovered that they shared a mutual interest in the bleaker sides of folk and metal. They then released an EP in 2011 called Lost At Sea, since when they’ve been compiling material for an album in short writing bursts. The end result is a shadowy work with plenty of interesting ideas that click more often that not.
The Hunted is a haunting introduction, and is followed by Murder Cries, where jittery and anxious strings are dropped in like samples before a mighty combination of beats and bass almost overwhelms everything in its path. Sometimes the songs sound exactly as their title suggests: Secret Garden has a sinister secretive atmosphere that is captivating, whilst Untangle Me has an opening rhythm that sounds as if it’s tied in knots, although afterwards it skips along with intent.
They successfully play around with dynamics. Covenant starts with contorted and slightly crazed vocals, followed by so much reverb that it’s likely to leave the listener confused for a good couple of minutes. Then, halfway through, something snaps and synths start to go haywire, blaring with all the urgency of a warning siren. The antidote to this is Gallows Strung, which goes for immediacy over atmosphere and creates for itself more space than anything else on A Small Murmuration. Such unpredictably even extends within the same track: And The World Was Gone starts off very peacefully, but then it settles on a slow groove that drives the track onwards.
The simpler numbers pale in comparison. Time Listens is not a bad song necessarily — its acoustic guitar and mournful strings create a mystical vibe — but it doesn’t feel as exciting or original as the rest of the LP. There’s also a couple of filler moments such as Ropery, which adds little that’s new to the mix.
A Small Murmuration, released through Fabric imprint Houndstooth, is not an album best digested in one go. It also needs to be listened to in the right circumstances, such as on a moody winter’s night. While it’s a hard sell to recommend something like this in the middle of summer, those brave enough to embrace the darkness will find much to enjoy. Tones and Cartwright are forging an interesting path, and it’ll be intriguing to see how much they can broaden their aesthetic from here.