Album Reviews

The Black Heart Procession – The Spell

(Touch & Go) UK release date: 8 May 2006

A fifth studio album from the critically acclaimed Black Heart Procession, The Spell has been four years in the making – which is a fact made clear as day within the first few bars of opener Tangled. Bleak and broody music has never been quite so thrilling.

But let’s not delve to deep, too soon, lest I run out of superlatives. Some background, perhaps? Well, the band was formed in 1997 by core members Pall Jenkins and Tobias Nathaniel, whose names have something of The ‘Burbs about them (creepy house, murderous family – you know the one). More appropriate, however, is the name they chose for the group: this is mournful, bitter and orchestral, all at once.

Splendid opener Tangled is indicative of what’s to follow: sobbing strings, quietly chugging minor chords, crushing vocal soars with desperate lyrics. This is most certainly black, undoubtedly from the heart and very much procession-esque. Like Ronseal, it does exactly what it says on the tin (sleeve).

The remainder of The Spell consolidates the opening few minutes with a stringent formula. Not Just Words may rope a piano in, while Return To Burn drops the tempo more than any other track present, but this is very much a journey: if this is some kind of funeral procession, it’s all for the same person throughout.

The Black Heart Procession approach sombre topics like no other band currently; their subtle use of a wide range of string arrangements, from pizzicato to tremolo, accent the affair tremendously, further setting out their encampment from other ‘morbid’ outfits.

The band resist employing a church organ until the drum-edged GPS, before The Waiter #5 does a perfect, analogous impression of Air‘s Virgin Suicides OST – all tumbling minor chord progressions, haunting piano melodies and dark, forboding lyrics: “I feel the wind blow / cold in my bones,” echoes Jenkins through cemetary-style reverberation. There’s no reason here to doubt his sincerity.

The most apt description, however, is to liken The Spell to a musical embodiment of a Tim Burton movie, its darkly memorable set-pieces comparable to the lasting imagery of a Betelgeuse, Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride. Then again, it might be just as telling to say that Tim Burton is the directorial Black Heart Procession. Whichever way you look at it, this is infinitely inviting stuff, and a more than welcome return: nothing can quite match The Black Heart Procession’s calibre.

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