‘He bore no tidings and although it was the custom in that wilderness to stop with any traveler and exchange the news he seemed to travel with no news at all, as if the doings of the world were too slanderous for him to truck with, or perhaps too trivial’ – Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian.
Upon the arrival of the time when the four horsemen ride, the seven trumpets sound, and I must climb that mountain path to wage final battle with the gods/God/deity of choice, I will be listening to Reverence To Stone. There are many moments listening to this album where I wished I was in Samothrace, or just playing a gig covering this song (yeah, good luck pal), just to be playing something so epic. Samothrace take elements of songwriting to their extremes, their riffs splitting off and wandering away, travelling in unforeseen directions, recounting old places and leading away again, consuming you in their journey.
So unsurprisingly, Samothrace are pushing into new territory. Despite the finesse of this obviously carefully structured songwriting, the guttural, completely unintelligible vocals conjure up a sense of the primitive, of a time before words, when mankind scratched out an existence upon a world where everything occurred with an indifferent slowness. With the lyrics so obscured by the vocal technique, it’s a shame this album can’t be fully enjoyed by just sitting back and listening. That said, the vocals suit the music, with the minimalism of lines like ‘Ancient Wash/Tired Force/Birthed Life’ reading like hieroglyphs carved into stone, no word rushed, each syllable dragged out.
This bands ebbs and flows, the pacing determined by the guitarists’ urging or restraint, rather than by the drums. They work more like percussion much of the time, suggesting space and creating punctuation, rather than leading the rhythm, with lots of cymbal work. The guitars, panned to either side, mirror each other here and there, sometimes two separate layers, variations of riffs coming to and merging away, with a melody developing all the while. There is no sense of hurry, with the riffs wrought out and hammered for all their worth.They sometimes step into space and swirling feedback, building up and carrying the weight forward beyond all anticipation, other times suddenly taking off into crushing volleys, the lead work never less than evocative of panoramic views. When We Emerged starts with sparse, soft guitar plucking, and then the noise rolls in, loud and slow, it takes nearly 4 minutes for the vocals to enter, the deep tortured howls completely unintelligible even with the lyrics in front of me. In A Horse Of Our Own, humming bass and spacey plucking at 3.35 builds up over the next four minutes, with some kind of kettle drum growing in regular bursts, guitars weaving and feedback mounting, in sweet, sweet tension, until a new riff smashes in, screaming, again and again. The bass guitar rumbles and churns underneath for the most part, with a short and sweet solo at 6.45 in When We Emerged, which is quickly taken up and developed by a lyrical guitar solo through mounting phrases.
The production is bass heavy, but still sharp, with plenty of heft. Reverb is applied liberally, adding to the sense of space that rings out throughout the album. One thing I loved was how feedback was used to carry a riff. At 15.05 into A Horse Of Our Own the instruments cut out, with just single note stabs here and there, a wounded howl re-entering over the top of ringing cymbals, with a weary, considered guitar line, every note laboured, and throbbing feedback. For the next five minutes everything is drawn out, until it fades to a buzzing, then just the wind whipping past, into silence.
Lyrically, Samothrace are obscure, writing predominantly in symbolic language. When We Emerged seems to be about taking a step back, in order to move forward renewed, using the evolutionary moment of life stepping from the sea onto land as a metaphor; ‘Back to the sea/…/To see what we missed…/When we emerged’. A Horse Of Our Own is thematically centred upon the pursuit of a individualistic and self-determined way of life and the necessity of not compromising in this pursuit, most obviously in ‘You’ve drawn/This line/One thousand times/This foe/But we’ll fall alone’. The horse is the one ridden through the journey of life, along which violence will be witnessed (‘This road is red’), as will the corruption and everyday compromises of people (‘These hearts/are black’). It will also lead to wealth, which will never be enough or prove to be of an elusive nature; ‘We led/To that trough/Of Wealth/…/But when we awake/Our steed was dry/Charred and steeped’. It’s open to interpretation whether these contradictions are about how we will always harbour some sense of personal discontent, or the necessity of always moving on, but either way we are destined to go through this world without finding a home. Are we ultimately isolated? The final lines, ‘But we’re all…/On a horse…/Of our own’ say as much.
As I wrote this article, I found myself turning to the sleeve notes whenever I was stumped as to what I was trying to say (which was quite a lot of the time). Why Reverence To Stone as a title? Given the heavy symbolism that Samothrace employs, it is not unfeasible to read it as suggesting a sense of communication with nature. It is on this background that they talk of hardships, and suffering as part of existence. I suppose that this, in some ways, is what the concept of winter albums comes down to. This is an album for when the doings of the world become too trivial to truck with. An album for standing at the top of mountains, cold and transcendent, watching the four horsemen approach.