There’s something to say about a band that are capable of combining sweeping, epic tracks with melancholic subject matter. The fact that the two elements juxtapose each other so vividly often leads to a breakdown in quality when all is said and done, so it is no surprise that music in the vein of what Russia’s The Morningside put together on their debut The Wind, the Trees and the Shadows of the Past is few and far between. To stylistically compare their dark, melodic, and fiercely sorrowful compositions is difficult due to this fact, but bands like Agalloch and Brave Murder Day-era Katatonia come to mind instantly for their aesthetic similarities. Although The Morningside may not be as heavy-hitting as either band – especially Agalloch circa Pale Folklore, which is probably the best single album to compare this to – these Russians put on a show that is worth coming for.
The simplistically-arranged album, which has five tracks (two of which being an intro and an outro) foreshadows its compositions, which are decidedly simple and slow-moving affairs that sort of glide together into one atmospheric mold. The guitars are far from technical, and the pace is a constant lumber, but the atmosphere that the band manages to pull out of their claustrophobic songwriting niche is worth the price of admission, because music in this vein that isn’t complete garbage is agonizingly hard to come by. Those expecting a carbon copy of Agalloch will be disappointed because The Morningside is no such band, but one can’t help but spot the similarities: near-constant guitar melodies that are morose and dreary, raspy vocals, and a brooding atmosphere that shrouds the entire production. Granted, there isn’t near the diversity on The Wind, the Trees and the Shadows of the Past that is found on songs like “As Embers Dress the Sky” from Agalloch’s masterpiece Pale Folklore, but there is also something a bit more elemental and human about this album than that one.
The arrangements are long, strenuous, and wholly depressing, but they speak volumes. There are moments in the album’s highlight “The Wind” when desolation and bleakness doesn’t begin to describe the destitution of the atmosphere, but there is something here that is easy to connect with on a simpler level. There is emotion here, and it drips from the woodwork in darkened swells, and even though The Morningside may be overly simplistic in their songwriting that doesn’t stem its flow. By the time the final long-player of the album, “The Shadows of the Past” is through, you may feel a bit exhausted and perhaps a little wanting of some stylistic change, but you will remember the great melodies long after that boredom has passed along. Haunting is a good way to put it, because the gently beating drums and the warm plucking of the bass eat at your mind, leaving replay value quite high for an album so one-dimensional as this.
It is beauty and melancholy wrapped into one, and even though melodrama permeates every crevice, it is not overpowering and hardly detracts from the final experience. Russia is home to some of the most overlooked acts in the industry, and The Morningside is a testament to this. Fans of Agalloch would simply eat this up, while fans of downtrodden and sorrowful music in general will find something here, whether it be the desperate cries of “The Wind” or the wonderful, soft singing of “The Shadows of the Past”. It is far from perfect, but perfection was not a goal of this album. The Wind, the Trees and the Shadows of the Past is music for a specific time and a specific mindset, so being perfect is out of the window. It is, in the end, a ghost: veiled in mist, reclusive, and not often noticed – but when it is seen you can’t forget it.
Album: The Wind, The Trees And The Shadows Of The Past
Released: August 11, 2007
Label: BadMoodMan Music
Score: 8/9 Hammers