Swiss atmospheric post-doomers Black Willows release their third full-length, Shemurah, on Oct. 21. It is an arrival that has been some time in the making even when one discounts the fact of the three years since the Lausanne trio’s second album, Bliss (review here), and concurrent split with Finland’s Craneium (review here). In May 2020, the band posted the second of Shemurah‘s kind-of-an-injustice-to-call-them interludes, “Interlude II,” and so at least some portion of the record will have been done and ready to roll out for 17 months.
Given the incredible, worth-whatever-volume-you-can-give-it scope of Shemurah, that is an impressive feat, both in it maybe taking a year and a half since Bliss to put such a consuming 79-minute 2LP together, and to subsequently sit on it for that long afterward without getting more excited and releasing any more of it than they have to this point. At this point, the most honest thing I can do is spare you a longwinded diatribe and just tell you to click play on “Communion” premiering below. Then come back and read or do whatever else you’re doing today while listening. It will summarize a lot of what I’m talking about. I hope you enjoy.
“Communion” at 19:33, is the opener and longest track (immediate points) on Shemurah, and its heft of tone and atmosphere is nothing less than a thing of crumbling-tectonics beauty. Throughout Shemurah, guitarist/vocalist Aleister Crowley, bassist Sacha Ruffieux and drummer/pianist Erik Dettori embrace a cosmic weight worthy of sitting alongside Eve-era Ufomammut or anyone else you’d like to namedrop, and “Communion” sets this pattern very much in motion. Cosmic. Fucking. Doom. There is, however, another side entirely to “Communion” and the journey-waiting-to-be-undertaken album that follows, broken into four sides across two platters. It is the ambient aspect of what Black Willows here accomplish, and with a break 7:30 into “Communion,” a different kind of procession begins no less ritualistic than the lumbering prior, but meets Om-style chant with YOBian guitar exploration. In this, as in their release cycle, Black Willows remain patient, methodical in their delivery. Even as the track builds back to its eventual resurgent crush at 14:08, it does so with such fluidity as to be organic and inevitable in kind. You know it’s coming, but the path to get there is no less satisfying than the arrival.
A landmark unto itself, “Communion” is joined on side A by “Interlude I” a 2:24 complement that miniaturizes the progression of the lead cut and, in linear format, transitions directly into side B’s “Ascent,” which, at 18:06, follows the pattern set out by LP1’s first half, in its own crux as well as in being followed by the aforementioned “Interlude II” (3:39). After a droning beginning with the drums subtly foretelling the kick to come, what takes hold at 3:21 is a nodding chug the largesse of which is oxygen-reducing. Met soon with vocals that pull together the two sides playing out in “Communion,” “Ascent” lives up to its title as it willfully drags along the trail of its own making, forward, growing to an echo and roll that transitions toward a shorter quiet stretch before a (relative) uptick in tempo leads to the wash of the apex lead and final, stomping crashes and feedback, cutting to silence just before “Interlude II” starts with drums and efficiently finds its own rollout. These short pieces are songs, could easily have titles, but serve well to offset the album-unto-themselves longer tracks they accompany.
Shemurah — the Hebrew word translating to “eyelid” — to an extent holds the LP1 pattern across the second 12″, but “Blindness” and “Anathem” are shorter at a little under 11 minutes apiece, and “Annhiliated” (8:07) and the closer “Aphorism” (6:13) are longer than the “Interlude” pair. More importantly, the construction of the songs themselves changes, with “Blindness” playing off back and forth quiet/loud trades in post-metallic fashion while remaining delightfully, stubbornly committed to the melody and rich psychedelia underpinning. It is arguably the most YOB that Black Willows get, but that should only be taken as a compliment for the emotionalism on display in the midsection and the engrossing payoff that ensues. As one might expect, “Annihilated” is simpler, but rather than revise the righteously grueling pummel of “Ascent” or “Communion,” it builds a tension in Dettori‘s drums across its first five and half minutes before unveiling its faster lurch — and the letting go of that tension is temporary, carrying into the quiet spaciousness of “Anathem.”
The penultimate track on Shemurah, though on the LP it comes on the next side (D), works cleverly after “Annihilated,” essentially trading out the rumble-punctuated crashes of the piece before with subdued, meandering guitar for most of its stretch. Vocals come quietly and yes, it’s got its own build, but for seven-plus minutes, the flow is as languid and unhurried as “Annihilated” seemed to be teeth-grinding, and the resultant louder push likewise departs before Black Willows are done. A fading hum gives way to “Aphorism,” and the albeit-slow-motion dizzying aspect of Shemurah at this point shouldn’t be understated. Before they round out the last quarter of the eight-cut movement of the whole record, the band have well proven they can go where they want and remain in complete control while sounding likewise as though, with eyes rolled back in their head, they’re touching on the intangibility of sonic spiritualism that those of dogmatic breeding call god and find speaking in tongues. That is, they sound like they’re letting themselves go into their own sound while leading the listener with a steady hand.
“Aphorism,” which rounds out with piano, is something of an epilogue to the outing as a whole, but it’s not so much serene in its mood as it is continuing to speak to the either-outward-or-inward searching the rest of Shemurah undertakes. A melancholy, plotted lead layers over the central notes of the rhythm in melodic complement, and though instrumental, there’s really nothing else that needs to be said when the first keys strike and the last resonant fade goes, no less intentional in their execution than the 17 seconds of rising drone that precede the initial viscosity of “Communion.”
Everything in its place; none of it forced there.
A quote from Crowley and more album info follows the player below.
Once again, enjoy:
Black Willows, “Communion” track premiere
Aleister Crowley on “Communion”:
“Communion” is about trying to make peace with yourself and then finding serenity.
When you reach this state of consciousness you are finally free and in entire communion with yourself and all the things surrounding you.
I thought a lot about this record, how long it last and the general tuning/mood of it… and I already know that Shemurah is particular, it’s not like another records you can listen, it’s more like a very long mantra, the record should be listened like something going through to your subconscious, your soul and get into vibrations with them. Like a yoga/meditation cession or something like that…
I know that is a very special record and people will need/have to be in the right mood and state of consciousness for this one.
I took a risk with this one but I really wanted and needed to push the boundaries of what I had in mind…
Black Willows | Shemurah
1. Communion (19:33)
2. Interlude I (2:24)
3. Ascent (18:06)
4. Interlude II (3:39)
5. Blindness (10:51)
6. Annihilated (8:07)
7. Anathem (10:57)
8. Aphorism (6:13)
Written by Aleister Crowley
All songs performed live and recorded by Sacha Ruffieux at studio de la Fonderie, Fribourg, Switzerland. Additional recordings engineered by Raphaël Bovey at Blend studio, Lutry, Switzerland. Vocals recorded by Brian Bendahan at Shiverland productions, Switzerland. Mixed and mastered by Raphaël Bovey at MyRoom Studio, Switzerland.
Black Willows are:
Guitar and vocals: Aleister Crowley
bass: Sacha Ruffieux
drums and piano: Erik Dettori
Black Willows, “Interlude II”
Tags: Black Willows, Black Willows Shemurah, Lausanne, Shemurah, Switzerland, Unsigned bands