Review of Barren Land by Long Night
By Ed Shorrock aged 46 ¾
This is what dark rock ‘n’ roll should sound like.
Released on 8 December on independent label Swiss Dark Nights, Barren Land is Long Night’s debut album, following up on the Tau based trio’s first release, the much acclaimed Sorrow Returns EP in 2016. As the title of the album might suggest, this album has a decidedly physical feel about it, almost geological. Tracks such as East Of The Sun West Of The Moon, the title track, Black River and Cold Light all point toward big sounds, bleakness and a general sense of doom and despondency – notably depicted by the artwork on the album cover. None of them fail to deliver either. Your reviewer had the benefit of three additional songs, which didn’t make the final album and my only, purely personal, preference would have been for the album to end on one of those – the aptly named The End Is Waiting – but I guess you’ll have to wait for that on another release.
So what of the tracks?
First up, the band have astutely made the right call in mixing up the tempo and styles of the tracks so you don’t have that “Heard that before, skip, heard that before, skip…” sensation. East Of The Sun West Of The Moon captures the expansiveness of the title with big open guitars and the soaring vocals of Østen Bergøy. I’m not ashamed to admit it but pretty much all the tracks, bar one, have that “singalong-ability” to them – but probably best in the privacy of one’s own home (or car) because as much as we like to think we can hit those notes, most of us can’t.
The Night’s Ablaze kicks off with a frenetic riff before settling down into a more sedate phase before re-entering into energy packed territory, picking up nice clean guitar work throughout the melody. And that’s a defining feature of all of Long Night’s material which seems to be missing from so many of today’s acts: Structure, melody, power in the right places and a finesse where it is needed.
Barren Land, the title track, powers down the pace with gently chugging guitars, establishing a hypnotic rhythm before the gentle bass intro into On A Little Snowy Field takes over overlaid with some decidedly Americana-influenced solo guitar with plenty of reverb.
Having been lulled into a sense of gentleness we get the musically upbeat It’s All Gone which has echoes of some of the tracks from Sorrow Returns which is all to the good in my book. I did think about attempting to interpret some of the lyrics from the songs but this is notoriously difficult, even at the best of times, so I think they’re best left as they are found so that the listener can form their own judgment. Put another way, trying to get inside the head of a lyricist is a pretty pointless exercise in my experience as everyone brings their own mindset to the table.
Black River is perhaps the darkest song of them all: a guitar refrain on near constant repeat, almost spoken vocals which are punctuated with eerie guitar breaks. Not a singalong song and a turn towards a less populist sound which is effective in its own way. Much as we’ve become accustomed to Long Night’s song-writing with its big open sounds and catchy riffs, it’s good to hear what are, in my mind, some experimental avenues being explored. For those of a traditional disposition Cold Light re-centres the sound back on more familiar territory and very much out of the band’s playbook.
Continuing the weather/nature/geological theme is the penultimate track The Rain Still Falls – the music reflecting the title in the use of the guitars which seem to splash along with the lyrics which are treated to Østen’s trademark clean and haunting voice.
Closing out the album is Flickering Lights, a suitably downbeat number including the subtle use of a piano.
I’ve not attempted to identify which are Tommy’s and which are Arni’s guitars as although I can have a good guess I’m bound to get it wrong and anyway, who cares. They all sound just as they should do – perfect. We’ve all been waiting for this release for some time and it’s been worth it.