Album Review: A Storm of Light
Album: Nations to Flames
Label: Southern Lord
A Storm of Light are not the most subtle band you’re ever likely to hear. Take one look at Nations to Flames’ fiery album cover – and the title itself – and you can take a good guess at the subject matter driving the Brooklyn outfit’s fifth album.
And so we get titles such as ‘Lifeless’, ‘Disintegrate’ and ‘Dead Flags’, all pummelling musings on the decline of society, appropriately described by Josh Graham’s strained, Mastodon-esque vocals. A former visual artist for that behemoth of the genre, Neurosis, Graham has adapted his talent for visceral imagery into claustrophobic, evocative music-making. Although it’s almost cliché for a post-rock band (or an ensemble skittering about in that gene pool) to inject their music with samples of maudlin voices amongst a panicked public, Graham knows just how effective it is at creating and maintaining an involving sense of narrative.
Intense is an appropriate word throughout. From the rat-a-tat-tat machine gun snare hits of opener ‘Fall’ and its chaotic background burble of a clashing crowd, there’s a permanent atmosphere of dystopia, the band positioning themselves amongst the chaos to pass judgement on a collapsing society. Close your eyes and all you’re likely to see is blazing buildings and a power struggle on the streets. On ‘Lifeless’, Graham rallies: “Rise, become the weapon,” as if a young Zach de la Rocha had grown up listening to Pantera vinyl instead of hip-hop cassettes.
As much as there’s a sense of ticking the boxes – an issue that afflicts this whole genre, let alone A Storm of Light’s effort – Nations to Flames is undeniably engaging. While Graham’s voice offers little variation in its caustic growl, the noise backing him up never makes the mistake of plodding along. The guitars and staccato drums are given plenty of space to breathe, to expand into – at times – groovy rhythms that ease the sense of intense doom and gloom that pervades elsewhere. Take ‘Disintegrate’ and its Slayer-laden vigour for example, walloping through verses with lashings of bass.
It comes as little surprise that there’s a lot to love here for fans of Mastodon, Isis, Neurosis and their ilk. But for those who look at those names and struggle to find inspiration, Nations to Flames may be worth a shot. It’s not the cleverest or most inventive album you’ll hear this year, but an hour with the band and that moody, sombre artwork might just have you contemplating the state of the world a hell of a lot more effectively than Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi trainwreck.