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Ides Of Gemini
Old World | New Wave Dean Brown , October 14th, 2014 11:16

Ides Of Gemini have begun to carve a niche. To date, the trio, comprised of music journalist Jason Bennett on guitars, his partner and former Black Math Horseman frontwoman Sera Timms (Black Mare) on bass and vocals, and Kelly Johnston-Gibson on drums, have defied classification because their music spans a number of subgenres – doom and black metal to '80s goth and post-punk, as well as other spidery offshoots of 4AD Records-worthy rock – without sounding solidly indebted to any singular style. Timms' statuesque vocals and intoxicating presence has unquestionably been the focal point of the New York-based band since they formed and released their 2012 EP, The Disruption Writ, which was followed in the same year by first full-length Constantinople; a solid debut that carried forward some songs from the EP and gave them the added benefit of real drums and better production, engineered by Chris Rakestraw and mastered by James Plotkin.

On Constantinople, it appeared as though Bennett purposely kept the bones of the songs as bare as possible, drawing from the repetition/minimalism of 90s black metal and projecting its austere values onto the styles of doom, shoegaze, goth and post-metal. The outcome was relatively monochromatic, but this seemed an aesthetic choice rather than a result of Bennett's limitations as a musician. A song like 'Resurrectionists' (one of the tracks which also appeared on The Disruption Writ) set the tone for Constantinople, and the rest of the music existed in the shadow it cast. Bennett slowly unfurled riffs that borrowed heavily from Pentagram's Victor Griffin and Johnston-Gibson played simple, pace-setting beats while Timms' sang her lyrics in a monastic and revelatory manner, questioning death and our existence once divinity is lost. It was instrumentally unassuming yet vocally and lyrically affecting.

As Ides Of Gemini confirmed in a very recent interview with the Quietus, second album Old World | New Wave, in keeping with music previously released by the band, continues overarching thematic ties to Constantinople. More specifically, it explores the duality between the masculine (Old World) and feminine (New Wave) and what they represent universally, both in the past and present. Bennett also stated that the majority of the riffs and song structures for Old World | New Wave existed prior to the release of Constantinople. This is an extremely interesting point, because while Timms carried the weight of Ides Of Gemini's debut on her shoulders, their new album is more balanced riff- and structure-wise.   Bennett's guitar playing on Constantinople was mostly introspective, and it suggested that he would much prefer to stare at his feet in contemplation while playing, rather than straddle the stage with his foot on the monitor. That conclusion hasn't changed much on Old World | New Wave, but Bennett's riffs have more authority and movement to them than before, and his choice of leads – which are sparsely but effectively used – have a certain emotional ache to them ('May 22, 1453' and 'The Chalice And The Blade'). In his writing for major publications, Bennett has displayed a vast knowledge of metal and music in general, and he's just as astute as a guitarist in the way he insidiously creeps across different styles without lingering too long. Yet, there's no doubt that Victor Griffin's signature riff-style remains an obvious inspiration for the stomping, mid-paced doom of dominant songs like 'Black Door' and 'Fememorde', both of which leave the characteristic mark of Pentagram's Be Forewarned. While Bennett's high regard for black metal is felt in the tone of each song as it clasps the album in a cold embrace and swarms right into focus during 'Seer Of Circassia'.  

As a contrast, there is also an audible affinity for grunge godheads Nirvana, heard in the latter riffs of 'Seer Of Circassia' and during 'Scimitar' and Old World | New Wave's 'Resurrectionists' equivalent, 'The Adversary'. 'The Adversary' is based on a powerful main riff hurled out with Cobain-like abandon; it's Bennett at his most provocative. It's also the first real time that he has outshone the operatic boom of Timms' voice, whose melodies throughout Old World | New Wave exist in the same esoteric air as Stevie Nicks, Siouxsie Sioux, Jarboe, Jinx Dawson, Jex Thoth, amongst very few others. On 'The Adversary', Timms equals Bennett's energy as she beckons the listener towards her sweet breath, sounding oddly occult, detached and alluring within the space of a few sustained notes. And even Johnston-Gibson's tom-centred, martial drums drop with more purpose; she is less metronomic here than she sounds on other songs.

Johnston-Gibson's role in Ides Of Gemini is similar to that of Adrienne Davies' in Earth: she is steady and uncomplicated. However, her overreliance on trudging toms patterns sounds one-dimensional on numerous occasions, and they become increasingly distracting when you consume Old World | New Wave whole over repeat listens. The problem is that where both Bennett and Timms can turn from amorphous to dense in seconds, Johnston-Gibson lacks – or is denied – that dynamic. She rarely intensifies to join the guitars and vocals, with 'May 22, 1453' being the main exception; her playing gathers speed and she eases the transitions from dark to light. Johnston-Gibson style may be steeped in the black and white minimalism of post-punk (and so too is Timms' foundational bass playing), but it's something Ides Of Gemini will have to consider varying in the future to differentiate their songs – especially considering they recruited her to take the place of programmed drums, yet she plays with the blank rigidness of a machine.

But the drums are not the only weakness here; there's also room to improve the songwriting to make the music more memorable so as to build upon what Ides Of Gemini have created so far. For instance, not even Timms' enigmatic vocals can save forgettable filler tracks like 'Valediction' and the abrupt 'Scimitar', and they end Ides Of Gemini's second album on an uneventful, uninspired note, which ultimately lowers its value substantially. So while Old World | New Wave hangs together better than Constantinople and leaves the impression that there's a work of importance in this trio's future, there's still a refinement required to complete the niche they're currently carving.

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