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Blackflower Neil Kulkarni , March 3rd, 2015 14:21

The idea of giving money to a corporation to procure music disappeared for me in 2014. It became entirely the year of Bandcamp and direct purchase from tiny labels. Bandcamp is fundamentally a place where the mystery and magic of music is allowed to remain intact and where something like a fair way of making a living out of it is emerging. Slowly I know. Very slowly. But as an alternative to those venal corrupted traditional channels, Bandcamp is something that needs exploring, supporting, rhapsodising about. Besides anything else it made buying music in 2014 feel right. Bandcamp feels pure, untainted. I've stopped listening to much else.

Already in 2015 (OK it crept out unheralded in early December, but I've only just got to it) it's thrown up this, the latest release from Bristolian five-piece Sonance. On their Bandcamp page, details are scant, and as a listener I'm happy to keep it that way. They've tagged themselves "metal, ambient, atmospheric, doom, drone, sludge, Bristol". These words tell the smallest part of the story, but the five songs they give us on Blackflower flesh out and flay those concepts into grotesquely bloated, skeletally seared relief.

The crucial thing throughout Blackflower is their sense of melody – which is utterly beautiful, augmented with strings and sounds so akin to the Rodan/Rex/Rachel's school of Louisville mystery you'd swear they'd spent too long at Floyd's Fork Creek dancing with the Pope Lick Monster. Opener 'Blackflower/Belgium' contains all this, but crucially proves that Sonance are also, when they need to be, bone-crushingly heavy in a way the likes of Slint and June Of 44 could never quite manage. At no point is this sound out of control, every single filament of shred and noise is gorgeously arranged, and when Sonance decide to open up and throw noise at the cosmos, it tears chunks in the space-time continuum. Heavy, fuzzy, bass-loaded, sweet, unsettlingly pleasurable, an opener that's 15 minutes of bruising bliss.

'Belgium', which follows, pushes that Rachel's/Sonora Pine feel even stronger, like something off 'Handwriting', but touched with an altogether British ambience and feel (reminiscent of the mighty and almost totally forgotten Gauge), a melody at once plaintive and wide-eyed, just bass and guitar and strings and that's all you need. 'Attachment' is similarly drumless, bleakly reminiscent of Codeine circa 'Frigid Stars', vocals multi-tracked into a murky wastedness, M.R.Jamesian distant howls and mutterings coming at you out of the darkness, the coda building and receding just in time, just before you can start guessing what it was going to do next. 'Conical' brings the beats back, a feral stomp, an unhinged tongue of bile, satisfyingly thuggish riffola as heavy as the mighty Primitive Man – as close as Sonance get to conventional doom archetypes, but even then able to throw in a gorgeously gothic bridge where the stomp finds itself almost evanescing into orbit – crucially Sonance still cling, with taloned paws to a song structure, albeit a structure whereby once every element has occurred, it's over. A concision and precision sadly lacking in so much metal at the moment.

Closer 'Tearce' reveals yet another string to Sonance's blackened bow, humming initially with the dappled refracted light of a Fripp/Eno or Cluster, seeping, swimming in slow motion through lugubrious submerged caverns like nothing I've heard since Labradford in their prime. And just as you reach in your arm to pull it close, it finishes, it's over. Free in all senses, seemingly disconnected from anything around it, Blackflower is one hell of a reason to get interested in UK rock music again. I'm holding out for vinyl and when it comes out (please let it come out) will stack it next to my Primitive Man, Towers and Bolzer as heavy guitar music I can believe in again. Superb, unmissable stuff.