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Robyn G Shiels
Death Of The Shadows Brian Coney , December 20th, 2018 17:03

From Belfast, stark, soul-bruised tales with an optimistic heart

In the video for Robyn G Shiels’ latest single, ‘An Offering as Such’, static shots of weather-beaten wooden signs read “Prepare to meet thy God” and “Ye must be born again.” These remnants of Presbyterian fire and brimstone, leering over the rural backroads where the songwriter grew up, evoke a Northern Ireland that’s still quietly festering out of view. On Death of the Shadows, Shiels filters the spectres of this world – and the countless late nights of the soul from his own past – with impressive subtlety.

Shiels has attracted the ‘doom-folk’ label over the years, but his darkly craft owes much to the restraint it’s played with. Two highlights here, ‘River Of…’ and closer ‘Black Moon’, land lethal blows with slow-burning aplomb; they’re paced in such a way that Shiels’ drawl, sinister yet forgiving, takes centrestage. The unsaid thing – the redacted deathly notion on the cusp of being uttered – emphasises that the only ‘doom’ here is the mutual acknowledgment of what can’t be said.

On the surface, these are stark, soul-bruised tales that take a cue from the barren, twilit panoramas of Jason Molina, Will Oldham and early Cat Power. Propping up the veneer, a softer and more optimistic Shiels lurks. He reminds us that a lonely, desolate place can be anywhere, be it the quiet Northern Irish village of Kilrea or Americana’s more noted strongholds of sorrow. First track ‘Open Road’, featuring long-time collaborator James Heaney (nephew of Seamus) on banjo, proposes that redemption may be possible; it’s a major-key crack of light in this sleepless ink-black night.

At some point between his 2008 debut album A Lifetime Of Midnights and claiming the 2014 Northern Ireland Music Prize for its follow-up, The Blood Of The Innocents, Robyn G Shiels emerged as a voice worthy of being talked about in the same breath as the country’s most venerated solo songwriter exports. With Death Of The Shadows, he underscores that; the pangs of the past are profoundly felt and present-day inner resolve couldn’t be any stronger.