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Desolation’s Flower Siobhan Kane , November 14th, 2023 08:14

Furious drums, squalls of guitar, and guttural vocals deliver a language of pain on the duo's first record for Flenser Records

There must be something in the water of the Pacific Northwest, and indeed the sound of water; a babbling brook, a stream, or lapping waves perhaps, closes the sixth record from the Oakland via Olympia, Washington, duo Ragana.

What opens it is their title track - a distillation of their collaborative spirit, with simple but effective guitar tones that descend into a squall, and guttural vocals that resemble a language of pain. Ragana have always traded on this tension between elaborate dirges and delicate minimalism, and the Pacific Northwest has good form, with bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Bell Witch in more recent years signifying that something interesting was emerging from a landscape of damp mud. Desolation’s Flower takes some of that decaying mud, but tries to see if it can make something grow. Sometimes their simple guitar riffs can feel too plain and familiar, and mingled with the consistently doomy atmosphere, it can at times feel relentless, but equally, they take their hard-wrought innovative DIY aesthetic and refine it.

Second track ‘Woe’’s guitar bobs along on furious but nuanced drums, and ‘Ruins’ introduces a leavening delicacy to offset the bursts of howling that both discomfit and compel. ‘DTA’ introduces further delicacy, with softer, more natural vocals that persuade, coax, and entreat. It is almost retro in its conceit, playing on a 90s lo-fi scuzz, a place where “there is no return to a place before pain”, yet it pleads or asks that we “find shelter in what remains”.

‘Pain’ further explores this theme, a theme that permeates the whole record, it is a way of trying to understand all the different shapes of pain, and how to harness coping mechanisms. It is a kind of slow-burning metal torch song, which builds to a watchful heaviness. It is inventive, grungy, and pleasingly swampy, bringing in an elemental flair, a flair that brings to mind that literal landscape they seem so drawn to and influenced by: the wind, the rain – heavy weather.

‘In the Light of the Burning World’ is a sort of companion piece to ‘Pain’, and sounding like it was conceived by candlelight, it unfurls to a celestial place, and while underpinned by melancholy, it is probably the most optimistic composition on the record, a hopeful tone buried amid an ambient wash. It moves and flows, has body and warmth, and in effect creates a fluency to their language of pain, illustrating that while no-one is free from pain, we can, at times, be set free from it.