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Weeping for the day before - 95%

triggerhappy, October 15th, 2014

Things come and things go. maudlin of the Well, the avant-garde collective helmed by the visionary Toby Driver, is no exception, releasing three albums in five years before rebranding themselves as Kayo Dot. The move would have been inexplicable, and almost unnecessary - a quick glance at the personnel involved on their 2003 debut, Choirs of the Eye, reveals that the lineup of maudlin of the Well is still mostly intact - if not for the fact that the band have completely redefined their sound.

The album's release on John Zorn's illustrious Tzadik Records - its instantly recognisable cover art format synonymous with outsider, left field recordings - should provide a hint as to what Driver and co. have in store: a cacophonous rumble graces the introduction of Marathon, but as suddenly as it began, it fades away, with trumpets, guitars, distorted whispers (and eventually, even a clarinet) left in its wake. Though this sheer abruptness is certainly disorienting, another raucous moment soon rears its ugly head, this time accompanied by deathlike roars and gibberish chants. At the five minute mark the band even settles into a trippy improvisation with ambient Rhodes piano, reverbed guitar drones and quiet, distorted drums, along with some fairly incomprehensible poetry. This is followed by A Pitcher of Summer, which has earnest falsettos set against dreamy guitars, making for a very delicate atmosphere. However, its second half features a monstrous crescendo that terminates itself without warning. Despite being the shortest track on the album, its oblique, almost haphazard nature can be quite alienating.

On the other hand, The Manifold Curiosity, which blends elements of the gentler side of maudlin of the Well with an air of unpredictability, is, without a doubt, the song that will best appeal to newer listeners of the band. Serene strumming develops nonchalantly into a remarkable duet of flute and sax, both by the talented Terran Olson. Violinist Mia Matsumiya makes her first appearance on the record, her string contributions adding a new dimension to the group's already multi-faceted sound. As one might come to expect, the song has a fervent climax, with pulsating bass, screeching guitar leads, deafening chords and piercing cries, but even in the track's final forty seconds, the band go from tumultuous black metal blasting right into blundering, gigantic chords. A breather is very much in order, and thankfully, Wayfarer does just that, featuring more falsettos from Driver alongside placid, watery acoustics. Despite a particularly unnerving performance from Matsumiya, it's easily the calmest piece on the record. And while The Antique is basically the band's warped take on sludge metal, it's also the most expertly orchestrated track out of the five. Its contorted drone swells to a massive volume over the course of eight minutes, before the band pulls out all the stops - an ominous arpeggio loops until it seemingly collapses under its own weight to yield a gothic union of piano, sax, muted trumpet, synth and muffled crooning; definitely a mesmerising end to the record.

While the band would go on to pursue even weirder undertakings (the freakout jams of Blue Lambency Downward or the spine-chilling Coyote come to mind), Choirs of the Eye isn't exactly accessible either. Its staunchly drone-oriented nature actually makes it one of the least immediate albums Kayo Dot have ever put out (and that's saying something), so those seeking something a tad more gratifying should probably look elsewhere. Things come and things go, but Choirs of the Eye is a shining example of avant-garde metal that has stood the test of time.