The Antimacassar Chronicles by Sandalmans Tabernacle
I’ve never had anything sent to me for review on my blog before and so I was very surprised when this cassette arrived at the end of last week from an associate in the tiny village of Soddenham in Norfolk (website here). The accompanying letter describes Sandalmans Tabernacle as a folk/doom metal band who have just recorded and are poised to self release The Antimacassar Chronicles, their debut album on limited cassette format only.
Brothers Shaun and Simon Smeckler, both on bass are joined by Malachi Twemlow on “medieval percussion and pipes” which certainly piqued my interest. I immediately threw the tape into my deck and pressed play, having spent the weekend with this album I feel I’m now in a much better place to write a more thorough review.
The album kicks off with The Quebeccian Shoehorn Equation which is ushered in by a tremendously throaty growl of rhythm bass before being joined by droning higher lead bass notes. The basses are eventually joined by the frenetic beating of nakers – a pair of small clay drums which hammer against the flow of the beat. I also became aware of chanting at around the halfway mark, guttural voices in a language or dialect unknown but heavily submerged in the mix. I wasn’t sure on first listen that this was actually present but subsequent plays suggest it’s definitely there. Rosamund’s Clerical Bypass is a short interlude featuring tuned bells and a saturated feedback drone before segueing into The Preece Cycle (rpt 14) which quickly establishes a pulsing, motorik groove of thick bass hits. The lead bass is all over this one, running roughshod over the mix in a menacing ascending/descending plunge. The tuned bells are still evident from the previous track but are joined by a snare drum which sounds more like musket fire and a tabor drum. The ten minute running time is over before you can catch your breath and jump straight into The Antimacassar Chronicle. This is an astonishingly heavy track, both basses working in unison to produce a churning, hellish miasma of infernal sound like a cross between Prurient and Wolf Eyes. Through the murk, a single pipe sounds and a snare drum tattoo beats out trying to pin the rhythm track down like a wild animal. The basses gradually swell with static and feedback into an all encompassing crescendo of eardrum bursting force until a voice bellows something half intelligible through the blackness and all dies away. Powerful and chilling stuff so far.
Side B begins with Dmitri’s Lamentation, a forlorn crumhorn sounding out over a shimmer of bass amp noise and what sounds like field recordings. Crows, sheep and the rustle of wind mingle with the buzzing electronics and the somewhat nasal sound of the crumhorn to downright eerie effect. Next track, Secret Love and Chalky Testimonials presents massive, explosive bass hits which threaten to tear holes in your speakers as higher tones linger above them like trembling wires. The tabor and flute skirt around each hit like a black hole, trying in vain to add some light to the stygian darkness without once penetrating its gloom. But there’s no lightening of mood as Powdered Regret for Bathsheba roars into being on the back of a furiously pounded lead bass chord and shuddering rhythm. The lower register bass here growls and snarls ferociously hitting you right in the solar plexus. Once again I sense some kind of ritual chanting embedded somewhere in the background before the nakers kick in and provide even more propulsion to the track. Toward the end of its nine minute duration, a recorder and tuned bells can be heard on the periphery of the mix, slowly gaining ground as the basses eventually lose momentum and the nakers are reduced to single beats. Another segue occurs into the final track Blindness Clogs Pores which winds down the recorder and bells against both basses droning and crackling with electricity. The crackling slowly becomes the sound of fire which subsumes everything then fades to silence.
This is nothing short of an incredibly forceful and grippingly tense debut album running over with ideas and wilful experimentation. It’s very heavy sounding in its use of the bass guitar as main instrumentation but the medieval flourishes are used to great effect throughout, not sounding out of place anywhere. If Sandalmans Tabernacle were aiming for a different kind of sound with such a bizarre lineup then they’ve certainly achieved that much on this album. Big recommendation if you like doom metal, drone or experimental music of any stripe. The album receives an official release on 30th June and will be available through Boomkat, Juno and a few other online retailers until sold out. There will also be T-shirts available to tie in with the album’s issue.