Red Goddess (Of This Men Shall Know Nothing) by Hawthonn

Release date: March 23, 2018
Label: Ba Da Bing Records

The elemental sounds of Hawthonn, Leeds-based duo Layla Legard and Phil Legard, are very hard to categorise. The music is experimental, contemplative, mystical, ethereal and moving. You gotta hear it to understand that statement, but to really get their music I suspect you have to be standing on a windswept hillside, staring at some timeless part of the English landscape such as the Cumbrian Mountains. From the creepy organ of ‘Misandrist’ to the deep drone of ‘Eden’, Hawthonn’s music draws on historical references to witchcraft, folklore and Romantic poetry. The musicians have taken in their surroundings, using as they have found sounds such as recordings of the acoustics of an abandoned cooling tower that feature on the first track, ‘In Mighty Revelation’, to the birdsong and oystercatchers on final song ‘Dream Fugue’.

I can’t go much further without mentioning that there’s a strong sonic link with Dead Can Dance. Layla’s voice has echoes of Lisa Gerrard’s, and the use of booming drums, drone and other ethereal sounds, the source of which are beyond the ken of this reviewer, mean that the spirit of DCD is strong here. But just as Dead Can Dance could never be held down to a particular sound – only a ‘feel’ – so the same is true of Hawthonn. The strongest similarity between the two bands is perhaps with the ambience and scope of the soundscapes that are created, conjuring a mystical and atmospheric universe for the listener.

The album opens with brooding ambience, without a single note being played for a couple of minutes. The indistinct sound of Layla’s voice is merged with ambient recordings (is that sheep?), and an ethereal drone that evolves into a sung line that repeats the song title over and over. It’s a mysterious start to an album that doesn’t get much less mysterious as it continues.

The dark and haunting piano melody that begins ‘Misandrist’, underpinned by a gloomy organ, creates a dark tone that continues. Found recordings are merged to make for a unsettling listen that gone on right into track three, ‘Lady Of The Flood’. There are far-off snatches of voice, deep drones, occasional other sounds that make for a truly minimal and experimental recording. The deep, almost tribal drumming, underlying drone and scratchy, distorted violin of ‘Eden’ bring Dead Can Dance strongly to mind, with Layla’s wistful vocals holding it together. Closer ‘Dream Fugue’ features bird song and plucked strings in a repeating and dreamy drone that hints at darkness within. It’s not a difficult listen at all – there’s a lot of melody to be found in all of the tracks.

There is darkness in this album, plus a strong connection with the English landscape and folklore, and a complete willingness to experiment on the part of the musicians. This has all gone into creating a truly unique result that is a interesting as it is listenable. Fans of DCD will certainly get their fix here (I know I did), but anyone with an interest in truly experimental and avant garde music will find plenty to love in the Red Goddess.

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