Ceremony in the Stillness by A-Sun AmissaRelease date: September 14, 2018
Label: Gizeh Records / Consouling Sounds
A-Sun Amissa’s fourth album starts with a statement of intent. Guitars and heavier post-rock elements underpin this album, which marks something of a departure from previous outings. Whereas earlier releases (2012’s Desperate in Her Heavy Sleep and 2013’s You Stood Up For Victory, We Stood Up For Less) were heavy on the droning ambience, and 2017’s The Gatherer struck out in a more experimental, occasionally electronic direction, Ceremony in the Stillness takes more from the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, channelled through a melancholic lens. There’s a very positive (in a sense) vibe of deliberate guitar work that builds with each track, especially in opener ‘The Black Path’. A-Sun Amissa is the project of Richard Knox (founder of Gizeh Records), and he works with collaborators to bring each album to fruition.
‘The Black Path’ sets the emotional tone for the album: introspection, a tinge of loneliness, slight unease perhaps, often desolation. The chiming, melancholic riff remains a constant throughout the track, not building a crescendo in the traditional post-rock sense but forcing the emotion with periodic changes in key. There are noises off: screeching cello strings and swirls of ambience. There are drums for the first time, too, which marks a departure from a drifting, orchestral structure on previous LPs to being more rock/song-based, especially with the almost militaristic drumbeat on ‘No Perception of Light’ that carries the track along.
Where ‘The Black Path’ sets out the album’s approach, this first track is the most ‘rocky’ of them all, and lets the remainder of the album unfurl in a less direct way. An album of rousing post-rock thumpers this is not. There’s a refined elegance to the pacing, with the immediacy of the first track giving way to songs that encourage you to take your time to get to know them. And my goodness does it have depth.
To me, ‘With Wearied Eyes’ shares the greatest affinity with Godspeed circa F#A#∞, with its picked guitar melody surrounded by swirling strings. ‘To the Ashes’ features a stirring guitar refrain, less dour than ‘The Black Path’, which starts out cautiously, picking its way through the melody. It builds as the track continues, playing bittersweet all the while, to a hugely uplifting and emotional finale.
The stirring ‘The Skulk’ uses Jo Quail’s cello to great effect, which is much higher in the mix than before. The piece builds throughout, from rumbling beginnings to a clearer, lighter conclusion. Partway through the other instruments pause to make space for a gorgeous deep cello refrain that tugs on the heartstrings.
The musical thread that runs through Ceremony is use of guitars to develop the introspective theme, a common sound. The combination of picked melodies and a particularly wistful, almost sorrowful guitar tone, add to this, as does the other instrumentation that creates the surrounding ambience. This carries the whole record, and makes for a coherent theme and approach.
I love the new direction taken by A-Sun Amissa on this album. Much as I liked previous releases, to me they always felt a little aimless at times. I’m certain that’s got a lot more to do with my bias towards rock music that any fault of the band’s. Just a personal preference in terms of structure. Ceremony has a firmer purpose. The otherworldly atmosphere is introspective, and it doesn’t often the uplifting vibe that you get with so much instrumental post-rock music. But crucially it holds the interest throughout because it is a very well-crafted album of deeply intelligent guitar music. Ceremony in the Stillness will keep on giving long after the first few listens.