The Bell by IamthemorningRelease date: August 2, 2019
Do you believe in death, after death? Imagine your life clinging back to your embalmed skin, when you are boxed in an ornate coffin placed in the depths of the earth. Defying your mortality, your meagre hope of survival is succoured by a bell attached to your coffin to alarm any earthling. Based on this concept of the rigmarole of a so called safety coffin that prevailed in the 19th century is the newest production put out by the Chamber Progressive Rock duo Iamthemorning named The Bell.
After their last year’s studio film Oceans Sounds, shot at the tranquil corner of Giske Island, Norway, this August they bequeath the prog scene with a lavish blend of rock, classical and folk. These classically trained musicians have taken inspirations from the romantic era of structuring this album in a Franz Schubert style. The Bell, although divided into two parts is a cluster of ten discrete stories. While their 2016 album Lighthouse dwelled in the subject of mental illness, The Bell evokes that humanity has its buttons of cruelty and savagery but implores that even in the dead end of agony; one should call out for help, even if it is bleak. What is interesting about Iamthemorning is how they have the ability to exhibit their naked ideas through their uncomplicated lyrics and dramatic music which pulls you into a hangover of kaleidoscopic emotions.
Being someone who is particularly drawn to cemeteries, the artwork of this album was my first gateway to take a dive into the sonic experience. Constantine Nagishkin has vividly exhibited the Victorian aesthetics through the warm tones intricately settled on the surface of morbidity.
The first part of the album starts with a long track named ‘Freak Show’. A freak show indeed consisting of a trail of emotions entwined with a graceful melange of methodically placed folk, rock and classical bits. Marjana Semkina asserts her vocal knowledge commencing with delicate classical vocals and meandering through crescendos and diminuendos. Her articulation of words in a pleading and sometimes commanding tone grips a strong intimacy with her lyrics and speaks volumes of her story telling techniques. Gleb Kolyadin, the other sorcerer of this album steadily introduces himself to the song. A virtuoso Russian pianist who cannot be enough applauded for his uniqueness and splendid playability that has readily captured the aural senses of his audience ever since Iamthemorning came into production from the year 2012. To add a flavour of rawness, a short flamenco style clapping is added which acts like a bridge to the other half of the song. Vlad Avy who has also taken mixing and mastering duties for this album plays a solo aptly composed to add to the environment. The eeriest and most emotional part of the song is when you hear one of your childhood rhymes. The unfathomable start with all its sweetness takes the rhyme into a hellish turn. “Ring around a rosies…and we all fall down”. Marjana and Kolyadin here literally pull you down six feet under the earth but however Dmitry Tsepilov kind of salvages your vulnerability with his saxophone. Ever since Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty this woodwind instrument has been used in various rock songs adding classical flavours, and it is no surprise that it punctuates many parts of an album composed by two classical music enthusiasts.
‘Sleeping Beauty’ is the next track on the first part of this album which widely uses the instrument Marimba. The artful playing by Grigory Osipov does not overpower the underlying sadism in the song. Probably based on the concept of a certain safety coffin victim named Robert Robinson, the theory of Snow White entrapped perpetually, or as Marjana would prefer that her audience infer it for themselves. A tiny bit of the song is captured by Vlad Avy, who exudes subtleness with his guitar. The eventuality of this serenity in agony is maintained with the finesse of Gleb Kolyadin and the vibratos of Marjana.
Also released in the Ocean Sounds live studio album is the third track ‘Blue Sea’. Unlike the other songs, this song boasts of only an acoustic guitar and the piano. Kolyadin makes comfortable room for his audience to hear a charming interlude before Marjana picks up on the 16th bar. This May on YouTube, Kscope released the live studio version of this track which was recorded at Ocean Sounds studio, Norway. When I had heard this song on YouTube, it had reminded me of Lilya’s final moments from the movie Leviathan. However based on the conceptualization of this album when I hear it again, this song heavily connected me to Dumas’ Le Comte de Monte-Cristo. How the protagonist Dantès had his own version of a safety bell to seek redemption!
In this era of plentiful banks of insane music softwares, this prog rock duo validates that the success of a song can be attained even with the most simplistic approach.
‘Black and Blue’ distinguishes itself from the other three songs with soothing harmony lines that have been concocted beautifully by Marjana. The acoustic guitar, the piano and the bell punctuating the song augments the depth of its atmospheric experience. In the end of the composition with the lingering sound of the rain and the bell, you feel suspended in disbelief of the human emotion. Emotionally this song is very relatable for those who fight within in the toxicity of a relationship.
There is no doubt of how Marjana Semkina has an affinity for Victorian history. The hippie like Russian beauty oozes of it amply in her appearance and her ideas. ‘Six feet’, like for Marjana, also happens to be my favourite track in the album. This song that divides into two sections is loosely based on the tragic 19th century history of the end of the cataclysmic romance between the artists Elizabeth Sidal and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Depicted as more of an inharmonious relationship between a man and a woman, lyrically this song reveals two perspectives. One, where the man succumbs to his vileness and feels emancipated on burying his woman alive. The second speaks from the tongue of a woman who realizes that death has met her fate and highlights her acceptance of this eventuality. Gleb Kolyadin manifests an intrinsic compositional prowess with his beautiful architecture of this song. He orchestrates extensive sections of violin, double bass and harps intertwining the musicality with Marjana’s stimulating lyrics.
The second part of the album commences with the track ‘Ghost of a Story’. The live chamber recording version of this song was released on Kscope channel in YouTube this June which only had piano. However in the studio version of this song, Kolyadin’s adroit playing methodology has been carefully knotted with mild string sections. Played by the St.Petersburg Orchestra with amazing dexterity the strings add to the gravity and heighten ones fondness for the album.
Marjana writes the ‘Song Of Psyche’ with a twist of her unconventional approach to happy endings. Based on the Roman novel Metamorphoses, an animated video available on YouTube narrates Marjana’s version. Psyche is confined in the underworld perpetually for having opened a box with a malevolent curse of eternal sleep. This song absorbs very minimal classical elements. To compensate this Vlad Avy accentuates the mood with his guitar and the mesmerizing harmonies outlined, add a warmer texture to this story-telling.
The positive of this album is that it doesn’t take you on a ride of monotony. Quite contrary to the last track is the next track which is a treat for classical music aficionados. Gleb Kolyadin’s deluge of love for his piano wholly floods this track named ‘Lilies’. From the alpha to the omega of the song Gleb Kolyadin displays his adeptness with his prodigal playing techniques that places him at par with pianists like Marc-André Hamelin. Marjana on the other hand holds on to prog listeners with her bewitching vocals, unhindering the recital of her partner.
The second last song ‘Salute’ is one of the lengthy tracks in the album which is honestly my least favourite. The song rents a theatrical air with a facade of playfulness but an underlying meaning of spite as is emoted in the lyrics. Although it doesn’t fit to my taste, what is notable is how this track has calculated sections of myriad instruments like the marimba, the accordion, the double bass, the saxophone and also the trumpet played by Ilya Leontyev.
The Bell concludes with the track named after the album – ‘The Bell’. After the hullabaloo of the preceding track the delicate notes of the piano and the prettiness of Marjana’s voice engulfs you back to the reality of how rewarding this album is. You should not miss owning this! The song revolves around the idea of the beautiful tragedy of death and the logical realization of mortality for a dying soul. Gleb Kolyadin and Marjana Semkina deftly wrap this album throwing its audience into a plethora of thoughts which has always been their style – evocative and thought-provoking.
The Bell flaunts how the duo can challenge themselves and mature musically with every new album. Although Marjana concedes that this is not yet their masterpiece, for their ardent followers this is definitely by far the best production from these PROG award winners.