Cold Transmission Music – 6th August 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Sometimes, an album grabs you in just a matter of bars: The Cold Field’s Hollows is one of those rare records. Instinctively, the swathes of glacial synth draped over insistent, crisp and dominant drumming and paired with brittle, fractal guitars are pure Disintegration. So then it all cam down to the question of the vocals: would they spoil it? It’s a common thing, especially with goth bands. Musically, it’s on-point, but then there’s some bozo who can’t carry a tune in a bucket comes on like a cross between a baritone Morrissey and Kermit and ruins it. Not so here: Cold Field’s vocals are low in the mix and heavily processed, adding to the atmosphere and the mood, and it’s more Seventeen Seconds in terms of mix and it works so well.

As the press release details, ‘Conceived when hospitalized, songwriter and producer Ian Messenger wrote and produced a prolific forty-odd dark-minded songs the following year, of which ten were chosen for Hollows… Depressive themes of gloom and emptiness pervade the album but there is also a triumph against the darkness, a fist-waving into the void, and intimacy along with detachment.’

Drum machines and reverb are, I’ve found, the most precise routes to articulating darkness and detachment. It’s all in the way the drum machine strips away the human heart from the sound and the process, and reverb creates distance and separation. While most rock / metal-leaning genres shun drum machines (with notable exceptions including Big Black, Metal Urbain, Pitch Shifter and Godflesh, who harnessed the potential for immense power and relentless drive through sequenced beats), goth has embraced and run with it thanks largely to the way The Sisters of Mercy and The March Violets really took a grasp on how a tight bass welded to a mechanical rhythm has an effect that’s more or less hardwired. You don’t choose to dig this – it hooks you and becomes your life.

Hollows is faultless not only in its absorption and assimilation, but in its quality of songcrafting and performance.

‘Endless Ending’ ratchets up the mechanized bleakness, a full-on gonzoid goth groove, the guitars and synths blur together in an FX-laden wash while the bass drives hard against that non-stop, full-free rhythm that just thumps away hard. ‘Beauty—Expired’ is a bleak barnstormer, melding The Jesus and Mary Chain’s overloading guitars with the rockist tendencies of James Ray’s Gangwar with the psychedelia of A Place to Bury Strangers.

‘You Walk Away’ is more overtly electro, more New Order, but then again, with the heavy twang of a reverby guitar and blank monotone vocal, it’s Movement that it references above anything else, meaning it’s stark, bleak, and strangely affecting. It’s perhaps hard to explain without some sort of context or background, or a priori knowledge. You’re either in the headspace, or you’re not, but if you are, the you’ll know. And this speaks to that space, whether it’s comfortable or not.

The final track, ‘Into the Light’ stands out for its buoyancy, and the nagging guitar break again leans heavily on New Order – specifically ‘Ceremony’. But when executed with such panache, there’s no way to criticise this or any aspect of Hollows. It may be 2021, but this is an album that belongs to the early 80s. and in its mood, its atmosphere, its production, Hollows absolutely nails it.

AA

462100

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