Once again, we are joined by Federico Bernardinelli, music enthusiast and ex-Arctic Drones writer, in taking a look at A Reason To Travel’s sophomore album. Below you will find his words on the latest record by this Danish post-rock outfit.
Ambient music holds a special place in my heart. [Blinkers Removed main editor] Robert and I met in 2016 when travelling to Dunk!festival, and one of my dearest memories from that edition comprises a live ambient set in a boiling hot tent in the middle of the afternoon. Even though it was probably both wrong time and place for such an intimate show, I don’t recall ever being more serene as during that half-hour in the middle of nowhere in Belgium. That show cemented our friendship and this review is born out of a desire to celebrate moments of bliss like this one, especially at in times like these.
In his 2014 novel Annihilation, American author Jeff VanderMeer describes a mysterious animal that haunts four expedition members with its aching howl. The creature doesn’t dwell the forests, it possesses them. Its presence is imperceptible yet looming, its grasp – though intangible – ever reaching, and its lament hounding as it is feeble. This metaphorical menace looms over the protagonist before it manifests its real self, attempting to physically overcome them. Annihilation’s message lies in the power of letting go, particularly in the power found in letting yourself go, and in losing your current ‘self’ to find your new ‘self’ on the other side. A Reason To Travel’s sophomore album Kingdom could be described as being that creature. Its power lies in how it slowly captivates even the most resistant of listeners, fully overwhelming them before leaving as unannounced as it came.
Ever since, dystopian themes have been on the rise in the arts and literature. Many authors and musicians address their concerns about contemporary society in allegorical visions of societies subject to great injustice or suffering, oftentimes with elements of science fiction or in a future setting. What Filter Theory do exceptionally well is frame these concerns not in the future but in our present time, as well as providing an apt musical statement that makes the matter at hand all the more pressing.
With their sophomore album, this solo project from Copenhagen (DK) has crafted the sonic equivalent to a quiet riot. Kingdom is menacing but kind in progression, and oppressive yet mellow in sound. An iron-fisted embrace, cold and rough on the surface but warm and fleshy on the inside, like a knight standing in full blood-stained armour, but with a heart of gold full chivalrous love. This record screams war on the outside yet it is filled with moments of courtly affection and gentle reproach.
On Kingdom, A Reason to Travel provide a skilful display of weaving atmospheric ambient noise with roaring impactful post-rock climaxes. The soundtrack to a huge storm approaching, its buildup is slow and calibrated with not a single wasted movement. At the same time it is unstoppable and all-encompassing so that by the time Kingdom ends and lets go of a lock-tight grasp, and we’re equal parts terrified and soothed.
There’s something profoundly upsetting in how quietly yet forcefully Kingdom enters your ears and starts taking control of your mind. The atmosphere seeping through these eight tracks is ghastly, ghostly and suffocating yet strangely comforting, vaguely nostalgic yet tear-jerkingly melancholic.
Opener “Coronation” sets the scene: a new king, the burden of the past rendered through the screeching and gurgling drone layers. Meanwhile ardent guitars hint to the glimmer of hope that comes with new leadership. The song’s sad crescendo however, suggests there won’t be a “happy ever after” here. It heralds an unknown yet perfectly familiar menace looming over the kingdom. The arrival of a new ruler, new but with the same flaws of the old kings. The arrogance of those who feel hand-picked by a higher being, the inescapable irony of chasing change through violence and repression, are all but evoked by names and sounds, moments of stillness and climaxes. A Reason To Travel paint a sonic canvas full of grim pictures of a medieval tale, of broken promises and of broken bones. Of severed ties and of severed heads.
Kingdom’s subtly impending advance continues through the album’s middle section. Contrary to its name, “Hubris” suggests peaceful bliss with its languid layers of strings and dreamy guitars. The addition of Buddhist bells on “Stolen Gold” creates a uniquely evocative, yet frightening experience. Meanwhile “Equinox”, the album’s most serene and placid track, placates even the most restless of knights’ souls.
“A Reason to Travel provide a skilful display of weaving atmospheric ambient noise with roaring impactful post-rock climaxes. The soundtrack to a huge storm approaching, its buildup is slow and calibrated with not a single wasted movement.”
This album is like a quiet overnight siege. By the time you wake up you find the citadel destroyed, the throne room ravished, and the kingdom gone. Overpowered, surrounded with no escape, you just give in and let it take control over you. “They Will Tell Stories About You” terrifies the listener before exploding into the quietest of climaxes. “Iron Skies”, the more drone-y moment on the record, is a warning fallen on deaf ears before “Turmoil” ends the record reminiscing of medieval warfare with its pounding drums and weeping strings. The clash of armours and shields is rendered through layers of distortion slowly engulfing the guitars, the strings, the whole track, and finally, the listener.
The quiet before a storm is this album in essence, except the storm never comes. Kingdom runs on the fear of the storm, the premise of an impending doom and the terrifying certainty of the uncertain. A Reason to Travel has skilfully mastered elements of ambient, post-rock, classical and drone to create a sound that is equal parts captivating, mesmerising and haunting, all in a very fragile balance. Like the most delicate of lacustrine ecosystems (biologists and Southern Reach aficionados will know what I’m talking about) listeners need to let the record move at its own pace to find its true meaning and merit. When the sun breaks through the thick clouds and it looks like rays of gold, then the storm was more than worth it.
On their sophomore record, A Reason to Travel gives us well… a reason to travel. A reason to get lost and find light in the darkest of places. Kingdom gives us an excuse too, to get lost and let the mind wander to corners of our subconscious we don’t often visit. Kingdom is an invitation; a ticket to another dimension, a medieval world where tragedy and serenity mix to become a thick fog that wraps everything in its cold spectral embrace. Never were both band and album name more fitting than in this case.
This album is… ****illuminating.
Kingdom was released independently on March 5, 2021. The album is available in vinyl, CD and digital formats via the A Reason To Travel Bandcamp page .