Ropes Inside a Hole (RIAH) presented their debut album in 2019 and followed it with a split record in 2020 with Postvorta. The two years since were some of the most tumultuous of the twenty-first century, but it did not stop the Italian band assembling a revamped line-up with Swede, Daniel Loefgren, taking the microphone for a cross-country collaboration. Their immersion in the worlds of post-rock and experimental metal continues on A Man and His Nature, and the forty-five minutes of introspection will do nothing to make you see value in leaving the lonely comforts of your house for the world outside. This is an audio experience designed to meditate on the meaning of solitude and the melancholy nature of man as an isolated creature.
You won’t find any major chords or scales on this record. RIAH make it clear on album opener, ‘Distance’, that they want to sweep you up in their pensive mood and sombre outlook. Foreboding guitar notes echo at the beginning like pessimistic SOS signals. A slow-moving cello haunts the background ambience. Bass and drums enter after two minutes without you noticing. As each layer builds, you begin to sense a Mogwai vibe, especially in Loefgren’s multi-harmony ruminations. These purr with a warm lullaby flavour, like Sigur Rós, but they cannot conceal the sadness underlying each word. When the distorted guitars erupt at 05:30 seconds, it feels like they structured the entire song to lead to this moment. Only the absence of screaming vocals keeps it bubbling below the post-metal benchmark for aggression.
The aim is to build tension and anxiety. For evidence of this, listen to ‘Others are Gone. I Don’t Care’ and ‘Loss and Grief’. Haunting clean guitar arpeggios are no surprise in this type of music but both throb with an ethereal quality despite the weight of the amp gain. The former resets to a campfire delicacy of nylon guitar strings when you think it will erupt; the latter sees the bass guitar pick through the gaps of the drums with expressive ease. It’s like a darker and heavier version of Mercury Rev. You’re not prepared for the brooding saxophone and guitar interplay of ‘Feet in the Swamp, Gaze to the Sky’. The song title suggests it will be a miserable affair, but the suave sophistication of the brass, and the needle drop effects at the beginning showcase a band who agonise over the perfection of their musical mix as much as the existential burdens of life. Guitars resonate like windchimes over swampy basslines. Robert Smith of The Cure would find much to like here.
With three of the six songs clocking in as instrumentals, you might think RIAH have little to say. Yet their music is cerebral, and the emotions they convey are strong enough to do the talking. ‘Overwhelmed’ is the closest they come to unleashing a vicious bite of atonal doom metal. You might be caught off guard by its frantic intro. Only on ‘Time to Sleep’ do they find a modicum of light among the bleak landscapes, and it might be the one song that suffers as a result. Daniel Loefgren’s voice is warmer and more radiant, almost as if he wants to crown the album with the equivalent of Radiohead’s underwhelming hit single, ‘High and Dry’. Phantom mellotrons shine through the cloudy textures when you start to ponder them. It feels too fluffy, like a bedroom lullaby, until the drummer takes the song in a darker turn, and the guitars and bass ramp up their settings. Then you can overlook the false optimism and take comfort in the maudlin angst.
January is a fitting month to release A Man and His Nature if you live in a northern European country. The bite of the frost and the dreary dark days, where sunlight seldom appears, give you no incentive to venture outside. You ruminate and overthink things and ponder the question of solitude. This is a record that can start the process of understanding the sombre core of your being.
Release Date: 10/01/2023
Record Label: Voice of the Unheard/Shove Records
Standout tracks: Distance; Feet in the Swamp, Gaze to the Sky; Overwhelmed
Suggested Further Listening: Lotus Thrones – Lovers in Wartime (2021), Phal:Angst – Whiteout (2023), Grey Aura – Zwart Vierkant (2021)