In this time of enforced social distancing, Sojourner are truly a band of our times. Boasting members from New Zealand, Great Britain, Sweden and Italy, they recorded at a variety of global locations around the world. The final mastering in Norway only adds to the xenophilic pollination of the album. It’s a marvel of our age that they produced a record at all with such disparate locations and time zones separating them.
Having already produced two competent, folk-tinged blackened metal albums with Empires of Ash and The Shadowed Road, we’re now expecting the band to take the next step forward having signed to Napalm Records. The previous two efforts showed promise, and a progression in quality is evident when you revisit them in 2020. But they didn’t quite have the “wow” factor to set themselves apart from their atmospheric metal contemporaries.
On this effort, ‘The Monolith’ sets the mood for the record with a piano refrain and strings before Chloe Bray drifts over the landscape, sounding very much like Amy Lee of Evanescence. Tin whistles and tremolo-picked riffs enter the fray and the blackened rasps of Emilio Crespo join the mix in a grandiose opening. It’s highly reminiscent of Saor, but still maintains an individual identity. As a composition, it conjures imagery of birds of prey soaring over the Highlands and weaves a stunning line between brutality and emotion.
Elsewhere, ‘Fatal Frame’ starts like ‘Windfall’ by Dead Can Dance before leading into a blackened death assault, à la Dissection. Chloe Bray has her chance to shine on ‘Talas’, which builds the track around a plaintive piano lead and her heart wrenching cleans. The calm dissolves near the end with harsh vocals and guitars before the piano melody resumes. Every band member plays a pivotal role in the Sojourner sound and the standard of song-writing throughout is high.
The only slight misstep is the forced melodic vocal lines in ‘Atonement’. This is a prime example of the band writing the music first and adding the lyrics at a later stage. In this case, the vocals appear clunky and fail to reach the ethereal heights of the other songs. On a personal note, the writer would like to see more interplay with the harsh and clean vocals. Album highlight, ‘The Apocalyptic Theatre’, is a good illustration of the ‘beauty and the beast’ vocals in unison. It comes across like vintage Theatre of Tragedy or later period Draconian and is a clear standout track.
There’s no doubt Sojourner excel themselves on this release. It’s a mature evolution of sound and trumps their previous efforts. Chloe Bray’s cleans are even more prominent on this record and the band are all the better for it. And with a voice like hers, the swathes of emotion and longing cut through the bleak and blackened atmosphere like Moses parting the Red Sea.
We should be excited at what the future holds for album number four if they’re as accomplished as this on just their third release. For now, Sojourner are forging their own path in atmospheric blackened metal and we’re all the richer for it.
Release Date: 15/05/2020
Record Label: Napalm Records
Standout tracks: The Apocalyptic Theatre, The Monolith, Talas
Suggested Further Listening: Saor – Guardians (2012), Tristania – Widow’s Weeds (1998), Eldamar – The Force of the Ancient Land (2016)