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Constants: If Tomorrow the War

img  Tobias Fischer

Throughout the six years of their existence, Constants have never opted for the easy route. In an unlikely twist of fate, that philosophy, combined with a remorseless willingness to spend life on the road, has turned out to be their key to success: After a noisy debut album, the band exorcised their personal demons on the colossally ambitious The Foundation, The Machine, The Ascension, which saw them carve out occasionally confounding progressive structures and complex concepts from a scintillating wall of burning guitars. The massive work, stretching across six sides of vinyl and spawning an all but impenetrable world of spiky melodies and pure energy, would prove to be their breakthrough. Rather than feeling intimidated by the record's dimensions, listeners found solace in the instable equilibrium between the instrumental aggression and the intimacy of Will Benoit's vocals, which displayed an emotional fragility and nakedness seemingly at odds with the tempest raging around it. The programmatic story of spiritual elevation binding the tracks together had an air of classical drama to it: Like the protagonist of a Greek tragedy, Benoit mirrored the audience's fears and frustrations, their struggle against the seemingly insurmountable forces of the outside world.

If Tomorrow the War now initially appears to backtrack on their uncompromising stance: Clocking in at a lean 37 minutes, the album is marked by poignantly short songs rather than the long and immersive noise-rock-streams of its predecessor. Benoit's vocals have been mixed to the front, resulting in a temporary truce with the rest of the band. And compared to the shamanic monochromaticism of The Foundation, Justin K Broadrick's detailed production has awarded the album with a fresh set of colours and techniques, infusing it with a gentle touch of Electronica as well as more pronounced stylistic contrasts between tracks. Rather than constructing a narrative arch, gradually building up the tension and keeping it simmering, the trio are ripping through the corridors of their mind at breakneck-speed, hallucinating their way forward on the strength of intuition and instinct. After living with the paradoxes of their approach as well as facing the problem of hardly being able to play more than three to four songs per gig due to time limitations, practical reasons may, for once, have been at the heart of this change and one can literally sense the release that operating within the clearly delineated structures of the new album has awarded them.

And yet, just as first looks can be deceiving, so can first listens. Just like The Foundation needed a couple of spins before revealing the beauty and naked sensitivity hidden underneath its ragged exterior, If Tomorrow the War equally demands several listens before one is able to truly appreciate the intricately intertwined qualities of its concept, the fluency of the arrangements and the explorative qualities of its songwriting. Once you've attuned yourself, however, a suspenseful dualism is again opening up, this time between the band's fascination for Metal and their penchant for blending the aggressive and the tender. Hiding underneath the muscular guitar operations are tender keyboard harmonies, while Benoit's voice is spliced, cut, sampled and transformed into rhythmical patterns or sustained tones, turning into an instrument in its own right. Studio guests Andrew Neufeld of underground-heroes Comeback Kid and Tombs-frontman Mike Hill (courtesy of legendary extreme Metal label Relapse) wrap their blood-stained vocal chords around the double-bass-mayhem of „The Sun, The Earth“ and „Spiders in White“ respectively, the latter of which opens with a deceptively playful melodic sequence and an almost ballad-like verse, before literally exploding into a both brutal and anthemic chorus.

Although most of the pieces work with immediately striking and accessible themes, long and important stretches are, again, entirely instrumental. Even on some of the more voluble cuts, words are rarely at the centre of attention, as  tracks such as „In Dreams“ loop themselves into a trance on the strength of extended, mantra-like riff-orgies. When they are in the limelight, meanwhile, Benoit's vocals are surfacing from the deep, serving as carriers of metaphorical lyrics, acting as silent counterpoints to the music. On „A Quiet Edifice“, they speak of the desire to leave everything behind and go back to the beginning: „A prospect to be born again I dream/ Baptised in Uncertainty/ Drown in Oceans/ And Bury that Part of me/ Blessed in an Edifice/ Here we echo but don't hear a Sound/ One night in a City of Light/ A binding Genesis has been found.“ „Your daughter's eyes“, on the other hand, is of a more personal quality, a biting self-accusation stained in acerbic thoughts expressed in threats, questions and sudden moments of enlightenment: „Tonight I saw your face in the eyes of your daughter“.

On future-themed closer „The three stigmata of Palmer Eldritch“, at six and a half minutes by far the most extensive cut here, instead of continuing the brutal and overwhelming tour de force initiated in the opening minutes, the music suddenly crashes into a warm sheet of synthesizer-strings in a moment of infinite calm and tranquility before culminating in a coda of percussion-propelled ecstasy. That seems an apt metaphor for If Tomorrow the War. Rather than looking for the easy route, Constants have again chosen to widen their horizon. Judging by the effectiveness of their approach, it should again serve them well.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Constants
Homepage: Science of Silence Records

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