It is quite difficult to define what Barren Harvest is offering in Subtle Cruelties. The duet of Jessica Way of Worm Ouroboros and Lenny Smith of Atriarch and Trees has found an intriguing way to present a neo folk album. But, it seems like there is always something underlying the initial folky sound of the album with its majestic melancholic tones and saddening ambiance.
“The Bleeding” takes things off in the most suitable way, as the intriguing melodies take over and the tense atmosphere settles in there is no return from the domain of Barren Harvest. It is quite mesmerizing, finding yourself lost within the amazing synth sounds of Smith and the autoharp of Way. And the diversity of the sounds that they manage to produce is quite insane to be frank, ranging from haunting to mournful, and everything that can exist in between the two.
There are times that the duet is just set on crushing your mood, reducing you to ashes with their sorrowful moments. The opening track is an example of this side of the band, as is “Memoriam II” (which contains parts of Tennyson’s poem, “In Memoriam A.H.H.)”, with its amazing vocal effects and fascinating synth sounds creating an otherworldly experience. Still the most powerful and moving moment of the album would have to be “Heavens Age,” with Smith’s and Way’s voices combining in a fantastic way offering an intense contrast, lifting the whole experience.
And then there are moments when the mood changes, taking on a more mystical approach. “Claw and Feather,” with its ritualistic vibe, offers an escape from reality, while the transcendent beginning of “Coil Uncoil” gives way to a more aggressive acoustic guitar outbreak with Smith taking the lead on the vocals and Way coming in later to lift the whole performance to a whole other level. On the other hand, there are instances when Barren Harvest retreat to their most primal and twisted self, taking you by complete surprise. “Memoriam VI” finds the duet floating on top of a sea of sonic dissonance, produced by the synths. Smith’s voice is relentless there, while Way’s ghostly whispers raise the unearthly vibe of the record to another level.
“Reveal” finishes things off, with its ten minutes passing by in what feels to be just a few seconds. The way the band places its melodies and vocals is unbelievable, making you feel like seeing colors dancing before your eyes. As you move deeper and deeper within what is the core of Barren Harvest, you begin to understand the true nature of their dark neo-folk and of this surreal experience.
Subtle Cruelties is an experience you need to undergo. There is no other way to put, this is an album you should not miss out on. My only worry is that Way and Smith might be too busy with their other bands that it might take a while to come back with a follow up full-length. At least I can always listen to Subtle Cruelties again, no complain there.
9.0 / 10
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