There's something deliciously miserable about Dublin weather that stretches from the end of January to the early flecks of spring, with the pre-summer season not usually making its presence known until the end of April. The skies are grey and morbid, the rain feels heavy and overarching, the ground is muddy and the air has a prevailing chill. You get used to it, you adjust to willing the months to rush into one another so you only need to acknowledge the memories of summer and winter. There's an argument to be had about what impact this has on the Irish psyche, and perhaps how it's savoured by writers, artists and creatives around the island.
Forsaken, the first album from Irish three-piece Hail The Ghost, captures this sombre feeling with stunning clarity. The weighty emotion of the brooding music and baritone husk of front man Kieran O'Reilly's voice has earned the band many comparisons to The National, and as O'Reilly dourly asserts "there's a feeling of guilt in me" on the astounding "Gabriel" while Ian Corr's lilting piano backing fills the air, it's not hard to see why.
There's a despondence that surrounds you when Forsaken is being played, and it's oddly delightful. The album is gripped with uncertainty and escapism. On "Nostalgia" the lyrics take a pensive turn ("He's at peace/He's drowning in nostalgia"), while "Ink & Blood" is festooned in emotive piano keys and Eamonn Young's twinkling guitar strums as O'Reilly instructs "Step down from/That bridge that you stand on". In amongst the desire to fall through a trap door ("White Heart") and general melancholy, the music is delivered with an almost tangible sense of self-assuredness that suspends this album beyond a foreboding collection of songs.
When it's revealed on "Low Lying Fog" that someone is "Convinced you're the hunted/Not the hunter/You're the victim/Never has anything been so absurd", it seems to come full circle - is the main protagonist talking about himself? Maybe we've all been relating to the hunter all along. As the propulsive drumming ceases and the guitar thrills die down, it seems we'll never know. Marking a slight break in the sombre tone of the album, we see a different side of Hail The Ghost on "Lazise". Opening with the sound of a clock ticking that slowly goes unnoticed and disappears, times gradually ceases to exist as O'Reilly sings "We'll sit here intertwined/Spend my days in your eyes". It seems peaceful and resolute. Maybe everything's not so bad after all.
There are clanging guitars, mournful strings and acoustic strains throughout Forsaken, and at times you expect to hear the opening bars of The National's "Fake Empire". It has a sound that encompasses the most lethargic yet inspiring time of the year in Ireland, which creates a homely familiarity for this writer. The weather may be abysmal, but this just might be the record that gets you through.
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