While embroiled in the 53 minutes of Rwake’s new album, Rest, you feel every second of the four and a half years it’s been since Voices of Omens came out in February 2007. That record was Rwake’s Relapse Records debut, and in some ways, the new Rest is a direct sequel. It once again pairs the Little Rock, Arkansas, five-piece with producer/engineer Sanford Parker and finds them imbuing their sludge with atmospheric sprawl, but where Rest surpasses Voices of Omens (not an easy task) is in the level of growth displayed. On the four extended cuts (plus two interludes) of Rwake’s latest, the band show a mastery of their form and style that couldn’t come from anything but a mature outfit. The music is heavy both in tone and introspection, and Rest benefits greatly from the interplay between vocalists CT and Brittany Fugate, the latter who also contributes samples and noise, but the fact that’s most readily apparent is that four years ago, Rwake simply wasn’t here yet, and they’re here now.
In light of CT having helmed the documentary film Slow Southern Steel, it’s hard not to read Rest in terms of its place in the lineage of Southern American sludge, and in that regard, it builds on the directives of the genre – at times it is painfully slow – but shies away neither from exploration nor melody in the guitar work of Kiffin Rogers and Kris “Gravy” Graves. Rounded out by Jeff Morgan’s drums and Nachtmystium contributor Reid Raley‘s bass (John Judkins has also recently toured with the band in the role), Rwake don’t entirely transcend rudimentary sludge’s punk-based aggression – they’re not trying to – but in terms of where these songs go, it’s clear the band are reaching for something more complex. They get it almost instantly, the acoustic guitar and melodic vocals from Fugate in the intro “Souls of the Sky” giving way after 1:27 to the near-12-minute ultra-downer “It was Beautiful but Now it’s Sour.” The opener, like the later “Ti Progetto,” being geared more toward atmosphere and establishing a context for what’s coming, Rest truly gets underway with the second cut, a lumbering pace set by Morgan’s snare and topped with one of the album’s several excellent guitar leads. CT’s first vocals, interestingly, are backwards. It’s a tactic Rwake use toward the end of the song as well, but his gruff shouts are soon turned forward and paired with Fugate’s animalistic black metal snarl. But 3:20 into the total 11:45, Rwake’s expanse is beginning to lay itself out. CT and Fugate synchronize and the effect is engrossing.
Like much of Rest, “It was Beautiful but Now it’s Sour” follows a linear structure, but though there are moments where it feels like their build will just keep going without payoff, Rwake never lose sight of the song they’re writing. I’d argue that the ambient/acoustic break that comes into “It was Beautiful but Now it’s Sour” – one of CT’s most Neurosis-esque moments in terms of delivery – undercuts the apex the prior movement was leading toward, but it doesn’t feel like Rwake are making a misstep in their craft as much as making their listeners sweat out the track’s peak. Instead, melodic guitar lines space out patiently before a crashing avalanche of a riff takes hold and, eventually Morgan introduces a quicker tempo with drum fills while Fugate screams deep in the mix, nonetheless stepping back as CT helms the drama of the final minute. There’s a lot happening right away, and though shorter at nine minutes, “An Invisible Thread” doesn’t let up, beginning faster with electric and acoustic (I think) guitars paired in Mastodonian tradition for a quicker riff as CT and Fugate once again line up as well. Much of Rest’s success is based around the two pairings – Rogers and Graves and CT and Fugate (with the Raley‘s bass and Morgan’s drumming for ground) – and all are working excellently on “An Invisible Thread.” The song doesn’t have the same kind of outward movement as “It was Beautiful but Now it’s Sour,” but the intensity of the first half finds release in the slow riffing and Slayeresque lead-line/ride cymbal interplay that mounts the second. It’s horrific in how huge it sounds, but here too Rwake are in control, and the rumbling noise with which the song ends is suitable aftermath for the low-end apocalypse the song preceding has wrought.
The album finds its centerpiece in “The Culling,” a 16-minute beast that seeks to meld the intensity of “An Invisible Thread” with the experimental edge Rwake brought to “It was Beautiful but Now it’s Sour,” launching its quest with a sample of Arch Oboler beginning a Lights Out radio show with the signature, “It… is… later… than… you… think…” The ominous implications are made all the more visceral by the radio fizzle and tolling bell behind, but Rwake have a while to go before they show just how late it is. For its first six minutes, “The Culling” gradually develops a build that starts on guitar and slowly grows to encompass noise, the other guitar, bass and drums before CT and Fugate kick in on vocals following the heavier guitars at 6:52. The lull in the song’s opening could almost have been its own track, but the hypnotic aspects of the first movement get brutal counterpoint in what follows, Morgan giving a performance on drums that’s not just versatile but fluid and tailored complement to the song’s high point – which as righteous and dominating as CT and Fugate’s vocals are – comes with the guitar solos that swirl into the mix starting at 11:16. It’s an oddly classic metal move to have these leads as the crowning section of the song and, by extension, the album, but Rogers and Graves make it work completely, settling eventually into the agonizingly paced finale, which finds CT shouting into an echoing abyss and Fugate at her most vicious. “The Culling” epitomizes the achievement Rwake have made with Rest, and in that way is the highlight, but the whole record shimmers with a sense of morose grandeur.
Rwake allow listeners to comprehend that feeling with the minute-long interlude “Ti Progetto,” which features a gospel-esque reading from Arthur C. Clarke’s foreword to 2001: A Space Odyssey that flows directly into closer “Was Only a Dream.” Based more around a repeated and well-constructed lead line than a riff in the traditional rhythmic sense, “Was Only a Dream” is probably Rwake’s most melodically potent inclusion on Rest, but there’s still plenty of room in the 13:51 runtime for fury and pummel. Fugate takes lead vocal over an angular riff in the song’s first third, and is joined by CT soon for some of their most timely call and response, both affecting an emotional response to what seems both dire and desperate lyrically. Once again Rogers and Graves step in to offset with solos, and given how few parts have come up again on Rest once introduced, the return of the song’s original lead line to fade out is surprising and that much more a demonstration of Rwake’s ultimate sense of structure. “Was Only a Dream” fades out and, for all purposes, ends with about five minutes left, but acoustic guitar soon returns and CT tops this with his madman’s poetry, leading to triumphantly heavy guitar that leads Rwake to their titular rest at last. A final sampled speech – a reading of the Rudyard Kipling poem “If” – provides contemplative epilogue.
It’s not perfect. In listening, one gets the sense that there are dynamics in some of these songs – “Was Only a Dream” as well as “The Culling” particularly – that are lost in sacrifice to Rwake’s low-end devotion, and there are times where the experimental side of Rest takes away from the impact of its songs, but Rest is an easy album to be excited about for its many and varied successes. Even without counting CT’s aforementioned excursion into cinema, it’s clear the band spent their time wisely over the last four and a half years, and what’s more, were able to translate their growth into a mature and wonderfully heavy-footed musical lumber. There will be those who won’t follow where Rest wants to go, either for the abrasive elements the band brings to the table or for the patience and several listens some of this material requires. Given those caveats, however, Rwake have just unleashed one of 2011’s finest collections and set a new bar for themselves creatively. The spaces they occupy on Rest are terrifying and beautiful – sometimes at once – and should thrust Rwake into the upper realms of at-large sludge and doom consciousness.
Tags: Arkansas, Little Rock, Relapse, Rwake