Available now to preorder from Tofu Carnage Records in a 200-gram, translucent red-and-purple-with-blue-splatter pressing, A Holy Land Beneath a Godless Sky is the first full-length from Austin, Texas, viola-laden five-piece Sans Soleil, but rather than a stumbling debut from a group looking to find their footing, the four-track collection is as rich conceptually and in its execution as its physical manifestation. It’s also no less complex in its arrangement, pushing through a thick-toned 35 minutes of smoothly woven tapestry, heavily weighted but not at the cost of a sense of movement. Instrumental for the duration, “A Holy Land,” “An Umbral Plain,” “Across Brilliant Sands” and the concluding “Beneath a Godless Sky” evoke the journey they’re meant to convey, as guitarist Lee Frejyalune and violist Eva Vonne illuminate in what’s easily the most comprehensive track-by-track I’ve been fortunate enough to feature here.
Vonne, Frejyalune, guitarist Dustin Anderson, bassist Theron Rhoten and drummer Zach Hoop work quickly to create a rhythmic current around which their melodies and tempo shifts move. The production of A Holy Land Beneath a Godless Sky is geared toward an open, spacious feel, and that comes across both in the emergent roll of “A Holy Land” and in the slow, tilt-your-head-back-and-close-your-eyes beginning of “An Umbral Plain,” the textural feel of which makes it both a highlight and standard representation for what Sans Soleil have to offer. With patience and string-fueled grace, Sans Soleil enact builds throughout “An Umbral Plain,” the tidal-swaying post-rocker “Across Brilliant Sands” and bookending “Beneath a Godless Sky” that each craft their own context, each piece — this goes for “A Holy Land” as well — teaching you along the way how best to read it, so that by the time the crash-heavy “Beneath a Godless Sky” begins its conversation with the opener, the album’s consuming moodiness has become the world in which the songs take place.
And as we learn below, it’s a desolate landscape. I don’t know if I see it quite as empty as Vonne and Frejyalune — empty spaces in my mind always seem to come out in lone echoing guitar, whereas a lot of what Sans Soleil has going on is less minimal — but neither am I inclined to argue against a band’s interpretation of their own work. For insight into how Sans Soleil put together A Holy Land Beneath a Godless Sky, I’ll turn it over to them with appreciation for their thoughtfulness in the discussion of what the album is working to portray.
You can find the entirety of A Holy Land Beneath a Godless Sky on the player below, followed by the track-by-track. Please enjoy:
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!
Track-by-Track from Eva Vonne and Lee Frejyalune:
When we titled these songs, we wanted “A Holy Land (Part One)” and “Beneath a Godless Sky (Part Two)” to frame the album. We wrote them as one long piece divided into two interpretations of a theme. Eva wanted the names to work together as a sentence, and when Lee suggested “A Holy Land Beneath a Godless Sky,” we found the name of our album. “An Umbral Plane” and “Across Brilliant Sands” complete a short lyric, the titles working as a verse narrating a journey through a fallen and forgotten place, its ruins bearing the scars of vicious struggle, soaring triumph and tragic collapse, worn away by the unrelenting march of time.
Eva: A piece of music I have continually drawn inspiration from is Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” where Mussorgsky depicts an imaginary tour of an art collection. This album especially was crafted in a similar manner – of an outsider looking in. I have long been fascinated by the history and culture of Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire and I think that is where I personally draw inspiration from, but of course our narrative is not rooted in any specific time or place. Rather it is the idea of a lone antihero traversing alone across an abandoned and ruined place and imagining where the relics of this grand past civilization might have originated.
Lee: The band’s name was taken from the 1983 Chris Marker film, which is a loose, cinematic essay of sorts that drifts through various ideas and images with a sort of meandering narrative. I feel that this album (and most of our music, generally speaking) works in a similar way. Each member brought to the arrangements their own take on some similar ideas: a long journey; struggle, triumph, and loss; things melancholic and void. Our “wanderer” makes what meaning they can from the ruins and artifacts encountered through a combination of the sparse context given and projection of their own narratives and experiences. The band has a similar process, in that we build our songs from fragments of riffs, melodies, and ideas, and when the whole is pieced together we look at it from the outside and find what meaning lies in what we’ve written.
A HOLY LAND
Our working title for this song was “Part One” and we wrote it with “Beneath a Godless Sky” together as one long piece.
Eva: We imagine this track as introduction to the solitary journey. It begins as a mournful dirge, but towards the end there is a reclamation and so begins the imagining.
Lee: Our wanderer finds themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, awake with a start to begin looking for direction, meaning, a way home. The scope of their surroundings is vast, overwhelming and the task seemingly impossible. Overcoming these, the first steps are taken.
AN UMBRAL PLANE
Our working title for this song was “Steeple.”
Eva: This track we see narrating the darkest part of the journey, of our wanderer encountering the most macabre and distressing artifacts of human persecution and suffering.
Lee: Artifacts and remnants the wanderer finds suggest war, collapse, ruin. Something great once was here, but came apart in a tragic and violent end. There have been no lives lived here for centuries, not even bare subsistence. The wanderer keeps hope in their heart, a meager guiding light shielded against a torrent of despair.
ACROSS BRILLIANT SANDS
Our working title for this song was “Presence.”
Eva: In this track our wanderer is traversing though once grand and monumental structures now in ruin.
Lee: In my mind, this song describes a blistering desert, the last enduring shards of broken cities, ruined temples, defiled obelisks jutting defiantly from the sand which has worked relentlessly to erode and bury them. Our wanderer considers whether these structures were human triumph over the hostile wilds, or if whatever brought them to ruin blighted this land as well. Waves of sand and heat tear at the wanderer’s body as they trudge determinedly towards a distant and massive ruin that lies at what they hope to be the end of this wasteland.
BENEATH A GODLESS SKY
Our working title for this song was “Part Two,” the conclusion to “Part One.”
Eva: In this track we see our wanderer piecing together all they have encountered.
Lee: The end of the journey, a moribund arrival at a non-destination. Is there meaning to be made from the things encountered and experienced? Have they spent this journey drifting through nothing to find nothing? Does the wanderer press on, or abandon hope and wait to join those who came before, forgotten to time? They know this land held lives holy and verdant, but they have long left, and when those who knew their names perished, the gods perished also.