Friday Full-Length: SubRosa, More Constant Than the Gods

SubRosa aren’t two and a half minutes into the 14-minute “The Usher” on More Constant Than the Gods before they’ve set an atmosphere of intricacy, tension, beauty and sadness. That opener and longest track (immediate points) consumes, explodes, recedes, surges, rolls, runs and flies. It begins with Rebecca Vernon (also guitar) having a duet with Death as played by Jason McFarland and is likewise gorgeous and raw, and then it’s gone, though the poetry of the lyrics continues even after the wash of echoing guitar and strings, the long stretch of stomping hits in the middle and the melancholy melodicism that follows at around seven and a half-minutes in; the payoff in the quiet verse beginning “You’re more constant than the stars…” as the vocals build, adding harmonies in the third of four lines, the last of which is the title-line of the album: “You’re more constant than the gods/Because sometimes when we call they don’t answer at all.” Then, explosion again. Melodic wash, Death returns (I hear that’ll happen), and they ride the descent into a last few minutes of oblivion, getting noisier as they go with violin scathe before the immediate nodding lumber of “Ghosts of a Dead Empire” (11:05) answers back how much the universe mourns our various passings.

Released in 2013 as the band’s second outing through Profound Lore and their third album overall, More Constant Than the Gods was a moment of arrival for the Salt Lake City band. Andy Patterson, who had engineered (and played harmonica on) 2011’s No Help for the Mighty Ones (review here), joined the band as drummer in 2012, and alongside Vernon, bassist Christian Creek (bassists; they had a few), violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton and violinist/backing vocalist Kim Pack — also cello on “Ghosts of a Dead Empire” and closer “No Safe Harbor” — proved to be an essential component to the lineup.

The cymbal taps behind that “More constant…” verse in “The Usher” is all you need for an example there, let alone the scope of the recording itself (Magnus “Devo” Andersson mixed and mastered) or the smooth punctuation given the elephantine start of “Ghosts of a Dead Empire,” which has room in its breadth for that as well as the plucked strings behind the chorus that feels so particularly American in its context for the word “slavery,” as well as deep-mixed growls behind the forward melody, guest guitar spot by Bill Frost, and an abiding nod as the cello sounds like a war horn, strings growing airier in the subsequent verse to herald a break to come. Distortion and rising violin notes stretch into the second half until it breaks out at 8:09 and unfolds its crashing realization, resonant in multiple regards.

Comparatively, “Cosey Mo” (7:31) is straightforward and hooky with its promises to dig up every unmarked grave searching for the title character, SubRosa More Constant Than the Godsbut the atmosphere so central to the first two more extended pieces remains and the arrangements are consistent, emphasizing the malleability of SubRosa‘s approach. That underlying Americana in “Ghosts of a Dead Empire” is there in “Cosey Mo” as well; it has a folkish underpinning in its lyrical use of second-person address, but at the same time, it echoes the punk defiance in the verses of “The Usher,” where “Fat of the Ram” (12:18) takes hold, opening with distorted strum and dual vocals specifically placing the proceedings in Salt Lake City (“city by a dead lake”), with some creepy whispers worked into the background before it takes off at around three minutes in with more of a rhythmic push, unfolding.

Shouts, crashes, more whispers, ripping, tearing, existentially brutal, the standout line “There’s no shelter for me in the halls of the righteous” pure in its declaration. It’s not quite a chorus like in “Cosey Mo,” but it comes around again and is welcome next time too amid so much tumult — the song seems twice to fall down a flight of stairs, as regards transitions — and when that stops shortly before the seven-minute mark and they go to ground on standalone guitar and vocals, building gradually, patiently back to a launch point, the over the next two-plus minutes, the harmony is no less spine-shiver than the eventual sway of the heavy return and crescendo that caps.

Transitional noise, a drone and some static, leads out of “Fat of the Ram” and into “Affliction” (9:49), with a siren of guitar at its start and subsequent slog, almost otherworldly in its initial doomed march. The pace picks up after the first verse — the lyrics again tapped into folk balladry; a mournful mother speaking of a cruel husband in the first three verses before the song switches to a more analytical perspective with “There is a darkness born out of time…” in the second half — but the cymbal wash feels especially prevalent.

The song almost breaks in two pieces with feedback bridging the divide, and the post-midpoint adrenaline rush is willfully contrasted with calming strings like someone telling you it’s okay when you know it isn’t and your blood won’t stop boiling and your brain feels like it’s on fire with your own misery and there’s nowhere else to put it but into the air in hopes of getting it out of you. Before hitting eight minutes, it evens out back to the verse plod with the siren guitar behind, the last lines a prayer for death that alludes back to “The Usher” with enough subtlety to call it “mercy” instead of “death” that’s being wished for. If you don’t believe art can be moving, or you don’t know what emotional labor is, here you go.

Piano begins “No Safe Harbor,” with complement from flute by April Clayton and clarinet by David Payne, and the drumless finale of More Constant Than the Gods ends the record by using those keys for rhythm as well as melody behind a vocal highlight, not so much leaving open space where heft and stomp might otherwise be but changing how that space is used while holding to the atmosphere that’s been cast over the album as a whole. VernonPendleton and Pack are together singing by the time the first half is done, and though the threat of heaviness is paid off at 6:41 with the arrival of dense, open-strummed guitar — again declarative, but differently so — and flute setting up a finish relatively subdued (ha) considering some of the surroundings but no less encompassing for that, coming apart around violin and some tapped something-or-other that’s the final element to go, contemplative even as it bounces into nothingness.

I missed More Constant Than the Gods when it was released. I have reasons — excuses, really — for that (I moved, the transition at the time between physical and digital promos, the hype around it, etc.), but the bottom line is the same. The album turns 10 years old in September and was a breakthrough moment for SubRosa that would lead to 2016’s swansong For This We Fought the Battle of Ages (review here), which I’ll still put against anything you want to sit next to it as one of the best records of its decade. In light of the band’s dissolution in 2019, the victorious return of PendletonPack, Patterson and later-bassist Levi Hanna in The Otolith for 2022’s best debut album, Folium Limina (review here), the launch of a new exploration that would represent, and the prospect of Vernon‘s The Keening still to manifest, I’m almost glad I hadn’t really dug into this to write about it until now.

It seems like cheating to know how the story ends, maybe, but, well, I feel like hearing these songs with the ears I have today lets me appreciate them more than I might have 10 years ago — I’d probably have said the same thing 10 years ago about listening in the dawn of my 20s, mind you, and been right about that too — which one might read as testament to the power of the release itself to flourish with age. I read it that way, at least.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thank you for reading.

It’s 5:40AM now. I’ve woken up early enough all week that the thought of sleeping until the alarm goes off at 4AM feels “late,” and I feel like the tradeoff, generally speaking, is in not feeling rushed while I’m writing. That doesn’t account for The Pecan coming downstairs at 5:15 this morning as though shot out of a cannon — the ADHD diagnosis standard is “driven, as if by a motor,” which has become a running gag around the house; emphasis there on ‘running’ — but as expected he’s willing to sit still long enough to eat his regular morning yogurt when Sesame Street is on.

He goes through phases with tv, wants to watch one show or two — right now it’s this and Bluey, which is obnoxious and encourages imitation of its obnoxiousness, but well written and, in the third season, feels as much for parents as kids — but I’m going to be sad when he’s eventually done with Elmo and Cookie Monster and company. I feel like there isn’t enough open advocacy for kindness in children’s media. Everything is the casual violence and franchise indoctrination of Spider-Man or the copaganda of Paw Patrol, both produced to sell toys like so many of the shows I grew up watching. I still miss Peep & The Big Wide World as well. PBS is a fucking treasure and if it had half the funding of the US military there’s no question the world would be a better, kinder place. Alas.

In any case, I finished the above while he plotzed around the living room, making probably enough noise to wake The Patient Mrs. in bed if she wasn’t already up, and that’s how it goes. Yesterday he almost made it to 6AM, and that felt pretty glorious.

He continues to enjoy Tae Kwon Do, this week got a ‘star card’ for being the best in class and he was so excited he ran and jumped in my arms while Master Acevedo, who runs the place and is great with kids, was still talking about what great concentration and attention he had showed. I could live 400 years if I could remember the look on his face of delight, pride, expressive happiness where he’s so often reserved in the sprit of his mother, me, his cousins, etc. I guess we’re not the best at feeling feelings, any of us. I’m pretty good at being miserable, if that counts?

Today is Bandcamp Friday, and there’s a ton of stuff out as a result. If you’re looking for things to spend money on, the playlist for today’s The Obelisk Show on Gimme Metal might be a good way to go. That airs at 5PM at

I expect to be in the chat, hopefully stoned as the day rolls into the evening after The Pecan has had dinner and we move toward winding down, so if you’re there, please say hi and I’ll awkwardly say hi back and thanks for listening, etc. It goes like that these days.

Dude is draped across my lap now, smoothed out some after going to the bathroom and having his yogurt, and that’s fine. This is all pretty standard. He’s growing. Yesterday was his last day at speech therapy, which was also emotional, and he did pretty well not beating me up as a result of said emotions, which he generally processes through physicality. Excitement is literally running in circles, and so on.

This week had a couple genuinely awesome records. Sandrider and Stoned Jesus will be in my top 30. Next week has more. Monday is a Child review, and I’m streaming the REZN album in full on Tuesday. Santo Rostro after that and a combined premiere for the Duel and The Atomic Bitchwax live records Heavy Psych Sounds is putting out on Thursday, a cool video from High Noon Kahuna on Friday, and a couple fun announcements along the way. I feel like the site is in a decent place right now, rolling along. I’m overwhelmed, but glad to be writing about what I’m writing about most of the time, and that’s pretty much the standard I go by. If you’re going to be busy, being busy with good music is the way to go. Wednesday this week was frustrating since I kind of meandered away from getting the things done that I needed to, but yesterday I got back on track. The challenge is part of the appeal. Also we’re hanging cabinets in the kitchen. I’ve been enjoying going swimming in the mornings and trying to be mindful of not being psychotic or self-punishing about it as I always am about exercise. Life proceeds.

On that note, and as Mr. Noodle learns what a conga drum is and the episode from season 40 draws close to its finish, I’ll leave it there. I hope you have a great and safe weekend and I hope to see you back on Monday if not before in the Gimme chat. Either way, have fun, be safe, and thanks as always for reading. All the best, and no, I don’t mean that passive-aggressively.


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One Response to “Friday Full-Length: SubRosa, More Constant Than the Gods

  1. Ben says:

    Life as the parent of an ADHD child is hard. Especially the first few years. As my little guy hurtles full throttle towards nine, parts of it have gotten easier though, probably because the things he gets obsessive about tend to be things I’m more interested in than Paw Patrol. Mealtimes still a bitch though with his penchant for only liking/wanting the foods that exacerbate his condition. But in alot of ways he is easier to raise than our “normal” child. But all days I feel blessed to have both.

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