Music’s ability to convey feeling and expression is a given at this point. Down-tune and play at the pace of a snail and you can convey the funeral melancholy of doom. Rev it up with blasts and screams and your rage at the world or the local coffee shop is readily understood. But music’s ability to convey experience isn’t as easily explored. But just as the taste of a madeleine brought the memory of Proust’s childhood back to him, so can the combination of notes evoke specific times, places, and events in our lives. It’s this focus on music as experience that Kenoma brings to their long awaited debut album, The Tides Will Prevail.
How long awaited? Those who were there when post-metal held the world in its grasp (roughly 2002-2009) might recall back in 2006 when Kenoma were featured on a split with Mouth of the Architect, who at the time were riding high on their debut album Time and Withering and were in the process of prepping their second record. Featuring early versions of “1913” and “Nature of Empire” the group showed a tremendous amount of promise: listening to the early tracks you can hear the focus on using the expansive nature of the music to create an aural landscape that subtly shifts, rather than stagnate in drone or jump around too much and cause distraction.
But that was it. Maybe it was the soon to be post-metal backlash and the taunts of “Neur-ISIS” or the shrinking musical markets due to digital or simply every day life, but with the exception of some touring that was the last anyone heard from Kenoma for over a decade. Apparently they put that time to good use, because despite containing only five songs, two of which are re-workings from the 2006 split, The Tides Will Prevail is a moving, mature work that was worth the wait.
Opener “33rd Parallel” takes its cue from the more sludgy doom riffs of Mouth of the Architect, combining bottom shaking power chords with minor harmonic lead lines over the course of almost 11 minutes. It sets a pace and keeps to it through most of the running until the final section picks it up for a driving melodic push. “1913” benefits greatly from the intervening years since its initial release on the split, settling into an ethereal groove before ratcheting up the monolithic wall of feedback about five minutes in. “Curse of Tecumseh” follows a similar path, stretching out a languid beginning that slowly permeates until a short solo bass announces the resumption of the riff.
Without vocals this kind music can fade to the background quickly, and while the second half of The Tides Will Prevail suffers slightly from the rinse repeat nature of the music, there’s nothing in “Sleeping Prophet” and the tweaked “Nature of Empire” that’s remotely bad; it’s more a case of having sat through almost 30 minutes of a similar formula and fighting the drift to recollection and reminisce.
But that might be the intent here, and in fact goes some way to explaining why the pull of…well, call it what you want: sludge, doom, post-metal (just don’t call it “Neur-ISIS” ferchrissakes) is so strong. The music pulls us back into time, into events we may or may not want to revisit but must because of the way the notes entwine with our DNA. Kenoma has stated The Tides Will Prevail is a look into the lives of the band over the course of the last decade, and as someone who has tried to make sense of pain and loss through a series of semitones, I like the ambition and direction Kenoma is taking, and look forward to seeing what happens next.