I’ve heard it spread around these here metal parts that post-metal is over. That the time of slow, mood-driven and spacious metal that mixes emotive, crooned vocals and oodles of atmosphere is for the birds. To argue the contrary may I present Kindred Spirits, the latest album from Arctic Sleep as evidence that – rather than post-metal being a dead genre – it is in fact insincere and pigeonholed music of any kind that is (and should be) on its way out to the door, the better to make way for the kind of forward thinking and expansive music this band have been traversing since their debut over a decade ago.
Which isn’t to say Arctic Sleep came into the world fully developed. But as early as 2006’s Mare Vaporum (a demo later transformed into their official debut) you can hear the way bandleader and now sole member Keith Dulemba plays with the concept of heavy, methodically paced riffs and an emphasis on ambience to move a musical narrative forward. From that starting point things get progressively more ornate and grandiose, with 2012’s Arbors being a career highlight (and incidentally my first exposure to the band). Featuring a wider instrumental palette and concise song structures that emphasized melody as much as heavy riffing, tracks like opener “Avenue of the Giants” and “Geneva” demonstrate a gripping approach to making passionate heavy music work both within and outside the construct of a limiting genre tag like “post-metal.”
This same sense of working within and without the genre is what makes Kindred Spirits succeed. Drawing back to a solo endeavor, the music gives the sense of falling, of loss and pain and time and how those things ultimately bring you to acceptance and some small measure of grace. Taking a track like the beautifully moving “Lantern Curse” there’s a propulsive quality that isn’t at odds with the more meditative elements of the song, particularly in the lyrics, which Dulemba wrote after the death of his cat.
The entire album lyrically deals with this sense of loss, and it helps to center Kindred Spirits in a way that Arctic Sleep’s previous album Passage of Gaia couldn’t attain. The title track is anchored by keys that wouldn’t feel out of place 15 years ago, echoed in softly intoned vocals and a rhythm section that is locked into a lurching, inexorable tread. It doesn’t concern itself with having a heavy section, or a soft section. It’s all entwined, content to breathe as this one thing, and exists on its own terms. Not every track is a complete success: “Connemara Moonset” feels like an extended late-era Opeth intro that ultimately does little to move the album forward (at over four minutes there’s a little too much wandering, despite a great mid-section played out on strings). Likewise the song it leads into, “Night Mirror” which feels too much like song-by numbers with its light-then-heavy structure. But those small missteps are few and far between, and the rest of the album, including the epic later tracks “Cloud Map” and “As Palms Give Way to Pines” take that same structure and imbue it with life. Weirdly the band that came to mind when hearing these songs was Baroness, another band with a far different sound yet traveling the same road of working within and without confines.
There’s always been a depth to Arctic Sleep that makes repeated listens rewarding, and Kindred Spirits does nothing to dissuade that notion. There are sublime moments of discovery and musical expression to be had, and a comfort to be taken in darker days. Sometimes you need to be reminded that you’re not the only one going through something, and the music of Arctic Sleep continues to be exceptional at reminding me of that.