The Smashing Skull Sessions

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Cairns - Keening

Everything about this EP had my attention the moment I laid my eyes and ears on it. The ancient burial tomb depicted in the artwork gave you a good indication where this was going. The EP title, Keening, which is the Intense mournful and wailing after death, usually at a funeral or wake, further cemented the mood and the direction that this album was going to take. And after endless listens uninterrupted, it has certainly delivered. The grief within is palpable, and rests heavy on your ears, but within all that shadowey and blissful lamenting, there’s moments of hope and buoyancy rising from the mist.

But before any light is seen, The Wicker Ablaze opens in a maelstrom of atmospheric, post-black ruination that flattens and floors you right from the get-go. Its high-speed tirade is adorned with a visceral and deathly vocal that gets tongue twisted and tangled up in a blizzard of a shredded guitar frenzies and blast beaten brutality. Its as intense an opening to a track as you’ll find this year, with all the energy being harnessed and cleverly dispersed in moments of stormy passages braided with slower, melodic components and synthesised chants. The Wicker Ablaze encompasses everything that’s great about atmospheric metal, in the sense that it’s laced in measured harmonies, that get whipped up in a furore of fuzzy riffs and percussions. I’ve been playing this EP solidly over the last three weeks and this track is one that I will never tire of.

What follows is When The Days Grew Shorter, and the diversity of Cairns gets its first breath of air with a sombre and acoustically charged intro, that wallows in its own melody and grips tight on that watered down, distant death metal vocal. However, what engulfs the senses next is a beautifully orchestrated chorus, vocalised with great emotion and melody that catches you by surprise, but it does add more depth and expanse to the track, making it a lot more memorable. More post-black riffs split the track into sections of high intensity force and heart-wrenching crescendos.

Cairns have really created something special with this EP, because even though it reeks of atmospheric black metal, there are great moments of clarity and melody-driven hard rock sprawled throughout. The Eternal Sea, for example, has a groove and a stoner vibe about it that has me immediately thinking of ** The Angelus** and Mountaineer’s recent releases. It’s a moment of light in what is a bleak and darkened EP, and it is absolutely glorious to hear!

The closing track, Haunted, samples everything that we have heard in the previous three tracks and weaves us an atmospheric post-black backing track that’s flooded with a shoe gazed vocal that warms the soul, and is the perfect contrast to the coarse and gritty growls. The track is huge and is a mountain of energy and attitude, and really showcases the talent that Cairns have in abundance. Production wise the EP is on the money, beautifully balanced between moments of distorted doom and cool, calm clarity.

I’m sure Keening will be up there come December as one of the great and underrated releases of the year. It may fall under the atmospheric black metal spectrum, but this EP is not defined by any genre. No linear or rigid lines were followed, Cairns allowed their sound to follow its own path, and I’m so glad of that.