Recently, I saw a post in a progressive rock group about harsh vocals. The question was about whether or not harsh vocals have any use. As I expected, 90% of the group jumped in to say that harsh vox are childish, not music, not singing, useless, and many other negative opinions. I’ve always said that, to get into harsh vox, you need to find that one band or album that is undeniably so good that you have to start accepting every aspect of it, even the harsh vocals. I think Sojourner’s new album “Premonitions” is a great example of an album that can do just that. The album released on May 8th through Napalm Records, and it has such an emotional and melodic spirit that I believe anyone should find something to love in it.
Sojourner is a multi-national band. The members hail from Dunedin, New Zealand; Malmö, Sweden; Bergamo, Italy; and Dundee, Scotland. The lineup includes: Emilio Crespo on vocals; Mike Lamb on guitars, piano, synth/keyboards; Chloe Bray on guitars, tin whistle, and vocals; Mike Wilson on bass; and Riccardo Floridia on drums. Scotty Lodge is the live bassist.
Sojourner is a band that thrives on contrasts. They fall within the dark poetry of black metal, even spilling over into blackgaze at times. However, if you don’t know black metal very well, don’t let that scare you. The band provides surging and distorted guitars and harsh vox, but also splendid keyboard melodies, gorgeous guitar licks, beautiful folk accents, and bright clean vocals. The result is a sound that balances light with darkness, texture with high melody, and driving rhythms with spacious atmospheres. The band really does have it all.
I mentioned above that, to appreciate harsh vox, you have to find a band that “unlocks” them for you. For me, the bands that did that were Mushroomhead, Sybreed, Epica, and even, I daresay, Linkin Park. Slowly but surely, I came to appreciate the skill, emotion, and contrast that are required for good harsh vocals. Sojourner, I’m happy to say, has all of this. Emilio’s tone is simultaneously rough and piercingly smooth, something very difficult to achieve. Playing his dark tones up against Chloe’s melodious high notes, the album reaches towering heights.
“Premonitions” features eight tracks that feel spacious, epic, and eventful. As you can tell from the amazing cover art, the band knows how to frame their music well, and so I never tire of it. One of their greatest tools is Mike’s piano playing. He fills voids, leads songs, and illustriously manufactures soundscapes against which everything else flourishes. This also makes the album feel all the more attractive and melodic.
Right now, I think some of my favorite songs are “Eulogy for the Lost”, featuring a subtle melody that really brings it to life; “The Apocalyptic Theater”, which suitably sounds epic and keyboard-heavy; and “Fatal Frame”, a slow-burning track that ends up exploding with might and thunder. I will say, though, that the album plays like one massive experience from beginning to end. I think it should be heard that way.
The band are very good at setting the tone of each song with keys or attractive synth. “The Deluge” is a good example of this, where I loved the song from its very first notes. “Atonement” is another like this, with Mike’s luscious piano strokes introducing it and Chloe’s tin whistle closing it with hovering subtlety.
I think the band saves the best for last, though. “The Event Horizon” is a striking track with guest vocals from Tom O’Dell of Dwarrowdelf. This song is truly grand, feeling expressive and momentous. The last few minutes are especially good, with roaring guitar rhythms, dark keys, and perfect harsh vocals from Emilio. This song ends the album in a way that makes you want to start it all over again.
Sojourner have a deep sound, one that I believe can win over listeners new to the genre, but also one that can satisfy lifelong fans. Their music is balanced keenly, as every bit of darkness has an accompanying nugget of light. You will be swept away, but will never feel lost. I expect this album only to grow on me as the year progresses.
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