Album Title: Made of Breath Only
Label: Bird’s Robe Records
Date Of Release: 24 March 2017
‘Made of Breath Only’ is the third full-length studio release from a quartet of Australian musicians who go by the name of Sleepmakeswaves. It is also a record that I had literally no intention of listening to or reviewing as I’m not, as a rule, a fan of instrumental post-rock/metal. However, my head was turned and my mind was opened to this kind of music entirely accidentally by a couple of bands recently. And then I heard ‘Tundra’, the first ‘single’ to be exposed to the outside world from ‘Made Of Breath Only’. It was a done deal at that point, as I found myself smitten by what I heard.
And what did I hear? In ‘Tundra’, I heard a piece of music courtesy of bassist/keyboardist Alex Wilson, guitarists Otto Wicks-Green and Daniel Oreskovic and drummer Tim Adderley, which I simply could not ignore. Melody, technicality, complexity, atmosphere and a plethora of rich, engaging sounds all combined to make it impossible for me to take a cursory listen and move on. Whether I liked it or not, I was hooked and felt the compulsion to delve headlong into the world of Sleepmakeswaves for the first time.
With some albums, you can listen for weeks and still be left with the feeling that there is more to discover within the music. Without doubt, ‘Made of Breath Only’ is one of these albums. I have given this record a lot of time in order to properly review it and yet I still don’t feel like I have conquered it fully. It makes it difficult to write a review sure, but albums are not put together to just be reviewed. They are created to be enjoyed, to make a statement or to fulfil a musical vision by the artists concerned. Therefore whilst I labour on with this article, as a music fan, I find myself utterly beguiled by this collection of ten tracks that comes together to form ‘Made of Breath Only’.
Only, it is not just a collection of ten tracks; ‘Made of Breath Only’ is a body of work that is broken up into ten pieces but is most definitely something to be enjoyed as a whole, as it plays out over its one-hour length. Dip in and out if you wish but this is a record that requires an investment of time and effort from the listener to be enjoyed to the fullest.
Every individual track has its own distinct identity and, in the main, they are all multi-layered, multi-faceted affairs, full of contrasting sounds and textures from subtle minimalism and ambience to all-encompassing walls of intense sound. However, put them all together and the journey through the varied and ambitious aural terrains becomes even more powerful and significant.
There is no doubt an important and solemn message hidden within ‘Made of Breath Only’ and, given the album imagery, I’m guessing it has something to do with the polar ice caps and global warming. However, so strong are the melodies and so rich and welcoming is the overall tone of this album that I can’t help but feel moved and uplifted as I listen. ‘Made of Breath Only’ is most definitely bitter-sweet in that it does have its fair share of darker, more melancholy moments, not to mention a harsh, heavy edge. But overall, this is a warm, life-affirming listen that makes me happy to be alive. Whether or not this is intentional, it is the reality for me at least.
After a short, contemplative opening in the form of ‘Our Days Were’ where Sleepmakeswaves hint at their more poignant melodic sensibilities, ‘Worlds Away’ takes over and literally leaps into life, dominated by a heady wall of intensity complete with complex riffs, exuberate lead guitar sounds and a cacophony of rhythmic embellishments. Things quickly calm down to be replaced by a much more delicate and beautiful section that is enhanced by some atmospheric synths. The track then goes back and forth cleverly between the two, frequently meandering down new pastures, underlining the more overtly progressive feel to the music overall. Despite the heaviness in places, this is a bright and breezy composition that showcases the band’s melodic sensibilities to the full. And the way in which the second half of the song gently travels from quiet, understated beauty to an all-out epic crescendo is just magical, sending shivers down my spine.
‘To Light and Then Return’ bangs and crashes with gusto but even then, there is space created within the shorter composition for plenty of gorgeous melodies to seep through, becoming ever more evident as the track develops.
The aforementioned ‘Tundra’ is, quite simply, a work of near genius. Electronic sounds usher it into existence before it explodes in barely contained fury where the rhythm section of Adderley and Wilson take the spotlight. The twists and turns are myriad, flitting from naked aggression to serene beauty to something altogether bouncier and groovier. But it is the outbursts of euphoric-sounding drama juxtaposed with passages of sensitive minimalism and introspection that give this piece of music its depth, thereby making it so interesting and thoroughly addictive to listen to.
This sense of depth continues throughout ‘The Edge of Everything’, the longest composition on the record. From a quiet start where vibrant acoustic guitar notes shine through, the track simply erupts. Avalanches of sound dominate, blended with more overt progressive structures and occasional moments of clarity to bring fleeting respite from the tumult. However, there is simply no let-up in the wave upon wave of different ideas and to the competing soundscapes, to the point where it feels like I might drown amongst it all. But it is so good that if I were to drown in anything, this would be high on my list.
Fortunately, the title track is an elegant oasis of calm that allows some reflection on what has gone before, and to create something of a palette cleanser leading into the final four tracks. And on that score, there’s not a hint of a reduction in focus or of quality either, as this album delivers to the very end.
The piano intro to ‘Into The Arms of Ghosts’ is fantastic, particularly as it mingles with a relatively understated electronic beat. It’s light, airy and sophisticated, a trend that continues throughout the track even as it builds inexorably to a highly-charged conclusion. The powerful rumbling bass of Alex Wilson catches my ear on this track, being both commanding and full of finesse at the same time.
‘Midnight Sun’ delights thanks to its sumptuous melodies that begin softly and intensify as the song advances. I’ve used the ‘bright and breezy’ descriptor elsewhere already but if it fits, why worry? The composition is full of great riffing and changes of pace but at its heart lays some wonderfully gratifying sounds and textures, the kind that reach in and almost touch your soul. This isn’t the only song on ‘Made of Breath Only’ to have this kind of effect on me such is the consistent brilliance on display within this album.
As its name suggests, ‘Glacial’ has a grace and elegance about it that’s hard to ignore. But again, as its name suggests, there is an undeniable power and strength to this composition too. Both aspects come together to create a genuinely forceful piece of music, once again steeped in atmosphere as the keys come to the fore more, particularly in the early stages.
The final nine or so minutes of ‘Made of Breath Only’ belongs to ‘Hailstones’ and it’s a fittingly wondrous conclusion. The sounds in the early stages are different but intriguing, seguing into an acoustic guitar-led passage that is warm and inviting. In keeping with the majority of the tracks on this album, ‘Hailstones’ takes the listener on one final ambitious but highly focused journey full of peaks and troughs, intense emotions and a multitude of tones and textures, including some deliberately unintelligible ‘vocals’ introduced to enhance the ambience of the final song.
Bearing in mind that this was an album that I had no intention of reviewing, I cannot believe how unbelievably good ‘Made of Breath Only’ is. The biggest compliment that I can pay Sleepmakeswaves is that this is genuinely one of the most moving and intensely gratifying instrumental albums that I have ever heard. It might even be THE most moving instrumental album I’ve ever heard given the way in which some of the melodies and sounds have lodged themselves into my brain and refuse to let go, even giving me goosebumps in the middle of the night as I relive the record just in my mind alone. ‘Made of Breath Only’ is beautiful, intense, assured. More importantly, it is also a game-changer for me, simple as that.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day