Artist: Long Distance Calling
Album Title: How Do We Want To Live?
Label: InsideOut Music
Date of Release: 26 June 2020
Long Distance Calling are one of those bands that defy all of my self-imposed logic and reasoning. The saying goes that there’s always an exception that proves a rule but, in the case of Long Distance Calling, they are the exception that proves many, many rules.
Generally-speaking, I’m not a fan of instrumental albums, and Long Distance Calling are ostensibly an instrumental outfit. I’m not someone who places a great deal of emphasis on lyrics either, but not for the first time, the music of Long Distance Calling provides material that resonates with me and provokes thought. This might sound like a contradiction, but this band cleverly incorporate spoken-word samples into their compositions, and what’s more, I find them incredibly intriguing and engrossing. I’m also not the biggest fan of post rock/metal, but there is something about Long Distance Calling that pulls me in and holds my attention throughout.
So, to summarise, here is an instrumental post rock/metal band, with resonating subject matter, that I really, really like. Clear? No, it’s not clear to me either if I’m honest. But the reality is that ‘How Do We Want To Live?’ is easily one of my favourite albums of 2020. And I have heard a lot of albums this year.
To top it all off, ‘How Do We Want To Live?’ doesn’t even have great album art, at least not to my tastes in any case. It isn’t bad, but neither does it draw me in and make me want to have it in my collection, looking all pretty. Nevertheless, as I type, the limited edition has arrived and it looks a little better in the flesh. And after all, it’s fundamentally all about the music, not appearances.
Taking the subject matter in hand first, this album really intrigues me. There is clearly a thread that runs through the album, and that thread is a rather clever and intelligent observation of the world, of the human race, and of the future. Equally engaging and surprisingly chilling, ‘How Do We Want to Live?’ explores the relationship between the human race, the planet, and the ever-increasing reliance we seem to have on technology, either at an individual level or more of a societal level. The album is quite dark and sombre, but the quartet are keen to observe the concept from all angles rather than take a specific viewpoint, leaving it up to the listener to ultimately decide. And they manage to do this for the most part, with just spoken-word samples and their instruments.
Only, to leave it there is very unfair because it feels like I am marginalising the music itself, the soundscapes created by guitarists David Jordan and Florian Füntmann, bassist Jan Hoffman and drummer Janosch Rathmer. And nothing could be further from the truth, because the music, spread across ten individual tracks and around 52 minutes, is where these guys excel. It’s the kind of music that continually gives me spine tingles, that draws me in like a moth to a flame, and which frequently plasters a big wide grin on my face.
In keeping with much of the post-rock genre, the music isn’t overly complex either. Yes it is technical up to a point, but rather than wowing us with displays of dexterity or convoluted ideas, the power of the compositions is rooted in the tones, the textures, the layers, and the atmospheres that are created. And, without fail, each track brings something to the party, regardless of whether or not it features a spoken-word section or, in the case of one track, full-on lyrics and vocals. Soft, quiet parts crash into walls of sound, or the momentum builds steadily to create just the right dramatic effect. Ostentatious solo displays are present to a certain extent but are kept to a minimum in favour of a full-on band dynamic, where it is the whole that creates the magic.
And then there are the electronic effects, a massive element to this record. Blended into the musical narrative are swathes of electronic sounds and effects, both bold and subtle in their appearance and effect. In a way, it’s like a metaphor for the album’s concept; that melding of the organic with the man-made. And it is accomplished so stylishly, proving without doubt that a symbiosis of the two is eminently possible.
The album opens with the ‘Curiosity’ double-header. ‘Part 1’ is all about introducing the themes and ideas on the album. It is almost purely electronica; layers of synth sounds and textures that build in intensity and atmosphere. The electronic sounds are overlaid by plenty of spoken-word narration, both male and female, dominated by the phrase ‘curiosity is a real bastard’, which is uttered several times throughout. The track makes an interesting statement and leads you to wonder what’s next.
The answer is ‘Curiosity (Part 2)’ where we finally hear what I’d loosely term the more ‘conventional’ rock instrumentation. The drum beat is strong, crisp and clear. It means business as it juxtaposes the synth sounds, only eventually being joined by the bass and guitars, the latter delivering some interesting sounds of their own. But even then, despite some bold riffing and the pulsing bass, an equilibrium is sought whereby the electronic elements are given room to breathe and make their mark. It is quite an exhilarating experience, especially given the melodic sensibilities of the track on top of everything else, melodies that strike at my core every time I listen.
Things just get better with one of the very best tracks on the album, ‘Hazard’. Fuzzy bass and yet more commanding drumming introduce the song before some delicate guitar notes are overlaid. Again the electronic elements play a big role as the song builds in intensity, whilst yet more beautiful melodies come to the fore. At the midway point, the music drops away significantly to allow a female spoken-word segment discussing starkly the way I which AI may end up dominating our world. The resonance of the words is even greater as they are replaced with a soulful and gorgeous lead guitar solo over some chunky riffs.
Having said that there isn’t a weak track anywhere on the album, I still feel it necessary to shine the light on a couple more of my favourites to give you a flavour of why I so love this record.
First up, there’s ‘Fail / Opportunity’. It may only last three minutes but in that short lifespan, it makes a huge impression. The opening minute or so is an exploration of electronic sounds and textures against a introspective, rather dark backdrop. The beats are not what I’d normally enjoy but there’s a graceful ambiance to them as well as a certain understated menace. But when the organic strings enter, in the form of what I suspect is a cello and/or a violin, the symbiosis of the two is simply incredible and I’m head over heels in love with the poignancy that emerges.
The building of intensity and heaviness that occurs throughout ‘Immunity’, a song directly related to the current pandemic, is incredibly powerful. In fact, the track builds twice, each in slightly different ways but with equal success, creating an ebb and flow that is irresistible. ‘Sharing Thoughts’ opens in an incredibly sombre manner, where the tinkling of keys plays an integral part. Slide guitar notes are not usually a favourite, but the way they enter the song, alongside a groovy, almost cheeky beat is impossible to ignore. In fact, I find myself moving involuntarily to this song with alarming frequency. I also adore the way in which it gradually opens up into some sublime melodies that, perhaps for the first time, feel vaguely positive, hopeful and upbeat. The inclusion again of the strings is a wonderful addition, complimenting the ever more purposeful guitar riffs and bolder synth sounds that emerge towards the end.
‘Beyond Your Limits’ stands out for two reasons, for it benefits from some more strong melodies, particularly in the chorus and it is the only track to feature full-on vocals. The voice is provided by guest Eric A. Pulverich from Kyles Tolone, a band and vocalist I know literally nothing about. Apparently this was intentional by Long Distance Calling, but the result is great, as Pulverich’s delivery lends a more alt-rock edge to the song.
The final track is entitled ‘Ashes’. If the previous spoken-word sections were stark, the opening to this song is chilling, as it likens the human race to a virus, suggesting that we are a cancer for planet Earth. I think what makes it so chilling is the fact that it is founded in some truth. The song that follows is dark and menacing, with a dystopian tone that owes much of this to the bold, cinematic-sounding electronics that dominate this track, with only some subtle, yet beautiful guitar embellishments to act as a counterpoint.
To say I’m smitten by this record is an understatement. I didn’t think that Long Distance Calling could top ‘Trips’, but with this incredible effort, I believe that they have. It is even more remarkable when you think we’re talking about an electronica-heavy, instrumental post-rock/metal album. But as I said before, Long Distance Calling are clearly a special band that transcend genres to thrill listeners with music that’s simply deep, engaging, thought-provoking and stunningly beautiful. The album asks ‘How Do We Want To Live?’. My answer is simply ‘not without this record’.
The Score of Much Metal: 96%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
Airbag – A Day At The Beach
Re-Armed – Ignis Aeternum
Atavist – III: Absolution
Frost* – Others EP
Darker Half – If You Only Knew
Atavistia – The Winter Way
Astralborne – Eternity’s End
Centinex – Death In Pieces
Haken – Virus
Pile Of Priests – Pile Of Priests
Sorcerer – Lamenting Of The Innocent
Lesoir – Mosaic
Temnein – Tales: Of Humanity And Greed
Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant
…And Oceans – Cosmic World Mother
Vader – Solitude In Madness
Shrapnel – Palace For The Insane
Sinisthra – The Broad And Beaten Way
Paradise Lost – Obsidian
Naglfar – Cerecloth
Forgotten Tomb – Nihilistic Estrangement
Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn
Firewind – Firewind
An Autumn For Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
Havok – V
Helfró – Helfró
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: