Album Title: Take Up My Bones
Label: Prophecy Productions
Date of Release: 18 February 2022
It has been quite a while since I was able to wallow self-indulgently in some melodic funeral-paced doom metal. However, Arð provide more than ample ammunition to allow me to do just that, and it’s a very welcome change of pace right now, one that I hadn’t realised I was missing until I spun this disc for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Since then, it has been a regular companion for me.
Arð is actually the creation of Mark Deeks, the keyboardist and co-vocalist of Winterfylleth. However, Deeks is much more than that; he’s a musical director, arranger, piano coach, conductor, and best-selling author, not to mention the holder of a PhD in Philosophy, focusing particularly on the topic of ‘National Identity in Northern and Eastern European Heavy Metal’.
Meaning ‘Native Land’ in the dialect of the Anglian Kingdom of Northumbria, Arð explores the relics of the famous Northumbrian Saint Cuthbert who lived between 634-687 A.D. on ‘Take Up My Bones’. The accompanying press release goes into much greater detail about the history of an area in the north of England that was originally much larger, encompassing much of what is now southern Scotland. However, as this is ostensibly a music review, as fascinating as the topic is to a fellow history fan, I will move on and allow you to delve into the ancient stories and myths that surround Saint Cuthbert at your leisure.
In bringing his musical vision to life, Deeks handles the vocals, rhythm guitars, bass, piano, and keyboards himself. As such, Arð is very much a solo project. However, Deeks has enlisted the help of others along the way including Dan Capp of Wolcensmen who takes care of all lead guitar, acoustic guitar, and back vocal duties, alongside drummer Callum Cox of Atavist and cellist Jo Quail.
Oh, and as a quick aside, certain record labels take note: Prophecy Productions are releasing this album in a range of formats, with no expense spared to ensure that the final product matches the music within…if only the same could be said of others, who seem more intent on world domination, than true value for money.
A word of caution at this point though: as I have found out the hard way, ‘Take Up My Bones’ is probably not a wise choice if you’re feeling a little glum. This is music that, unless you are made of stone, will have the power to move you. The combination of melancholy atmosphere, sedate pace, sorrowful melodies, and beautifully executed musicianship means that it can pierce even the toughest of skin and surround the listener with intensely maudlin emotion. Do not take this as a negative, as I’d not want anything different from music of this kind; that’s exactly the effect it should have. The power to touch people and their emotions is a powerful skill, one that only adds another rich layer to the music itself.
On that note, ‘Take Up My Bones’ begins with a bit of a bang, as the album lurches into existence via a heavy, lamenting riff, full of bittersweet melody and serene beauty despite the crushing nature of the guitars. The choral vocals that enter to enhance what was already an arresting intro are sublime, echoing the religious overtones of the central character within the story of the album. Suddenly however, the heaviness departs to be replaced by minimalist piano notes, sparing drums and a sorrowful cello, upon which Deeks talks with quiet, precise authority, not dissimilar to Aaron Stainthorpe of My Dying Bride in delivery. The song then ebbs and flows expertly, reprising the opening riff at points to juxtapose the quieter sections, the choral vocals seemingly taking on added gravitas each time. And the haunting, lead guitar notes that appear towards the latter part of the song only serve to convey yet more poignancy. Frankly, the rest of the album could be awful, but I’d buy ‘Take My Bones’ for this track alone.
Happily, this isn’t the reality with which I am faced, as none of the six tracks on this release show signs of weakness or a lessening in quality. The choral, a capella intro to the title track send a shiver down my spine, as does the ensuing quiet piano and cello section, that carries such sorrow. The atmosphere is cloying, suffocating, as an organ joins with the choral vocals to ratchet up the plaintive, almost heartrending soundscape laid before me. It takes until the halfway point before we hear a distorted riff, but when it arrives, it is so slow and methodical, happy to take up a supporting role to only enhance the key ingredient, the atmosphere. It’s more of a slow burner than the opener, but once it gets to you, it’s rather profound.
One of the most beautiful and epic songs has to be the nine-minute tour-de-force that’s ‘Raise Then The Incorrupt Body’. It begins slowly, with more in the way of strong atmosphere and choral vocals acting as the central focal point, before clean vocals are unleashed for the first time, surprisingly adept considering they’d been kept under wraps until now. The soft, mellifluous, yet unassuming delivery is perfectly accompanied by gorgeous gentle acoustic guitars and a piano, before an equally stunning lead electric guitar line weaves within the minimalist backdrop. With little warning, and well over half of the composition completed, it erupts in bittersweet, almost euphoric fashion. Stunning melodies combine with warm yet plaintive choral vocals, subtle piano, and a sublime lead guitar that carries with it all the hurt and anguish that the subject matter can possibly bring to bear. The way in which the song then gently fades away is the perfect ending to a stunning song.
I feel like I’m repeating myself, but ‘Boughs Of Trees’, an ostensibly instrumental track features, for my money, the most poignant and gorgeously fragile melodies on the entire album. The piece gradually builds from humble beginnings, layering the textures subtly and cleverly, almost imperceptibly at times. Before you know it, there are so many elements at play within what seems, at first glance, to be a relatively simple affair, al the while laced with the most moving of melodies. It is at this point that I can feel myself well up, overcome by the beauty and serenity that is caressing my ears.
In an effort to keep an already lengthy review vaguely brief, I will curb my verbal incontinence by stating that the final two songs, ‘Banner Of The Saint’ and ‘Only Three Shall Know’ see no let-up in the quality on offer from Arð. Following a largely similar pattern, they only further enhance the power and majesty of ‘Take Up My Bones’. The latter in particular, carries a sense of drama and sombre theatre that closes out the album perfectly. The funeral doom trappings are contained within lumbering, yet majestic riffs and carefully precise drumming, whilst those captivating spoken-word monologues of Deeks play an important part once again.
What an album Mark Deeks, under the banner of Arð, has created. There is almost nothing I’d change about ‘Take Up My Bones’, except maybe the addition of another song or two. But that’s only because I am an ungrateful sod and just want to hear more and more. Trust me when I say that this is one of the most special albums of slow, maudlin funeral doom that I have heard in many a year. As such, if you feel like exploring the world of Saint Cuthbert in the form of simply stunning music, ‘Take Up My Bones’ by Arð is the very first place to start.
The Score of Much Metal: 94%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
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