Black Fortress of Opium

Black Fortress of Opium

Black Fortress of Opium

Black Fortress of Opium

I’m not exactly sure how this album made its way to me; someone must have been reading my diary. And I’m glad they got to the page where I was lamenting that there weren’t enough groups mining the stately gothic folk-baroque sound of later period Swans, Mors Syphilitica, Faith and the Muse, and Faith and Disease. So we’re agreed that Black Forest Of Opium is a good thing? Fuck yes. No arguments. Named after the English translation of the Turkish town Afyonkarahisar, swear to fucking god, our blackhearted trio shows amazing promise and creative poise for such a new band. The album is a heady brew of melancholia, exotic instrumental flourishes, sinister glances and a sound that is as gothic as it is Appalachian and European. What? Yes.

“Edward Devotion” — love that title, reminds me of other cool name songs like “Jack Luminous” and “Little Johnny Jewel” — is a skeletal summoning of the marble tomb sound of the Swan’s White Light From the Mouth of Infinity, regal pacing and tense sadness in every note. “Black Rope Burns” comes off like a bleak murder ballad, mandolin and vocalist Ajda’s exhortations to “tie knots/ strong knots/ tether his heart to mine.” And the music, god! The images and stories they conjure up, long tales of dissolute lovers and centuries’ old curses — for instance, the hypnotic hymn “Ari.” My god, it’s a song about Nico’s son Ari and their diseased relationship! Amazing. The little lyrical details and the eye for scenes in a lost life, it’s… it’s a conjuring, it’s a laying to rest. Better than any biography I’ve read thus far. Elsewhere, numbers like “Crack + Pool” call to mind Faith and the Muse at their most florid and beautiful, as much as it does the Carter Family and string band numbers, lonely mandolin and vocals set against an uncaring void. There’s a reprise of this same song later, in a full-band format, and it couldn’t be more different, snake-hipped psychedelia that’s all smoky and bad trip scary. “Twelve Gross” is a tensely restrained, paranoid creep through darkened ruins and broken promises, bass and drums threaten to crash forth, but always held back by a lattice of smoldering guitar feedback, until it explodes into a howl and stomp.

Now, notice how the second half of the album gets markedly more experimental, shedding skins and trying on masks as fast as the needle skips from one track to another. “Your Past” feels markedly different from the rest of the record, it’s all candy-apple-filled-with razorblades grungy sweetness, taut acoustic guitar giving way to downtuned sludge — calling to mind the Wipers, Sonic Youth and Calamity Jane all at once. “Model Cafe” then shoots off in another direction, a deliciously melancholy slice of classic country torch along the lines of Patsy Cline live at the Grand Ole Opry, with delicate teardrops of slide guitar, brushed drums winging quietly, and Ajda’s lyrics telling a simple and sweet tale of lost love. Wondrous. “From A Woman To A Man” mixes things up a-fucking-gain with a smoldering deathjazzblues shimmy in humid slow motion — the gospel-meets-haunted house organ (and a searing guitar lead, hey what woah?) will make you fan yourself profusely.

Toying with different genres in the same album can be a very good thing, when it yields results like this. Add the Band, with their voracious appetite for a wide-open world of musical possibilities, and a deep sense of musical tradition, to the list of influences. I’m claiming this group as Gothic right fucking now and saying this is how Gothic should be.

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