10 Aug 2022 - Thorsten
Blackened Sludgey Post-Hardcore | Mutual Aid Records | Release date: 15 Apr 2022
How can we describe the sound of the earth? Does earth have something like its own sound? Can we synesthesize any given sound with that somewhat primal element? Until today that was nothing that set my mind in motion, but since listening to Head in Hand’s miraculous record Unnatural Providence I have this feeling of associating it with the feeling of dirt and sand, of stones and grit. Why? No idea.
One answer could be the somewhat simplistic cover of this 45-minutes-in-five-songs-monster: It seems to depict a female figure clad like a nun, maybe some kind of Eastern European medieval saint depiction; but all across the cover one sees black lines some thicker, some thinner, nevertheless achieving the effect that the female head is obscured.
Obscurity itself is surely not the aim of the sludgened blackened post-hardcore band, which seems to oscillate between Post-Rock in the vein of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Black Metal a la Thou and Post-Hardcore performed by Unbroken. Some clever people might scream Neurosis or Fall of Efrafa, but as Head in Hand are surely more post-rocky than both, these pioneers of the “post-metal meets Crust-scene” doesn’t quite fit.
When listening to Unnatural Providence, one hears a lot of music, often following the classic quiet-to-loud-scheme, but so freshly done, that the structure doesn’t play a major role. An example for the earthiness of the band is the bass line in ”Years of Lead”: in the middle of the song, the bass reverbs and growls so deeply that it feels as if its sound is crawling from the case of the speaker along the ground onto one’s toes and upwards from there, however never trying to make one dance but more likely to feel the soil beneath you. And when the song seems to slowly move towards its end that bass line is making way for the guitar to calm us down. That the final eruption with harsh guitar crescendos and thunderous bass-work is just about to happen is still unknown to the listener then. There are moments when one cannot fathom how the band will play these songs live as guitar player and vocalist Blake would need three throats and six hands to play all these lines simultaneously on one of those multi-neck-guitars owned by Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen. The rhythm section on all songs only seemingly takes a back seat, because they lay the earth-shaking groundwork on which Blake can then pour his earthy concrete of guitar and growls, of soothing clean vocals and arpeggios.
Thematically, the record revolves around some of the essential problems of mankind in the 21st century: The conflict between self and society – the first track ”Smoking Mirror” shows that in lines like ”Conscripted and consigned, ordained into strife, given the orders amongst the rank and file, heads hang low, don’t look at what is before you. I will never escape. I will never be at peace.” The call for help unanswered by one’s religion – simply and clearly formulated in ”It That Betrays”: ”Infernal sun, scorn the backs of your disciples, your crucible, your wrath. Reach your scarlet arms into the abyss of hope. A false promise”. Religion (and its fakeness) generally a big role on Unnatural Providence indicated by the record title itself, as there can basically not be any such thing as an “unnatural” providence, as any providence (by the hands of God) is a natural one. But if that providence doesn’t provide for mankind, doesn’t help and support it – then it must be seen as “unnatural” as we want to believe that he is our guiding light. The last track, ”I Will Guide Thy Hand”, is as clear as anyone can be about what happens in the end: ”A funeral, a burial rite of passage into the unknown fallen night. The unanswered question, the abolition of the self. No longer chained by this carrion dream, we have no choice but to lay upon the ground.” - finally we can just lie on the ground, do not have to worry about anything anymore, not even our own (finite) existence, our mortal shell, our (presumably saved) self – for all of this existence is nothing more than a dream, which is now over. And that song also ends with the line referring to the earth that ignited my questioning: ”There is no truth. There are no bounds. There is but the earth, return to the ground.”. Shall we stop asking questions as the answers are not part of the providence? Probably best, as we will all end in the earth, one way or another.
Some of the ideas on Unnatural Providence are those uneasy ones, which makes us nervous as we already know that there is no answer to them understandable to us. This record sounds a bit like an open-air-mass. With our feet on the ground, our toes in the dirt and our mind blank, when the waves of sound are crashing over our heads. A record to behold and to embrace. But don’t ask for THE answers. Just feel.