A.A.Williams

Forever Blue

Written by: AP on 27/01/2021 19:58:43

Although the term death gospel was originally invented for describing the music of Adam Arcuragi — a mixture of soul and Americana — it has since evolved to encompass a group of (primarily) female singer-songwriters who like to experiment with blending darker and heavier elements into modern folk music. A.A.Williams joined this coven in 2019 when she released her impressive début EP and has since established herself alongside Anna von Hausswolff, Chelsea Wolfe, Emma Ruth Rundle, Marissa Nadler and Miserable, as one of the leading lights in the genre. Williams is classically trained on the cello and piano, and as such, she has a unique talent for creating musical arrangements that speak to one’s sense of aesthetics as well as playing to one’s emotions — a talent she has no problems applying to an electric guitar on this rock and metal-leaning first full-length album of hers: “Forever Blue”.

Curiously, the record takes its title from a song that Williams discarded from her source material, but which she nonetheless felt captured the mood and atmosphere of the album perfectly, and the opening track, “All I Asked for (Was to End It All)”, certainly confirms her inkling with a melancholy piano lead and softly sung ruminations on love and loss. But while one of her fortes is toning down her voice to a smokiness that borders on a whisper and tailoring the rest of the soundscape into an equal muted experience, there is a reason she was asked to collaborate with the shoegazers in Mono on the two-track EP “Exit in Darkness” shortly after the release of her own EP, and it is the the same reason why both Johannes Persson and Fredrik Kihlberg from Cult of Luna make guest appearances on this album: ever since Williams discovered Deftones in her mid-teens, she has loved all things heavy. This is easy to hear when she cranks up the volume of her guitar to join her husband Thomas on the bass and drummer Geoff Holroyde on the drums in kicking up a noisy crescendo in the final third, with orchestral strings and synths pealing around them. This dynamic between the quiet and pensive on the one hand, and the loud and grandiose on the other is a core feature of Williams’ sound, and although it was present on her eponymous EP as well, she seems to have honed it to near perfection on her full début.

Her penchant for songwriting is even more obvious now and it comes particularly to light in track two, “Melt”, a tense and elegant piece in which the juxtaposition between subdued verses and a soaring chorus delivers the perfect instrumental backdrop to her journey from resignation to empowerment in the lyrics. One gets to experience the full spectrum of her voice in this song, from quivering and fragile in the verses, to loud and electrifying in the spine-tingling chorus, which takes on an almost symphonic character as far as the instrumentation goes. Williams must have known that she had a special song in her hands with “Melt”, and as such it makes sense that she strikes a stark contrast to it with the following “Dirt”, which sees the former Wild Beasts bassist Tom Fleming lending some baritone croons to a duet ballad that is much less temperamental and breathes some warmth into the otherwise gloomy atmosphere that hangs over the album. Indeed, already at this point it feels like “Forever Blue” is a markedly more diverse affair than the EP, and this is underlined once again by “Fearless”, which unfurls into a noisy, metallic affair complete with growls by Persson that bears a close resemblance to Chelsea Wolfe in her heaviest moments.

“I’m not made for this anyway”, Williams confesses in the aforementioned “Melt”, as though she were marred by a sense of insecurity about introducing softer elements into heavy music and vice versa. Yet her modesty is betrayed time and time again by her poignant songwriting, in which grandiose string arrangements mingle with brooding bass lines, and delicate piano keys tease the arrival of immense, distorted guitar chords like the most natural thing. She has a deep appreciation of shadow and space, as the likes of “Glimmer” (which includes an understated cameo by Kihlberg) and “Love and Pain” both demonstrate, and it renders her music an emotionally involved, intensely cathartic listening experience. “Forever Blue” may not be the catchiest of records, but it certainly is captivating — provided you are willing to surrender your full and undivided attention to it and allow the music to envelop you completely. No one said death gospel was easy listening, but if you have any kind of interest in the darker recesses of neofolk, then “Forever Blue” provides one of the most entrancing and, ultimately, rewarding examples of the genre yet — one that cements A.A.Williams as one of the cornerstones of this increasingly popular genre.

8

Download: Melt, Fearless, Glimmer, I’m Fine
For the fans of: Chelsea Wolfe, Emma Ruth Rundle, Marissa Nadler
Listen: Facebook

Release date 03.07.2020
Bella Union

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