For This We Fought the Battle of Ages
SubRosa = King Woman + White Magic
Salt Lake City’s metal scene has been ornamented with the presence of SubRosa for six albums. Their niche resides somewhere between black freak-folk and dense doom sludge. It’s uncommon to hear a group that crosses these two opposing genres, but they have jumped straight into the fiery pit. For This We Fought the Battle of Ages smashes from foreboding quietude to ascending strings reminiscent of Loreena McKennitt and wah-heavy, thumping strums.
“Despair is a Siren,” a 15-minute odyssey, is grating in dissonance and lilting in melody. It begins with wailing and screeching from the underworld. Following are soft, airy vocals, overlaid with a clobbering and metallic bassline from Levi Hanna. Before breaking into full doom, the song climbs into primal percussion provided by Andy Patterson. Slating wooden sounds are undercut by discordant, plucked strings and a gloomy utterance of “My skin doesn’t fit anymore.” The combined dual violins are nimble in harmony amid grisly, molten waterfalls of muck. The ghostly breakdown swoops in unexpectedly. It continues the remainder of the bridge with one single, deep note like a swarm of hornets in your ear.
SubRosa’s vocal triad, Rebecca Vernon, Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack, creates implausibly eclectic sounds. “Wound of the Warden” is another epic wherein they flip between a forlorn and sultry whisper, smoky melodic yells and a chesty tone that sounds like a forced moan of supreme pain à la Björk. Mid-track, roars are so overlaid and affecting that they sound like they are creating a rip in space-time. I had to pause the song because even on my appalling laptop speakers and through a wall, the soundscape was so horrifying that it woke my sister from her nap in a panic.
SubRosa have the uncanny ability to create compositions both majestic and awful, stunning and sinister, ethereal and anxiety-ridden. Existential lyricism, most evident on “Black Majesty,” rounds out an impeccable potion of cross-genre magic. “Troubled Cells” ends the album with a chronicle about disturbing love, skirting around disconsolate subjects like suicide and obsession. Like all of my favorite music, SubRosa have the capacity to make me prickly and uneasy while also satiating my thirst for elegant songwriting. Battle of Ages forces you from sonic contentment into an auditory space of exploration and introspection—descending from gorgeous descant to gravelly psalm. –LeAundra Jeffs