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Trembling Bells – The Sovereign Self

Tin Angel

Trembling Bells - The Sovereign SelfIt’s harvest time and the nights draw in and we prepare for the long winter ahead. In a few weeks the warmth of long summer days will be a distant memory and we will count the days down to the sun’s warm return. As much as music becomes something to share at gatherings and festivals during the summer months, it then transforms into a more personal experience within the winter time. Trembling Bells‘ music manages to traverse all these seasons and create a beautiful blend of emotional music.

“Tween the Womb and the Tomb” starts with Lavinia Blackwall’s haunting voice over a melancholic chord sequence that picks up pace when Alex Neilson’s drums hit in. Lavinia’s voice does vocal acrobatics over the top of a sad song that has a touch of early Fairport Convention meets Led Zeppelin to it. The song is a mournful cry that can’t help but stir your emotions and send you off into the darkness of woods as the music creeps around you like the ancient roots of trees. “O’Where is Saint George?” starts with a bit of a Doors raga-riff vibe going on while vocals chant the lyrics. By the time we hit into the second section there’s a touch of The Incredible String Bands Big Huge album, and the feel of this song certainly has its place in the late Sixties next to some of folk rock’s greatest anthems.

“Killing Time In London Fields” is a sprightly occult rocker that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Blood Ceremony LP, and Lavinia’s vocals almost hiss with a certain demonic evil at points. I was wowed by this track — it conjures up magical rites performed by some coven in the 1970s; there is some wonderful guitar work from Mike Hastings and Alasdair C Mitchell and all the while the rollicking rhythm section of the drums and Simon Shaw on bass keep the track moving along at such a pace. Definitely an album highlight for me. “Sweet Death Polka” is change of pace where you can hear traces of Bob Dylan and Mike Heron’s work with ISB. It feels uplifting in a melancholy sort of way; it has that end of the year feel to it and I could imagine it being performed in an old pub on Orkney where the locals clutch their drinks and sway along to the tune.

“Bells of Burford” starts with an almost Sixties TV action series theme to it, mixed with a bit of Yes-style progressive rock. Lavinia’s vocals soar over a steady guitar riff as the drums fill in behind her. Again the song has an element of Sixties occult darkness to it, especially when building into its atonal lead guitar middle section. This is a freak-out for a tribal gathering of witches who dance around the rune stone, a blistering track with the band firing off on all cylinders and some wonderful haunted organ that underpins the whole piece. “The Singing Blood” is again lighter in tone and has a slight country feel to it, reminding me of some of The Band’s early numbers. The vocal harmonies are sung to perfection and carry the song into another plane altogether.

Drums kick in “Miserichord”, which is the kind of track that would have you dancing around your local venue to its almost jig-like nature as the music rolls along and reminds me of Fairport during their House Full era. The album ends with the deep bass and organ throb of “I Is Someone Else”, a kick out the jams occult-sounding rocker with a melody and riff to kill for. Lavinia’s vocals are beautiful and crystal clear as she intones what sounds like a tale of woe over the top. It’s a big-sounding epic that sends the album off into a wonderful psyched-out, spiralling ending that gets you shaking your hair in true Seventies style to a big bang finish for a tremendous album.

Well, this is certainly at times a darker Trembling Bells than I’ve heard before, and I like it. Their love of folk and Sixties psychedelia can still be heard within its grooves, but I really am impressed with their new way of writing songs and giving those compositions that dark forest edge to them.

-Gary Parsons-

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