Forever and a Day
Reviewed By Michael O'Brien
I’ve long been a fan of Belgium’s Amenra, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that I became aware of just how powerfully captivating they can be in their acoustic form. In addition to their excellent live album, Alive, from April, vocalist Colin H. Van Eeckhout released a fantastic ambient album, Rasa, under his CHVE moniker in January, and now guitarist Mathieu J. Vandekerckhove brings us Forever and a Day - the second full length from his ambient/acoustic project, Syndrome.
If you stand acoustic Amenra, CHVE, and Syndrome up against each other, there are similarities to be found, especially with respect to the heaviness of their respective emotional characteristics, but Forever and a Day walks a slightly different path to those of its cousins. Despite its single song, 33-minute format, it is a much more direct composition than CHVE’s otherworldly offering, with those 33-minutes being comprised of three individual but interlocking movements. It differs from acoustic Amenra, too, in that each of its sections naturally build and swell with the assistance of synths which slowly layer upon themselves, while the overall style of the material (especially the song’s second movement) is more akin to the kind of musical sparseness you might hear from Steve Von Till’s solo offerings. Syndrome, then, is very much its own entity, but its lineage is recognisable.
A slow, rhythmic tap of a hand on an acoustic guitar gives birth to Forever and a Day, gently introducing the first of its three movements. This movement, like the two that will follow, is underpinned by quite a simple melody that is repeated across its 11-odd minutes. While 11-minutes of a simple melody perhaps sounds like it would be quite dull, it's through the slow and methodical addition of increasing layers of guitar and synth-based accompaniment that the movement reaches its zenith before receding into the next section - the meat of the overall song.
Here in Forever and a Day's midsection, Vandekerckhove brings the mood to a more sombre place and introduces vocals for the first time in a not quite spoken and not quite sung fashion. The gravelly tone of Vandekerckhove’s voice and the way it contrasts against the introspective and rather maudlin nature of the acoustic guitar and lyrical themes is where comparisons to the solo output of Steve Von Till are most apt, despite the lack of an underlying folk influence in Syndrome's approach. There's a real emotional heft that resonates throughout this passage, as though a soul is truly being laid bare for all to see.
When the final third of the song comes to the fore, once again the mood shifts, and this time to a less lightless place than that of the preceding section. It's as though a cathartic transition has been undertaken and a hopeful air has taken hold in the greater narrative. Here, like before, the album's last movement is driven by an acoustic guitar and, like its opening section, it is slowly enhanced by a steady layering until it finally swells to its peak and ebbs away into the ether.
The past couple of years have seen me branching out musically and finding a lot of enjoyment in things that are tangential to heavy metal as opposed to actually being heavy metal proper, and Forever and a Day is a fantastic example of the kind of excellence that can be found within those adjacent streets.
If emotionally dense and immaculately arranged music is your thing, then Syndrome and Forever and a Day should be right at the top of the list of things you're going to want to check out.