the bell

iamthemorning – The Bell (Kscope)

In Victorian-age Britain, there was a pandemonium over premature burials. Fuelled by real life incidences (whether accidental or on purpose) and fear-inducing stories by Edgar Allan Poe. To curb the panic, cemeteries installed bells that were connected to the already-submerged coffin through long pieces of string, which meant that if a poor soul was buried alive they could pull the string and alert a gravedigger. This device is seen on the album sleeve of Russian chamber-prog collective iamthemorning’s impressive, dramatic and darkly engaging fourth release The Bell. The new record’s album cover showing the aforementioned rescue device is a great introduction to the themes and inspiration for the record; death, different forms of cruelty, the Victorian age and calling for help (also a topic on their previous record 2016’s Lighthouse).

Such as their interest in writing stories, iamthemorning’s albums have always been structured in chapters and songs are written from various character perspectives. The start of chapter one immediately transforms us back in time to the Victorian age. A time when freakshows were a successful money-making form of entertainment – although every time vocalist Marjana Semkina’s words seem historical she is really saying how similar history is to the present.  If audiences laugh at the idiotic on talent shows and documentaries about people with abnormalities, are we are not being like a freakshow observer? She sings: “There are hundreds of likes of me around. Freaks and killers and whores. How can you tell you are not one of our sort?”

Marjana ends the song with the famous nursery rhyme: “Ring around the Rosey. Your pockets full of posies”, but because of the powerfully creepy context of the album the concluding line “ashes ashes we all fall down”, sounds like it’s trying to say that we may differ in appearance but all humans end up with the same fate.

If you have never heard iamthemorning‘s music before, the two over 7-minute tracks – opener ‘Freakshow’ and penultimate song ‘Salute’ demonstrate how adventurous and epic the Saint Petersburg musicians can get with their compositions. Marjana’s voice remains simultaneously effortless and mysterious as the mesmerizing soundscape that swim around her switch pace and genre (could be described as dreamy harp horror theme, speed rock, shoegaze guitar wails, free jazz, 80’s cop theme music, latin romance but some parts are indescribable) and grows more intense and suffocating, in a good way. It’s wonderfully quirky in the moments where it sounds like you’re entering a magic circus composed by Yann Tiersen. As a listening experience you never really want it to end.

Two real highlights on the album lyrically are ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Six Feet’ . The latter begins with wood-knocking,  which seems to resemble somebody knocking for help as they are stuck in a coffin but in a more rhythmic way, because it’s later paired with the line “You’re trapped in a glass box. It’s a soothing and delicate track with a tropical edge and like ‘Freakshow’, it’s places us firmly within the morbid side of Victorian society: “Here comes the candle. To light your bed. Here comes the chopper. To chop off your head”. There’s a wonderfully sinister cruelty in its story-line, perhaps a raging war between freaks and the beautiful people. With the latter becoming the victim this time. “I wish you were one of us. But beauty should turn to dust”.

The malicious and theatrical piano piece ‘Six Feet’ is reminiscent of Kill Bill Vol.2. It contains two perspectives. The perspective of a person coming to terms with the fact they’ve been buried alive: “In darkness I am blind. I will find. Peace and solace. Worms and white lace”, and also from the point-of-view of the perpetrator who attempts to rationale their act: “My life is starting over. I’ll seal her in the grave. There’s no way she’ll find way out.” Perfectly captivating and Daniel Knox-like songwriting. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s a subtle bell sound in the background that appears to suggest that the emergency bell from the cover is being rung.

One noticeable addition to their chamber-progressive rock sound and Gleb Kolyadin’s dominant yet diverse piano performances is the prominence of an exotic sounding acoustic guitar. It’s refreshing new layer to their music and exists on most of The Bells tracks. It’s used during the album’s more mellow yet equally enjoyable moments such as ‘Blue Sea’, in which a protagonist is drowning in the ocean – note that iamthemorning regularly display their passion for bodies of water – but despite the cruelty of human nature sealing their fate, the victim has an unusual stoic sense of optimism: “Thing I know for sure. That I’ll never be alone. With shipwrecks, buried treasures. Things of wonder beyond measure.”

Iamthemorning’s new record The Bell is one of the best albums of the year lyrically. Every sentence about the different dimensions of cruelty is full of intrigue and eruditeness, as well as the sophistication of BBC Four concert. Macabre and malice have never sounded so beautiful.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.