The Azure Vault: The Trials of Aleksandr Black (AM800SOUND, 2016)
The Azure Vault is the project of Steve Molter of Beware of Safety and Tim Cooper of Signal Hill. Molter lends his talents on guitar, synths, piano, tape loops and melodica while Cooper plays rhodes, drums, guitar, piano, double bass, synths, hand bells, spring drum, and shaker. Both musicians prove to be adept multi-instrumentalists. The EP is a cinematic interpretation of the life of Aleksandr Black and his family who were Russian immigrants to New Mexico 140 years ago. The story includes Aleksandr’s mother dying during his birth, the murder of his father and Aleksandr being framed for it, and his brother becoming involved with bandits. The EP consists of four tracks from seven to over nine minutes long and entwine patient, slow sonic storytelling that begs the listener to take part in the intrigue and tragedy surrounding Aleksandr.
The Trials of Aleksandr Black starts with “Where Shadows Lie” which evokes what one might experience when first walking into the New Mexico desert. The guitar work begins the track with a dreamy melody and with a soft underlying drone-like rumble that is eventually joined by static. A piano becomes the foil to the guitar as it enters into conversation with it. The counter melody is slightly mournful, perhaps foreshadowing the tragedy to come. As a twang enters the guitar line, shakers begin, recalling old west films. Eventually, the drums enter and, at about 3.37, the guitars explode into a heavy growl. The track once again settles down and brings the listener back to the frontier, with a touch of rhodes work entering the mix. Right from the start, Molter and Cooper prove to be exceptional sonic storytellers, magically weaving an extraordinarily evocative cinematic soundscape. “Den of Night” continues the cinematic feel as the drone flows from the first track into the second. The guitar is picked in a hypnotic syncopation while the organ plays a melody overtop. Humming synths punctuate the soundscape, adding texture and feel conjuring lonely evenings in the middle of the desert. Perhaps our bandits lie here, in wait for their prey. Hand bells ring out in the contemplative spaces, interrupting the slow, steady pace of the track.
“End of Malice” begins with a bright guitar tone playing a melody that is almost hopeful. Bass rings out in the guitar’s silent moments. About three minutes in, the tempo changes and the speakers are filled with almost chaotic reverberations with the bass taking center stage. Feedback enters and then the bass, drums, and guitar rumble into the speakers in this huge release. Bass strings are given space to rattle and it creates this great texture in the overall soundscape. Eventually, the guitar is picked with urgency over a soft drone, as if something needs to be resolved or something is about to end. It’s a perfect ending to a track that evokes the ups and downs of living as emotive creatures. The drone from “End of Malice” flows effortlessly into the final track “I Am My Father’s Son”. This track is melancholy, spacious and invites thoughtfulness. The use of synths here is exceptionally beautiful, creating an almost dreamlike state as the guitar weeps overtop. The last track encourages the listener to ruminate and reflect. It is, by all intents and purposes, an ambient piece, both beautiful and restrained.
The Trials of Aleksandr Black is a master-work of cinematic storytelling. Apparently, it took six years to record this EP and send it out into the public and it was well worth the wait. I sure hope we don’t have to wait another six to have The Azure Vault release more wonderful cinematic soundscapes to enjoy. Without one word uttered, Molter and Cooper prove themselves master storytellers.
Download The Trials of Aleksandr Black here.
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