For their fifth album V, Bay Area doom drone duo Barn Owl expand their regular array of murky processed guitar tumult by experimenting with various electronic elements in the mix. While the band perfected the sound of an empty, barren desert at night with its previous instrumental offerings, V leans away from the underlying dread and general despair of earlier albums, moving more toward the ominous than the doomed. This transition is apparent with album-opener "Void Redux," an arid mesh of subsonic drum machine thumps, plinky, reverb-coated guitar lines, and an undercurrent of repetitive Terry Riley-informed horn-like sounds phasing through the background. "The Long Shadow" follows with a haunted Nosferatu organ coming in and out of focus beneath waves of demolished guitar frequencies. The feeling is definitely tense and anxious, but the subtlety of the songs keeps them from ever feeling overwhelmed with dread or horror, and they end up being more connected by veering away from extremes. The gradient of emotional tides on V is wrapped in disintegrating guitar tones, obscuring the swatches of hope, disappointment, loss, and discovery in thin sheets of static and sounds that feel buried shallowly under the ground in the backyard. This is all driven home by the new addition of understated, equally buried rhythmic elements, such as on the dark dub of "Blood Echo." The first five songs work this new formula to great effect, and the only drawback of the album is its 17-minute-long closer "The Opulent Decline." Though trimmed down from more than a half-hour of unedited movements, the lengthy piece begins to drag almost immediately, and its droning, slow transitions are the only weak spots on an otherwise captivating and sonically rich collection.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas