Light Falls is the fourth Thrill Jockey full-length by J.R. Robinson's ever-evolving Wrekmeister Harmonies in as many years. His m.o. has been synonymous with the epic in conception, scale, and depth. To realize these excessive yet spacious visions, Robinson has utilized a variety of musicians. Released in 2015, the brilliant, maximal Night of Your Ascension featured some 30 guests, including Marissa Nadler, Mary Lattimore, the Body, and members of Indian and Leviathan. Light Falls is different in scope but not ambition. It was directly inspired by writer, Auschwitz survivor, and activist Primo Levi's book If This Is a Man. The band consists of just two members, Robinson on guitars and vocals and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Esther Shaw. The rest of the core group for this date is drawn from the ranks of Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Thierry Amar on basses, drummer Timothy Herzog, and Sophie Trudeau on strings, B-3, and vocals. Ryley Walker and Cave's Cooper Crain guest on the gentle opener, "Light Falls I - The Mantra." Its shimmering guitars and minimal bassline are accompanied by a droning organ. Within a minute or so, Robinson begins repetitively reciting the incantation "Stay in, go out, get sick, get well/Light falls." It feels like a warning. Piano, violin, and sonic effects usher in the seeping darkness. In "Light Falls II - The Light Burns Us All," processional electric guitars and bass, funereal drums, and hovering strings and keyboards suck the air from the room as a doomy metallic thud claims the center. The trademark Godspeed buildup of dynamism (not foreign to WH's music anyway) ensues amid the swirl and wail. "Light Falls III - Light Sick" peels back as starkly contrasting piano and electric guitars dialogue with an elegiac beauty. Trudeau's violin enters "singing" with grief and loss. As more instruments enter the fray, its sinister underpinning is revealed: throbbing distorted bass, crashing kick drums, hi-hat, and snare, woven keyboard noise, detuned power chords, and sweeping electric violin all collide in a maelstrom. In "The Gathering," the pit of darkness and horror opens wide. Tentative electric guitar, piano, and violin harmonics are answered by Herzog's sudden tom-tom and kick-drum punch that swallows and transforms them into a tense, squalling lyricism. The tune's power increases with every pass until all light, everywhere, is extinguished. Robinson adds the personal into this mix, too. The set's final three cuts, beginning and concluding with "Where Have You Been My Lovely Son?," are a supplementary and musically complementary suite; it envelops themes from the "Light Falls..." material and weaves them through folk and Gypsy melodies and blackened death and doom metal, while ambient and industrial noise extends its musical reflection on separation and loss. Chaos and order, power and vulnerability, existential questions of why and the passionate commitment to bear witness are balanced with care and intensity. Light Falls retains the epic nature of Wrekmeister Harmonies' earlier offerings, but the scope is much more intimate, direct, and accessible. As a result, it may resonate with some as even more powerful.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek