The Gathering

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Baltimore's Arbouretum are singular on the stoner psych-rock scene. Due in large part to the vision of lyricist, frontman, and lead guitarist Dave Heumann, their sound is simultaneously sprawling, devastatingly heavy, sludgy, meandering, and mysterious. The Gathering showcases a lineup change showcasing keyboardist Matthew Pierce. Paradoxically, the band's grimy aesthetic doesn't suffer; they're even heavier. On these seven songs, Heumann's guitar and voice remain the focal points. His slow, dense riffing and atypical approach to elongated soloing are extensions of his singing voice (it's a dead cross between Warren Zevon, John Cale, and Richard Thompson). Heumann's writing is drenched in mytho-poetic imagery distilled from Carl Jung's archetypal psychology (in particular, those that inspired his writing of The Red Book) and less obvious Celtic and Anglo folk traditions. While strange open-space visions of wasted, bleached-out visions of Americana have always haunted his work, the lyrics here transcended those concerns. They are woven into slippery melodies that are juxtaposed against the acid bath of harsh distortion in ever-riffing guitars bogged-out thudding kick drums, open, droning, minimally constructed basslines, and subtle, chameleon-ike keyboard textures. The opening track, "The White Bird," draws its labyrinthine message directly from Jung: "There's somewhere that I have been meaning to revisit/In and among all, even as its true nature is hid/Here, in the gloaming and black night/Here, in the dawn and the golding bright..." The listener is invited inside a journey that has hallmarks in iconic symbolism, disaster, war, transendence, and, finally, redemption. In "Destroying to Save," a string section washes the backdrop of Heumann's sung lines and distorted solo fills that stagger -- albeit majestically -- against the crashing of cymbals and blasted reverb as he sings of "the ashen rider on a shadow mare." The reading of Jimmy Webb's "The Highwayman" could easily be mistaken for one of Heumann's own songs, so well does it fit inside this album's nightmarish visions. The closer, the monolithic, "Song of the Nile," is ten-plus minutes of crushing weight, and blown-out, two-note bass drones. It gives way to a hypnotic riff and a stratospheric guitar solo that concludes with the band achieving an almighty throb via an utterly unholy white-out sonic architecture. The Gathering is Arbouretum's "bridge too far"; there is no return because this set is a destination, not a development.

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