:Music Review: Servitor – The Forest Crept Back Into The City
Review by Maresa Whitehead
Here’s the thing about tribal industrial: It can only go so far before it all starts to sound the same. Yes, that may be an inflammatory statement for some, but think about it. What does most of the tribal industrial you’ve ever heard draw upon? The main go-to, and logically so, is Native American or African tribal drumming backed by synthesizer, perhaps with some Middle Eastern melodic influences. In no way am I trashing this concept—if you know me, as I’ve said in many a review, tribal industrial is my absolute favorite subgenre. I’m an avid (some might say “obsessive”) fan of the likes of iVardensphere, Stoneburner, and This Morn’ Omina, among countless others. It whisks me away to a more primal state of being and I could dance to it for hours, especially under a night sky around a campfire. And yes, there are many different sounds to be heard under that label. I don’t think we’ve yet hit the threshold. But what happens when we do? What’s next for tribal industrial so it doesn’t get stale?
Enter Servitor, the recently-relocated project of Sean Malley, formerly of Detroit and now of Richmond, VA. In November of 2015, Malley had a double release, one album of which was The Forest Crept Back Into The City. When I first heard it, my heart soared with the newness of it, the fresh take on a subgenre long my preferred. Historically, Servitor, like other tribal industrial artists, has used a wider breadth of influences in crafting his tracks. And so it is with this album. But Malley has risen to new heights, not just for Servitor as a project, but also for tribal industrial as a whole.
In fact, the descriptor “tribal industrial,” while the clear foundation, must now be expanded to accurately describe this worldwide journey of an album, and so I’ll call it “tribal/world industrial.” One need only to peek at the track listing to see the myriad of influences to be found on the IndieGoGo-funded album: “Bruigh An Cnaipe” is clearly Irish, “Donusturmek” is Turkish (okay, I looked it up), and “Turtle Island” nods to an island in the Fiji archipelago. Listening with this knowledge expands the respective tracks in the mind, allowing them to transport the listener around the world—to Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the South Pacific, and beyond.
Along this musical journey, you’ll hear instruments and samples that aren’t usually associated with industrial. “Bruigh An Cnaipe” opens the album with a church-like choir, albeit with some noisy interference, broken by Malley’s signature tribal yell into a drum breakdown. “Branchbaila,” “Kanda Ruskar,” and many other tracks continue the choir theme in their samples, which seems to work as a religious dichotomy, thrusting Catholic choirs against more primordial spiritual sounds. “Donustermek” pulls out the Turkish kaval, a traditional woodwind instrument familiar to lovers of Middle Eastern music. And on “Haz Rumpus,” enter the bluesy guitarwork one might find in the bayous of Louisiana. “Boom Ra Tek” features the droning of the indigenous Australian didgeridoo, and “Bli Mig Lite” infuses drum ‘n’ bass influences with a medieval lute and Celtic violin melody. Similarly, “Jaeghora” plays on drum ‘n’ bass but with the unusual influence of an American marching band drum line.
As if that’s not enough, there’s so much more going on in The Forest Crept Back Into The City. This album begs to be listened to intelligently, with an open mind towards its innumerable worldly influences, and perhaps with some research, though in a pinch it’s also great background noise for your stuffy corporate career. For those of you looking for something more relatable, “Kuzama” and “En Arca” are two of the most clearly industrial touchstones on the album, in which the electronic work shines as old-school-influenced and heavy. “Bassor” continues this industrial throwback but brings in more tribal drumming. It’s also where you’ll find Malley’s cheekiness at its finest when he samples Christopher Walken’s famous “More Cowbell” skit from Saturday Night Live—and yes, there are cowbells! For those looking for more straight-forward tribal work, check out “Kuku Cantorum” before heading to “Turtle Island.” The album closer is the most simple in its native chanting of an older gentleman and young woman backed by a single drum and no electronics, which acts as a gentle and soothing drop off from such a stimulating journey here, there, and everywhere between. Seriously, you will find something you didn’t hear before with each consecutive listen.
“Root Room D00m B00m,” the third track, is perhaps the catchiest on the album, featuring a drumline seemingly out of American swing music backed by the didgeridoo—a wild pairing to be sure, but one that works wonders in getting the blood pumping and the body moving. And yet it doesn’t stop there. In one of the most surprising yet satisfying moments on the album, the distorted deep and growly vocalizations give way to samples of melodic old-time American bluesy-folk singing before switching back to lyrics lamenting “Damn that chair, that game, that boob tube… No work, no dreams, no sky now. Can’t hear you scream, got no [rawr].” This happens again later in the track with a different but similar old-timey sample, all the while amidst drums booming, throaty growling, and synth noise.
Let’s talk about that synth noise for a moment. One of the additional strengths of The Forest Crept Back Into The City is that the synthwork isn’t what you might expect based on previous incarnations of tribal/world industrial. Across the album, it isn’t melodic and doesn’t carry the tracks forward in itself. Rather, it’s more aligned with powernoise in that it is ambient but heavy and noisy, adding atmosphere to the songs, and it’s full of tiny details such as a beep here, metallic screeching there, droning over there. These songs aren’t based on the electronics, but they are propelled by the interaction between those electronics and the drumming, the samples, the vocals.
Taking this deeper, that’s where the concept of this album shines through. What do you envision when you hear the album title? The forest creeping back into the city—the interplay of the man-made, industrial, post-apocalyptic, if you will, and Mother Nature herself. The album title and lyrics throughout make a guess as to which will ultimately prevail, and it is not the human. So get prepared and let the forest start creeping back into your city, your soul, with Servitor. Don’t miss this incredibly unique, compelling, and just plain fun journey around the world!
- Bruigh An Cnaipe
- Root Room D00m B00m
- Kanda Ruskar
- Haz Rumpus
- B00m Ra Tek
- Bli Mig Lite
- Sindle Spindle Six
- Sinte Sagaia
- Kuku Cantorum
- En Arca
- Turtle Island
- Previous :Music Review: eHpH – eHpH
- Next :Concert Review: The Soft Moon, Voight, Acidbat – February 6, 2016 @ The Marquis Theater, Denver, CO