Russian neo-classical duo Iamthemorning return with a fourth studio album and quite an assured and impressive release it is. Pianist Gleb Kolyadin is a virtuoso as stellar as any player in the rock world whilst vocalist Marjana Semkina has a stunning voice that is both delicate and hauntingly beautiful. The band’s classical training shows in the structure of the music as well as the performances. The music is based on the song cycle tradition of the nineteenth century, a style established by Franz Schubert, and it allows the telling of quite poignant stories. Effectively, it allows them to deal with what could be rather depressing material. It is story telling that deals with human cruelty and the pain caused by it, but also about how people respond and deal with it. Potentially very deep stuff indeed, but the aesthetic is very much in the Victorian gothic tradition. This is reflected in the art work of Constantine Nagishkin, the favoured artist of the band. The Bell of the title refers to the safety coffin bell, a nineteenth century notion coming from people’s fear of being buried alive. The dead person could ring the bell via a cord should they awake in the coffin and find that they had been buried alive. They are also known as safety coffins.
The ten tracks of the album are split into two parts reflecting the modern take on the song cycle. Although the songs are standalone pieces, their placing in parts suggests that there is a thematic link. Although the lyrics are bleak there is some playfulness, such as the inclusion of lines from a nursery rhyme as at the end of the superb opener “Freak Show”. Although the overall feel might be more than a little morbid there is a sense that no matter how desperate you are there is always help, but you have to call for it.
Semkina is obviously the vocalist who also plays some acoustic guitar and pianist Kolyadin plays other keyboards too. There are a variety of extra players, from the usual rock ensemble to a string section which not only gives a Chamber Prog feel to the music but embeds the classical background of the band. Although Kolyadin could probably dominate the sound with his ability, he is remarkably restrained with little soloing allowing the strength of the music itself to shine. His piano playing underscores the music fittingly. As the vocalist Marjana Semkina brings the story telling to life with a classy and emotive performance.
Parts of the music are actually quite serene, almost pastoral or folkish, until suddenly enlivened by the arrangement. It is the atmosphere of the music which is most distinctive though. Underplaying the music increases the drama rather than going for bombast and the theatrical. The style of the release has enough drama in itself.
This is another quality release by the band and one of the more intelligent ones that you’ll hear this year. Quality stuff indeed.
1. Freak Show (7:09)
2. Sleeping Beauty (3:42)
3. Blue Sea (3:08)
4. Black and Blue (3:58)
5. Six Feet (3:56)
6. Ghost of a Story (3:58)
7. Song of Psyche (3:20)
8. Lilies (4:28)
9. Salute (7:27)
10. The Bell (5:04)
Semkina / vocals, backing vocals, acoustic guitar (3)
Gleb Kolyadin / grand piano, keyboards
Vlad Avy / acoustic guitar, electric guitar
Zoltan Renaldi / bass, double bass (1,2,6,9)
Svetlana Shumkova / drums (1,5,9)
Evan Carson / drums, percussion (2,5,9)
Andres Izmaylov / harp (1,6,9)
Grigory Osipov / marimba (2,9)
Dmitry Tsepilov / saxophone (1,2)
Ilya Leontyev / trumpet (9)
Mr. Konin / bells, accordion, clapping
St.Petersburg Orchestra “1703”
Format: Vinyl, CD, Digital
Release Date: 2nd August 2019