Graded on a Curve:
The Angelus,
There Will Be No Peace

For well over a decade The Angelus have helped to shape Denton as a significant musical outpost in the region of North Texas, but since the group’s formation they’ve recorded only sporadically, which is unsurprising given the grand, indeed literary sweep of their sound. Having flown largely under the radar while accumulating passionate testimonials from Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde and Midlake’s Eric Pulido, The Angelus’ sophomore full-length and vinyl debut There Will Be No Peace is out January 13 on the Tofu Carnage label.

The Angelus take their name from a 19th century painting by Frenchman Jean-François Millet, a borrowing clearly reflecting seriousness of intent and clarity of vision over the fairly common gesture of homage, an impulse that from a contemporary standpoint is frequently indicative of “cool.” Perhaps this writer is out of the loop, but naming one’s band after a work by an exponent of the Barbizon School isn’t aptly tagged as hipness, but is in fact something better, reinforcing the two simple words at the start of The Angelus’ band bio (described as “A short history”): “Pretty. Bleak.”

The Barbizon School was devoted to Realism in art, and Millet’s paintings of peasant farmers depict a truth that for a large percentage of the planet’s current populace still registers as fact: life is hard. Modern artists striving to portray this circumstance often arrive at the miserablist, but The Angelus, who are currently composed of bandleader Emil Rapstine on vocals and guitar, Ryan Wasterlain on bass, and Justin Evans on drums, percussion, and harmony vocals, have spawned a slim discography sharing a crucial trait with Millet’s paintings; it is an oeuvre to readily absorb rather than ruefully endure.

The outfit debuted in 2004 with a self-titled EP on Pyramid Scheme Records, collecting five songs totaling 34 minutes and establishing sharp slowcore-descended musicianship fortified with crescendos likely to appeal to the Godspeed/Silver Mt. Zion set and further enhanced by Rapstine’s vocals, which embrace the emotive without crossing over to the maudlin.

Their full-length follow-up On a Dark & Barren Land (produced by Josh Pearson of Lift to Experience) didn’t emerge until the fall of 2011 via Gutterth Records. To indulge the literary comparisons the group occasionally inspire (quote Raymonde: [On a Dark & Barren Land] feels like every single song is a chapter from a truly important novel.”), if the EP registers with over a decade’s distance as collected (yet connected) early work, their first album delivers a broader and bolder thematic whole.

This is even more true of There Will Be No Peace. Engineered, mixed, and co-produced by Alex Bhore (formerly of This Will Destroy You) in John Congleton’s Elmwood Recording studio, the album’s tracks unite (fully realizing a tacit explored during the opening half of On a Dark & Barren Land) in a manner surpassing Raymonde’s observation of chapters, as the trim 36 minutes cohere into a largely unceasing musical text.

The individual selections are still distinctive, however. “Will There Be Peace” opens the album with a cinematic blowing wind accompanied by an almost religious incantation of the album’s title. It’s an effective opener made more so through its concision and prelude to the hard-driving instrumental “Thunderbolts I Scatter.”

One of the dangers too often attached to the term literary as applied to music is a vocalist who bluntly refuses to shut the fuck up, but Rapstine speaks as much with his guitar as with his throat, and “Thunderbolts I Scatter” can be accurately pegged as a rocking proposition. In fact, rock velocity applies to much of There Will Be No Peace, and (one more time) if literary, this album moves with the energy of a potboiler or maybe more appropriately a lean hunk of Southern Gothic (Nick Cave is a professed influence).

Tightening the duration aids this quality (On a Dark & Barren Land chalked up 50 productive minutes), but so does a general shift from lushness to urgency, and as the continued heaviness of “It Descends” unfolds, their sound cozies up to an art-metal sensibility that could easily interest fans of their labelmates They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy.

“An Interceding” widens the album’s tonal range through increased moodiness, impressively doing so while tightening their instrumental palette, with Jay Allen’s keyboard contribution exiting the equation without leaving a void. The track segues seamlessly into the slowcore-ish opening of “As I Live and Breathe,” though a shift comes soon enough to a more assertive tempo as it becomes quickly apparent just how adept these three have become as a musical unit. This reality is emphasized by “Man Alive, Alone,” which in its verses conjures a distinct strain of contempo folk-rock.

The choruses release the emotive edge that Rapstine’s wielded since “The Angelus” EP, with Wasterlain and Evans bringing the rhythmic goods in thoroughly non-rudimentary fashion. It’s here that There Will Be No Peace takes its first real pause for breath, though it really connects as a long (again) cinematic fadeout. “It’s a Hell of a Climb” follows and presents the group at their most accessible.

Perhaps it’s just the title conjuring thoughts of Appalachia, but “The Other Side of the Mountain” reintegrates the folk threat but with rock power that could stir those into Will Oldham and even (another stated influence) Lungfish. It leads into the closing title-track, which manages to provide the LP with its instrumental highpoint as Rapstine’s vocals create a musical circle with the opener.

Another of The Angelus’ acknowledged inspirations is Swans, and There Will Be No Peace achieves a comparable effect. But where Gira’s recently disbanded outfit specialized in weighty tomes that could appear formidable from a distance, The Angelus have dished a leaner work that’s power sneaks up and grabs the ear. Hopefully its release foreshadows a faster rate of productivity and higher profile.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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