The most important fact to dispense with here is that Gramarye is a beautiful album. No prefix, no qualification, no caveat: beautiful, full stop. Although two of Lotus Thief’s members also play in Botanist, the completeness of this band’s musical vision should dispel any notion that this is a mere side-project. Moving with the same graceful, imperturbable inevitability as Slowdive at their best, Lotus Thief creates a beautiful realm to inhabit, an indwelling clearing. Notably, whatever subject matter the album might pursue, it feels like the animating currency of Gramarye is space.
Gramarye is not a drone album, but it shares with the very best of that style an unshakable sense that there’s an unceasing core to the music, a vibration pulled down from some otherwise liminal region. It’s as if the album is trying to teach you about the universe: if you point a telescope to the stars or translate the various types of radiation hitting the earth into sound waves, what do you get? A whole lot of emptiness punctuated by exceeding rare instances of somethingness. But the inky void, the underlying radiation song of the universe? Those emptinesses are music, too.
Album opener “The Book of the Dead” dips into some fairly stout galloping, but the trad-flavored riffing is almost always intended as an earthbound anchor for the skyward-searching guitar leads and cosmic synths. In fact, if you twist your ears just the right way, the song’s midsection, with its briefly twinned guitars and pitter-pattering drums, could have wandered out of a particularly plaintive Hammers of Misfortune song.
Most of Gramarye’s beauty is wrung out of simple, single-note melody lines that soar and stretch while the rest of the sound roots down and sculpts an intensely physical presence. Usually those single lines are carried in the guitar, while Bezaelith’s vocals multitrack themselves into a subdued gothic choir, but on the magnificent chorus of “The Book of Lies,” her single note line is actually just a single note, as if she had summoned such a powerful thought that the only thing to do was find the closest stop on the scale and stay there, getting inside the note and pressing it outward like a beacon. At the very close of the line, she dips down a single note, and although it’s almost literally the smallest of possible gestures (no, it’s not a half-step; no, it’s not a micro-tone), it telegraphs a great weight.
And of course, I’m giving short shrift to Lotus Thief, after all. The band’s release notes suggest that inspiration for these five magnificent songs was taken from various sources dealing with belief, religion, and magic. No mention, you’ll notice, of stars, nebulae, or any other galactic concerns. But isn’t it clear that space is to the natural world what philosophy is to the mental world? The shapeless, the eternal, the void seemingly without limit?
Bezaelith’s guitar and bass are more active throughout Gramarye than they were on the band’s debut Rervm, touching on a diversity of phrasings and techniques that hint at various sources of inspiration without ever being subsumed by them – drone, 4AD-styled goth, spacious doom, post-punk, traditional heavy metal, and the kind of atmospheric guitar rock that only later coalesced into shoegaze. One might find parallels in recent albums from Sinistro and Rïcïnn, in last year’s sublime Marriages album Salome, or even in peak Anneke-era The Gathering, but Lotus Thief has an energy and a certainty that is very much its own.
Each song is interleaved with twinkling atmospherics and wide-open ambience in a manner that eventually suggests the songs are the periodic extrusion of some unbroken line of thought that spans centuries, oceans, languages. Nick Cave tells us that all things move toward their end. If you get down to it, the basic musical components of Gramarye are easy enough. Rock instrumentation, lovely singing, nothing too tricky. But those pieces move toward their natural end. Just because you know what’s making a sound doesn’t mean that’s what the sound is. When Bezaelith’s vocals finally crest into view on “Idisi,” they are double-tracked, legato half-notes. But of course, that’s not really what they signify, because their roundness and simple insistence exceeds the details of their composition, speaking instead of a beautiful, foolhardy belief in structure and order, in the face of the tumultuous universe’s relentlessly contradictory evidence.
That’s not such a bad place to be, really. And with Gramarye‘s unwaveringly gorgeous universe, it is a place we should all be eager to find, getting inside the sound and pressing it outward like a beacon.