The Weight of the World (2013)

– Sanguine Hum

2013’s majestic wave of modern prog rock continues with Weight Of The World, a lovingly crafted compendium of entrancing melodies, spacious synthesizers, inventive harmonies that impress and excite in equal stead and soaring atmosphere worth as much as the album title itself.

Oxford’s Sanguine Hum are a determined quartet, their roots seeped in the lore of prog rock’s finest but wearing the colours of modern electronica’s sovereigns. Album opener From The Ground Up unearths both these sets of influences, chiselling with precision away at the boundaries between the two. The immediacy of the tiniest and briefest of electronic cymbal taps that introduce the soothing vocal line is a great start towards this goal. Comparisons to Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree are hard to ignore, but Sanguine Hum has some unique percussive touches and a smorgasbord of psychedelic synths that truly detach them from the rest of the crowd. One such example against the melodic caressing of guitar is the use of xylophone, perhaps an oddball touch but in the scheme of the wall of ambience, is a delightful addition and makes the atmosphere much more vibrant.

This is followed by the washes of heavier guitar that certainly wouldn’t go amiss in Rush’s sonic palette, of System For Solution. The impressive chemistry, musicianship and tightness of the band’s performance truly starts to emerge here. Synths differ between atmospheric padding caught between the sky and space and what sounds like an analogue cauldron bubbling away in the background. The harmonic unity between warped keyboards, flashy guitar displays and the delightful xylophone makes for one of the album’s many, many highlights, as gracious in the manner of birds taking flight. A further demonstration is the instrumental passage of In Code, an absorbing glide through a blossoming soundscape, oozing with charismatic power chords, intricate xylophone harmonies and the ever-present, increasingly grandiose synth atmosphere.

In an album full of contrasts, Cognoscenti strikes the balance between future and primitive well, driven by gently swaying sci-fi synths and remarkably wooden sounding percussion. The interplay is a great enhancement and makes the track sound overall more organic, but the real star is a trinity of roughened guitar riffs. With next to no build-up for each, a heroic eruption of startling lead guitar bursts forth in possibly the heaviest moments on the whole album, evoking the spirit of classic heavy metal and rounding off the stellar halfway point. But the most striking contrast of all comes in the form of Phosphor, a piano ballad with a lonely, aching heart, most instrumentation stripped away to showcase the purity of the ivory keys and vocals.

At its conclusion, the 14 minute centrepiece Weight Of The World (Parts 1 – 3) is the band’s definitive statement. Continuing with the same wonderful drifting ambience and meticulously constructed harmonies that have shined throughout, creepy guitar picking swiftly darkens the air and sinister traits start seeping through. Tension builds and the complexity changes from grandiose to chaotic, jittery outbursts that reveal different characteristics to the quartet and their music. These unexpected changes in direction serve as a great metaphor for the unpredictability of humanity and the shifts between both moods keep the track compelling. Rounding the piece off is a pleasing minute-long guitar solo which much like the rest of the album, when coupled with the vast atmosphere, is likely make the listener melt into infinity.

Sanguine Hum have made a truly exceptional sophomore effort and their sheer devotion and attention to detail cannot be understated. Absolutely hypnotising in its execution and as characteristically soothing and spectacular as gazing into space, Weight Of The World will likely rank high amongst progressive rock’s finest releases this year.

Jason Hough