The air of religious fervour which resonates quite violently through part one of Hymns & Ghosts‘ stirring title track is felt more subtly throughout the remainder of the album, but it is ever present. Out of the opener’s pained yells grow more reverent vocal tones, solemnly hovering above cleanly plucked strings. When it’s decipherable there’s a passing resemblance to Beirut’s Zach Condon in singer Richard Thompson’s quavered lilt, but quite often the vocals are incorporated as monastic drones, allowed to drift like dust specks through broken shards of stained glass.
The album’s cover shows ‘The Kiss Of Death’ — a haunting Spanish sculpture most often accredited to Jaume Barba — and the atmosphere throughout is fittingly chilly. At it’s darkest Hymns & Ghosts approaches Burial Hex bleakness; the two lengthy title tracks that book-end the album cast dark shadows across what they contain and any chinks of light that creep through will do well to make it out of either side alive. Even the relative brightness of guitar and flute pieces like ‘Morning Song’ — whose double-edged title is surely intentional — hum with Gothic chamber gloom. Elsewhere, in a rare concession to the modern world, ‘Sister’ is undercut by mangled radio static.
The screams that let fly as the Hymns & Ghosts pt. 1 reaches its most hellish nadir could come direct from some rank Inquisition cellar as church bells strike up in the distance to celebrate another heretic soul flayed clean. Pt. 2 never quite stokes the same hell fire, but its descent into shearing metal noise at the end brings it dangerously close. Swinging side-to-side it’s the aural equivalent of Poe’s pendulum and you’re the one down in the pit.