Dead Space Chamber Music – The Black Hours

The Black Hours Album Cover Art

Dead Space Chamber Music – The Black Hours
Release Date: 03/12/21
Running Time: 42:50
Review by Laura Barnes


As a metalhead, listening to bands like Dead Space Chamber Music is interesting. With its subtle basslines and soft vocals, they are, at first listen, a world away from the music we are used to. Yet, much like bands like Wardruna or Heilung who also specialise in music from a time long past, Dead Space Chamber Music are experts in crafting exactly what metal would be non-existent without: atmosphere. Specifically, an atmosphere darker than a winter’s night. 

“The Black Hours” opens gently, taking you by the hand and leading you through a haunted landscape populated with quiet wails and drums that gradually creep upon you like the oncoming footsteps of a giant. The construction of opening track ‘Liement Me Deport’ is phenomenal; the build-up is slow, gradual, yet never once feels boring or – God forbid – self-indulgent. Every single second of this track has a purpose, and that purpose is clear: it wants to fill you with dread. As the track reaches the three minute mark, that sense of dread swells, and you prepare yourself for the inevitable explosion. And that’s when the unbelievable happens.

It slows. It stops.

This unpredictability, this uneasy ebb and flow is characteristic – and undoubtedly a strength – of the entire album. Which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense. Immediately after this first track was recorded, the country was plunged into lockdown and Dead Space Chamber Music were forced to make radical changes to their improvisation and recording practises. The following five tracks, recorded sequentially over the course of the country’s first lockdown, don’t shy away from embracing this uncertainty. The entire album is engaged in a gentle push and pull, inviting the listener into intimacy in one moment, and plunging them headfirst into the depths of despair in the next. Penultimate track ‘The Pit / Dissolved In Ashes’ is a wonderful demonstration of this versatility. On this track, Dead Space Chamber Music subtly blends Latin and English lyrics during a sombre exploration of grief. The Latin phrases, (for example, Dies irae / Dies illa, referring to a Latin hymn performed at funerals) add a grave sense of formality to the piece, whereas the English phrases portray a raw vulnerability (for example, from these embers I rise again / My heart crushed in ashes) that culminates in a harrowing wail towards the song’s climax. 

One is reminded of the strange balance of collective ceremony and personal sadness that occurs after loss. Vulnerability is something that Dead Space Chamber Music does incredibly well; in fact, twin instrumental tracks ‘Ion’ and ‘Ion II’ appear to be experiments in vulnerability. Just how close is a listener willing to get to a song? ‘Ion’ and ‘Ion II’ get eerily close at times as vocalist Ellen Southern breathes into your eardrum and percussionist Kate Murt’s drums take on a whisper-like quality. Some listeners may, perhaps, find this level of intimacy off-putting, but to them I say: that’s part of the fun! Much like the Metal bands they are often categorised beside, Dead Space Chamber Music make challenging music, testing the boundaries of what music can and can’t be. Even if ‘Ion’ and ‘Ion II’ don’t appeal to your specific tastes, the two tracks are still deserving of praise for their sheer bravery and originality.

With all this talk of darkness and vulnerability, it would be easy to overlook the level of joy expressed in “The Black Hours”. Indeed, “The Black Hours” treads across gloomy waters, but it is the sheer joy that lies at its heart that keeps the album going. This joy is most evident in ‘Mari Lwrd / Morf’ar Frenhines’ (that’s ‘Grey Mare / Queen’s Marsh’ for all the non-Welsh speakers out there – Dead Space Chamber Music are quite the linguists), a song that can be most efficiently described as an entrancing dance around a campfire. Guitarist Tom Bush really shines here, ripping out a doom-infused solo in an album-defining moment that sees all of Dead Space Chamber Music at the top of their game. The lyrics, too, are enchanting, and seem to embody the ethos of the entire album. The opening lines translate into ‘Here we come / Dear friends / To ask permission to sing’ and the final verse translates into ‘I have no dinner / Or money to spend / To give you welcome tonight’. 

Dead Space Chamber music don’t cover Middle English folk songs to get to number one on the charts, nor do they incorporate a bowed and plucked psaltery into their music to fill seats at Wembley Stadium. Instead, they make music for the same reasons that cavemen first began to bang pebbles together: to create, to express emotions difficult to articulate through words alone, and to connect with their fellow man. For that, “The Black Hours” absolutely deserves a listen. 

01. Liement Me Deport
02. Bryd One Brere (Bird on a Briar)
03. Ion I
04. Mari Lwyd / Morfa’r Frenhines (Grey Mare / Queen’s Marsh)
05. Ion II
06. The Pit / Dissolved in Ashes
07. Douce Colombe Jolie

Tom Bush – Guitars, Sampler
Katie Murt – Drums, Percussion
Liz Paxton – Cello
Ellen Southern – Voice, Percussion, Bowed and Plucked Psaltery


Dead Space Chamber Music Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Laura Barnes and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Leave a Reply