The decision by any musical project to go without a vocalist will lead to either disaster or a determination to avoid redundancy. Add to that the fact that most bands live and die by the growth and maturity of their music. While niche music is a bit safer from this sort of unspoken principle, stagnation is still just one recycled hook away. With an instrumental band, that challenge becomes even more dubious. The onus for success in these situations lies solely in their music’s ability to provide an engaging, emotional narrative without the safety net of a vocalist’s easily delivered charisma.
Standouts group like Russian Circles, Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and others have made their mark by challenging themselves to continually progress, discovering every possible space in which their music can thrive. But of the many underground instrumental acts that have managed this task, Black Malachite are perhaps the most impressive.
A current of vitality and renewal lights up the project’s latest up, “Nightfall”. Here, finally, is the next phase for Black Malachite. The album is thrillingly unpredictable yet familiar in its finest moments. The foregone-conclusion crescendos of sound have been replaced with luscious peaks and serene valleys. Their fundamental sense of grandeur hasn’t totally disappeared, but it has given way for increased elemental texture and serene warmth.
“Nightfall”, is more cohesive and focused than, for example, their self-titled release dropped at the beginning of the year, which stylistically darted in more diverse directions. Though this album also delves in the ‘opposites-attract-theory’ of acoustic and electronic elements playing against each other, the distinction of the differences is less marked and more fluid.
“Nightfall” proves that Black Malachite has a slightly different outlook when it comes to instrumental music. Instead of having the usual sprawling arrangements, and elongated moments lasting an eternity that most instrumental bands are addicted to, Black Malachite takes a different route.
For this Southern Californian solo artist, who has released three EPs, and four albums, it’s a matter of collapsing those expansive sonic narratives that are inside his head, into an equally captivating series of musical sketches – 12 to be exact, each lasting between 3 to 5 minutes – and each with its own story that is still fully capable of conjuring wonder and amazement.
Resonating guitars, rich pianos and dark ambience all reside together in songs that stretch from fully fleshed-out cuts like “NightFall” and “Daybreak” to the stripped down piano arrangements of “No Longer A Weapon” and “Eon”. In between, the songs mark a promising path for Black Malachite, most notably the guitar driven standouts “Just One More…” and “In Parting, We Trust”, which are my favorites.
All in all Black Malachite retains his vitality in strong melody and careful melodramatic disposition, added to meticulous layering and guitar lines that go straight for the heart on a couple of songs. This record captures a passionate artist finding bountiful new land to explore.
There’s plenty of dynamic songwriting, which is more than enough for a rewarding listening experience. Folks who are already fans of this project are likely to be very happy with yet another solid effort, while newcomers will have a twinkle in their eyes, for finding something truly interesting to listen to.