Words by Jason Guest
Free cake at the merch stand. It’s the way forward, I tell you now. The cake this eve is there to celebrate the birthday of Dave Day, the man that, alongside vocalist/guitarist Sophie Day, bassist Daniel Burchmore and drummer Jake Mason, has been churning out riff after gargantuan riff for Birmingham’s very own Alunah since 2006. With album number four, the mighty and mystical Solennial being released mid-March, tonight marks but the second time that new material be aired.
Where Alunah’s earlier releases are triumphs in themselves, each a progression from the last, it is with Solennial that the band seem to have arrived at a point where they have located, if not created, a distinct and vast space within the deep, droning riffs and atmospheric and melodic passages of doom that is their very own, the earthy and the mythical elements that have long pervaded their works feeling more successfully woven into their material. And so it is much to this crowd’s fortune and pleasure that we can be among the first to share in the celebrations of the album’s release and the birthday of one of its creators.
The opening instrumental passages of ‘The Dying Soil’ plays through the PA, the band enter the stage and take up their instruments. With ‘Light of Winter’, a performance as tight as it is powerful and as moving as it is magical is soon underway and ‘Feast of Torches’ – a particular favourite from the new album for this writer – brings a numinous atmosphere to the evenings proceedings. At times trance-inducing and hypnotic, there is a distinct majesty to the performance, particularly with ‘Lugh’s Assembly’. Another standout track from Solennial, from the harmony guitars that open the piece through the slow, punishing riffs and Day’s dulcet tones, it’s a remarkable track among many others and I suspect will linger long in the band’s set list.
Day’s spectral and haunting vocal melodies that carry her earth worship lyrics hang in the ether while the guitars and drums provide the heaviest of doom-heavy foundations and smoothest of the rich and the textural. Combining slower, more atmospheric passages with the heaviest of heavy doom has been the band’s forte and that Alunah’s material works so well in the live arena is testament to the strength of the band’s writing. And nowhere is this better exemplified than in the material included in the set from their earlier albums, their heft as imposing as the higher powers that Alunah summon forth in a captivating performance. With an album that is no doubt on many a ‘Best of 2017’ lists already, to share in the celebrations of its release with Alunah – and Dave of course (Happy birthday!) – is a privilege. Outstanding.