Even in these disposable days, there are still (thankfully) some artists who are capable of getting a foothold and creating a lasting body of work.
Two such individuals are BLACKFIELD co-conspirators Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen. Wilson is best known for his increasingly intense and phenomenal work with Porcupine Tree who continue to gain in popularity and fill huge venues while most fall by the wayside. Geffen, meanwhile, is something of a phenomenon in his own right. The son of esteemed Israeli poet Yehonatan Geffen and the nephew of Moshe Dayan, he is Israel’s leading counter-culture rock musician and was allegedly the last person ever to speak to the trouble state’s former president Yitzhak Rabin before he was assassinated. Fiercely critical of the Israeli military, he famously refused to do his compulsory military service and has become known as an outspoken peace campaigner while also scooping gold discs back home. Not for nothing has he supported U2 along the way.
On paper, firebrands of this calibre ought to be able to bring something special to the table, though I confess I found their self-titled first effort from 2004 a little on the patchy side. As with much of Steven Wilson’s work, it has gained ground for me with repeated listens, so while I missed the follow-up (the handily-titled ‘Blackfield II’ from 2007) I feel I’m better qualified to judge the respective merits of their timely third release ‘Welcome to my DNA.’
As with the debut and indeed most of Porcupine Tree’s work, ‘Welcome to my DNA’ is ultra-modern music aligned to big issues. However, while it’s riddled with doubt, concern, loneliness and sadness, it clocks in at a brevity-fuelled 37 minutes. It’s hardly Blackfield’s ‘pop’ album, but with most of the songs succinctly hitting the chequered flag in under four minutes, there’s urgency about this record which is both welcome and hugely affecting.
Musically, think the more cinematic and less Metal-inclined end of the Porcupine Tree oeuvre and you’re broadly in the right ballpark. The opening ‘Glass House’ is lush and graceful with pattering pianos, strings, mellotron and soaring harmonies, while most of the tracks bearing Wilson’s guiding hands (‘Dissolving with the Night’, ‘On The Plane’) have a melancholic, slow-burning quality which suffuse into you in spite of yourself.
Geffen’s tracks are a little spikier and more chameleonic. ‘Go to Hell’ finds the phrase “thank you all, thank you” repeated like a self-help mantra while the guitars brood, then suddenly burst across the stratosphere. ‘Blood’ alternates between mysterious Middle Eastern motifs and descending, almost Celtic sadness, while ‘Zigota’ is a re-working of a track from Geffen’s ‘Memento Mori’ album and brings us sweeping music of sombre presence.
Crucially, though, while ‘Welcome to my DNA’ is superficially a big, portentous-sounding record, scratch beneath the surface and you realise just how personal and human these songs truly can be. On ‘Rising of the Tide’, Wilson sings “any day can be the last one of your life/ so make it unforgettable”, swallowing anxiety attacks and a tangible fear of the future while the music sweeps you off your feet. On ‘Dissolving with the Night’, the lyrics leak pain and sadness (“I can count on one hand all my glorious days”), but they’re picked up by the orchestral swell of the music. Perhaps best of all is the closing ‘DNA’ where they confront the mortality we live with on a daily basis (“we’ve all got expiry dates”) yet wring something glorious and life-affirming from it all.
‘Welcome to my DNA’, then, could easily buckle under the weight of some seriously weighty issues. Instead, Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen bring us a series of impeccably scored, but wholly approachable anthems that any concerned, but relatively well-adjusted soul can relate to. Excellent work all round.
Blackfield on Kscope Records website