Metal in its various forms has a reasonably long-standing practice of making concept albums based on historical events, and the latest album from Dystopian Future Movies, War of the Ether (Septaphonic Records) continues that trend with what is almost certainly the most intense musical experience I have ever had.
War of the Ether is a deep dive into a recent scandal regarding 796 skeletons of babies and small children found in a disused septic tank on the grounds of the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam. To hide the shame of a pregnancy outside of marriage, women were sent to these homes, the children forcibly separated from their mothers and either trafficked to the US or died due to neglect. The scandal was uncovered when young boys playing football found large piles of bones. This would surely have been covered up but for the tireless efforts of local historian Catherine Corless.
I think we can agree that even for metal this is a particularly heavy subject matter for an album. One which needs to be treated with enormous care, passion, and songwriting chops which would surely rank as otherworldly or superhuman.
The story starts off with ‘She From Up the Drombán Hill’, and it’s clear that this album is something truly special. The spoken word poetry of Caroline Cawley painting a bleak yet vivid picture of young love a century gone, and a life almost alien to a modern audience. Haunting, cinematic, captivating the story unfolds, music simmering underneath building tension until it rears up and tears through with a raw, visceral scream of guitar feedback from Cawley and Rafe Dunn. The dynamics are strong; the counterplay of light and dark, the build up and release of tension as the story progresses with a grim inevitability. These are strong words, spoken softly, chosen carefully, and delivered with impeccable timing to have the maximum impact on their delivery.
‘Critical Mass’ moves from spoken word to clean vocals as the repeated phrase “Where is love?” builds up in power and intensity, telling a story in the variation of how that simple phrase is repeated, a tale of loss and confusion which is sure to evoke a feeling of tender vulnerability, and helplessness in the hardest of hearts. The first single ‘The Veneer’ captures the hypocrisy of the public and private face of the situation those girls will have found themselves in, ethereal vocals juxtaposing with heavier elements.
‘Walls of Filth and Toil’ transmits an ominous aura of disillusionment, of life in the home, giving way to a tense drop and relentless grind that wears you down, as we presume the story arrives at the labour and birth of an ill-fated child. At this point even after multiple listens I’m still left sitting with my head in my hands feeling powerless to help a situation played out over and over again decades before I was even born.
Titular track ‘War of the Ether’ features an ethereal dreamlike opening, no doubt to convey the feeling of the anesthetic used at the time during childbirth, undercurrents of menace and pain float throughout with cyclical bursts of intensity. The next two tracks ‘License of their Lies’ and ‘No Matter’ cycle through a range of emotions, the growing anger, and hostility of the forced separation, disgust building but being hidden away. ‘No Matter’ is as dark as it gets and is followed with ‘No More Sun, You’re Alone’ which hammers home the themes of loss and hope that can never be realized.
Final track ‘A Decent Class of Girl’, deals with the aftermath of the experience. Delicately delivered lyrics “I won’t let you starve for nothing” and “You regard yourself this way for no one” hit hard, almost too hard, and speak at a loss of faith and how pointless the shame and cruelty were. Repeated through a conflicting mash of musical textures and emotions the album closes out with me feeling raw and emotional, and on many a listen I’m not ashamed to say with genuine tears.
This album is a masterpiece, a Magnum Opus, a tour de force. Simply put this is an incredibly important album, and although not for the faint of heart, I cannot think of an album that has had such an impact on me when listening to it as this has. The investigation into the scandal would conclude that roughly 9,000 children died in eighteen institutions since 1921.
9 / 10