Invocation / Supplication (By Norse Music), the new offering from experimental cellist Jo Quail, is actually a compendium of two connected three-song cycles. The first, Invocation, features the contributions of Heilung vocalist Maria Franz, plus brass instruments, percussion, bass and a choir assembled from crowdsourced mobile phone recordings of individual syllables. Supplication, on the other hand, is a less embellished affair, with just vocals from Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari and Koen Kaptin’s trombone parts to augment Quail’s cello and sound design.
According to Quail, “Invocation and Supplication each describe three aspects of an archetype; both together they form an entire image…earthy, primal and spiritual”.
Invocation feels in many ways like an amalgamation of the dark modern classical approach Quail is known for and the more rhythmically forthright tribalistic style of Heilung’s music. Rousing and mesmeric ritualistic drum beats underpin grandiose cinematic soundscapes as Franz’ voice drifts in and out from waves of lush reverb. Quail generates heavy one-note droning backdrops with affected cello layers, over which brass arrangements and additional cello parts create idiosyncratic and often somewhat unsettling harmonic counterpoint.
At times, such as the climactic sections of album opener “Macha” when Franz’ non-verbal vocal lines soar over distorted cello and pounding drums, the music approaches quasi-metal territory. At others, like the more ambient and drawn-out “Willow of All”, it feels like the soundtrack to an imaginary film — mysterious, tense, and ominous. During these sections Franz’ voice seems to fuse itself with the sound design textures as it shifts from wind-like whisper to forlorn croak to animalistic wail.
Invocation reaches its culmination with the intense and imposing “Baroscyre”. With unconventional contemporary classical harmony, folk-inspired cello melodies, thunderous drums and sonorous brass textures, the piece continually builds as Franz’ commanding vocals rise to a spectacular crescendo.
Supplication, though undoubtedly also dramatic and intense, is more subtle and sparse than its counterpart. It also follows a less rhythmical approach and often seems to be free of any obvious time signature. Quail’s cello parts are perhaps more central to this latter portion of the record; beautifully orchestrated and relatively effect-free melodies and harmonies form much of the musical basis here. As with Invocation, deep drones and otherworldly sound sculptures rise and fall throughout, but in place of tension and frenzy is a contemplative mood that, whilst dark and sombre at times, is strangely peaceful and even hopeful.
Fornasari’s vocals are an extraordinary addition to the two tracks he lends his voice to. Clearly an absolute master, he creates tones that are almost beyond human in their breath and depth of expression, but that nevertheless radiate emotion. It’s unclear whether he is singing words or simply syllabic sounds but, either way, his voice gives Quail’s quasi-spiritual chants an ineffable and elegant potency.
Supplication is bookended by the two tracks featuring Fornasari: “The Calling” and “Kryalaste”. Those two pieces feel almost like two halves of the same track — both following a similar ambient approach with voice and cello (plus occasional trombone and sound design elements) intertwining to paint richly evocative atmospheres. In between these tracks is “Maestoso”, which features a slow but powerful (presumably synthetic) percussion part, and is led by a solemn and ever-building folk-style cello melody that becomes increasingly fervent and embellished before dying away.
Invocation / Supplication is abundant with moving and poignant composition executed in exhilarating and intoxicating fashion. The record’s power lies in its vivid atmospheric depiction and dynamic emotional resonance. Progressive in the truest sense, it bears the influence of metal but is perhaps sonically closer to avant-garde classical music. The compositions are intricate and sophisticated, ergo catchy riffs or hooks are generally absent. Nevertheless, Invocation / Supplication is eminently listenable, viscerally impactful, and a record that feels simultaneously like a natural step and a re-drawing of the boundaries for Jo Quail.
Buy the album here:
8 / 10