Hills are one of my favourite bands, and the 2011 album ‘Master Sleeps’ is one of my most played. I love the coming together of dance rhythms with drone and a healthy dose of reverb, a heady mixture that I find myself lost in again and again. However, on first playing the new album ‘Frid’ I was a little disappointed that it sounded quite derivative of its predecessor.
The first track, ‘Kollectiv’ appears to have the same ideas and philosophy behind it…until about three minutes in that is. This is when the sitar kicks in and took me off in a different direction altogether. It is as if the band have given you a moment to acclimatise to their sound again, four years is a long time between albums after all, and then set its course; a course that takes the listener to the heart of a psychedelic/ ritualistic experience that demands the listeners attention and does not let you go until the very last bar.
‘Kollectiv’, ending as it does with its ritualistic Tibetan sounds, sets us up for the second track ‘National Drone’ which is a strong statement of intense inclusivity where East meets West. It is a melange of sound which is as coherent as it is esoteric as sitar, guitar, groaning vocal and delicate sound effects propel the listener into an intense experience. This acts as good preparation for the more subtle ‘Anukthal Is Here’ with its mixture of acoustic guitar and wah wah gently lulling us into a trance-like state as a siren voice rises as a prelude to a change up as the track builds inexorably before opening out wonderfully into a pastoral plateau which is as beautiful as anything the band had done to date (strangely reminding me of ‘The Vessel’ from ‘Master Sleeps’).
After this ‘Milarepa’ comes as quite a jolt, the preview track from the album I wrote the following a couple of months ago when I reviewed it:
“Named after one of Tibetan Buddhism’s more well known and prolific poets, ‘Milarepa’ begins with cacophonous droning tones which become enmeshed with Eastern rhythms with both themes fighting for supremacy; the chaos and the beauty – something that is lightly resolved by the end of the track. While the track brought to mind ‘Bring Me Sand’ from ‘Master Sleeps’ it seems to me that there might well be more power in this new work, which bodes very well for this release.”
And it has done just that as the next, and longest, track ‘Och Solen Sänkte Sig Röd’ testifies. This is a very deep track infused with a huge amount of meaning and nuance. It is a track that really takes a lot of listening to to be fully appreciated, and repeat listens to test out what is going on. It is, for me, the most fully realised track of the Hills philosophy, which is both meditative and uplifting, and it the proof that this band have made huge steps forward on this album.
This theme is continued with ‘Death Will Find A Way’ which, as the title suggests, has a reverential funereality to it, but is anything but downbeat. I has the sound of ritual power: of hope and of peace. It is a calming end to an album which feels as much like a spiritual journey as I have heard recently. It is, like the rest of the album, in turns serene, challenging and ultimately satisfying.