Sojourner – Perennial (EP Review)

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It hasn’t been long since we last heard from Sojourner. It feels like only yesterday that we were blessed with “Premonitions”. That exquisite blend of black and melodic death metal was a treat for 2020, and people were understandably itching for more. Fortunately, the wait for new material was very short, and as of June, we have been offered the opportunity to be absorbed into the post-human ecological paradise that is “Perennial”.

Between “Premonitions” and now, the 6-piece multi-national group have made some alterations to the line-up. Chloe Bray’s departure from Sojourner left some incredibly large shoes to fill, though it seems the band have picked an absolute winner in the form of the formidable Lucia Amelia Emmanueli. To enhance the vocal proficiency contained within this act, Tom O’Dell joined as the backing vocalist, as well as the second guitarist. Both of these new members contribute to the band with incredible competence, and we’ll delve into the factors behind this in a moment.

“Perennial” is a two-track mini EP, though despite its relative shortness, the band doesn’t waste a second, making every moment count in this musical exposition into a world finally rid of the human scourge. There is this sense of intrinsic conviction from the band in portraying this theme, and it’s evident in multiple facets of the work. The lyrics are as poetic as ever, powerful enough to elicit some deep heartfelt emotions. All three vocalists throw their everything into their respective parts, whilst the drums and guitars illustrate a powerful and transcendent landscape that Sojourner wears so well. I felt that the mix was slightly lacking in bass, therefore preventing Scotty Lodge from exhibiting his bass guitar prowess, and as a result I felt that something was missing ever so slightly in the more powerful segments (and yes, I tried multiple sound systems!). The composition was on point, the musicianship was polished, but I think I needed just a bit more bass to drive it all home. With that being said, it didn’t at all take away the overall positive experience I had listening to this EP.

The title track, “Perennial”, elicits our imagination to envision the breaking point of mother nature, inviting us to reminisce about the band’s first lyrical imaginings in 2016 within “Empires of Ash”. It begins with a gorgeous and modest overture played by a flute, immediately reminding me of the soundtrack for the video game Ori and the Will of the Wisps, specifically the track “We Named Her Ku”.

The atmospheric temperament that exists through all of their releases is just as present as ever in “Perennial”, and it seems that they have really gained a mastery over this component, giving them the ability to capitalise on ambitious moments and scale things back in more intimate sequences when needed. However, it’s not always pretty and picturesque. The band doesn’t shy away from bringing that well-loved primal ferocity, with vocalist Emilio Crespo lashing the listener with his powerful screams during some of the heavier and more hurricane-like rhythms. It’s a welcome contrast from the pure beauty that emanates from Emmanueli, and the transitions back and forth between the two vocalists are commendable, to say the very least.

“Perennial” Album Artwork

The drums throughout this EP are superbly placed in terms of their position in the mix. The cymbals have this wetness about them that doesn’t allow them to perforate the relatively warm texture of the mix, but instead empowers it by respectfully filling up the empty space behind the instruments and vocals, consequently adding to the huge sonic atmosphere. In addition to this, Riccardo Floridia fulfils his duties superbly behind the drum kit with some blistering hand and footwork. The musicianship on the part of the guitarists should not be taken for granted either. Mike Lamb and Tom O’Dell both display an admirable level of articulation, cleanly waltzing their way through catchy leads and technical arrangements. It could also be the post-production polishing, but the choice to really choke the backing guitars up during certain staggered chugging patterns in “Perennial” really allows the rest of the band to have their space to perform for the listener. Even the guitar tone itself is well suited to this EP. The level of distortion is just enough to allow the chord progressions to act as the foundation for which the rest of the tuned instruments and vocals shine on top of.

So far, it’s been very difficult for me not to talk exclusively about the clean vocals. Both tracks are beautifully composed, but the skill and grace of Emmanueli is hard to keep quiet about. In the last section of “Perennial” we’re given refuge in a quiet solo piece sung by Emmanueli, accompanied by piano. It’s quite simply breathtaking, and matches the haunting and spellbinding finesse that you would expect from someone like Heike Langhans from Draconian. She knows exactly when to stand out as the vocalist, and merely be an accompanying element of sound during bigger and more cinematic moments.

Her pronunciation is praiseworthy; her willingness to honor every word properly, like words as simple as ‘acts’, shows a high level of professionalism and class when it could be very easily pronounced like ‘axe’. Her commitment to powerful vocal techniques is remarkable. In the same intimate and emotional section mentioned above, she sings ‘obscene’ repeatedly. She projects her voice with a strong diaphragmatic control, and doesn’t let the melody retreat to a head voice. It’s no doubt taxing, let alone doing it once (hear the deep breaths during each repetition), but the result is a mighty and confident condemnation of the atrocities carried out by humans against the Earth. This is one of the factors I alluded to in the beginning that stand out as huge contributions to the sound of Sojourner.

Just when I thought “Perennial” would wrap up there, Crespo and the band storm back into our ears with a hammering energy. The choir-laden outro that follows is hair-raising, and it felt like the sun just began shining on a meadow somewhere after years of overcast weather. The optimistic feeling one acquires here is emphasized by the lyrics: “The ashes of empires and shadowed roads, now gone. Premonitions once futile gave way to a new dawn.”

This is the perfect ending to “Perennial” as it provides a thematic segue to the second track “Relics of the Natural Realm”.
The second, and unfortunately the last, track begins with a brief soundscape and the listener will quickly come to understand that the serenity they hear lacks one thing, humans. “Relics of the Natural Realm” paints this picture of a pristine world, now healed after the erasure of our kind. Posited as an epilogue of sorts to one of their first tracks “Heritage of the Natural Realm”, the ambience is heavily melancholic. You can hear the breeze dancing through reeds while birds call and respond to each other, but in this case, no person is around to appreciate it. Ironically, when Emmanueli’s sterling voice descends as if from the firmament, I immediately imagined her singing in the fields with birds perched along her outstretched hands, like a dark and gothic version of “A Smile and a Song” from the original Snow White film. If I’m right, Emmanueli doesn’t seem to have any pitch correction over her voice. The result is this organic and unaltered exhibit of her incredible control, whether it be head or chest voice. The ability to let the bright and more nasal tones come out and then switch to the gorgeously breathy and whispery textures is something that can not be praised enough.

Tom O’Dell establishes himself as an indispensable force for Sojourner in this track as well, providing a contrasting vocal performance that is equally as enchanting. His control and impressive vocal projection is a perfect response to Emmanueli’s call. His voice, mixed with the tune he sings, makes me think about Mikael Akerfelft’s singing in the Opeth masterpiece “Ghost of Perdition”. Even if others don’t agree, it should at least be taken as nothing short of a huge compliment to O’Dell. I loathe that his performance was so short, and I can only hope that we hear more focus on him in their future endeavours. What I do love, however, is the instrumental break after O’Dell’s performance. Instead of employing a string ensemble, they strip everything back and use a multi-layered vocal arrangement to accompany the piano and flute. These melismatic harmonies from O’Dell are almost tear-jerking, and provide a cleansing effect for the listener before the final act of bombardment led by Crespo. His harsh vocals have improved over the years, and the listener can hear his ability to push himself further, putting emotion and a slight strain into his efforts. This gives the track exactly the strength it needs to drive the EP home.

I didn’t expect to write this much about “Perennial”, but as one dives deeper into the two epic tracks, it’s almost impossible to just brush over it. Despite its shortness, this EP is full to the brim of skill, grace, calculation and most of all, a deep love from the band, for the band. “Perennial” has cemented Sojourner even more as a monumental force within the metal scene. I am sure that every fan of this band will be aching for more, and I’ll be right there aching with them.

Release Date: June 4th, 2021
Released By: Napalm Records
Genre: Black Metal/Death Metal

Musicians:

  • Emilio Crespo / Vocals
  • Lucia Amelia Emmanueli / Vocals
  • Mike Lamb / Guitars, Piano, Synth, Keyboards
  • Tom O’Dell / Guitar, Backing Vocals
  • Riccardo Floridia / Drums
  • Scotty Lodge / Bass

“Perennial” Tracklist:

  1. Perennial
  2. Relics of the Natural Realm

9.0 Excellent

“Perennial” is a masterfully crafted mini-EP, acknowledging the roots of the band, whilst progressing further and refining that atmospheric sound which captivates and absorbs the listener. Though only two tracks long, it is so dense with a level of musicianship that can only be achieved through deep dedication. In this EP, Sojourner went with quality over quantity, and the results are extraordinary.

  • Musicianship 9
  • Songwriting 9
  • Originality 9
  • Production 9
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