Steve Von Till’s new album No Wilderness Deep Enough is out on August 7th via Neurot Recordings.
Loss is an experience that many of us have had to deal with in our lives. The death of a loved one or someone close to you, finding yourself suddenly without an occupation or education or an illness robbing you of the life you used to enjoy. It can slip in quietly or be sudden and unexpected. The past few months have certainly demonstrated that in plain view. Families have had to deal with the death of those closest to them, businesses, along with schools and colleges, had to close suddenly leaving many with a massive gap in their daily routine, and those who contracted the condition have been left with the legacy of its everlasting effects. It also had an effect which was perhaps less visible. Having to isolate away from those people who are most important to you, being unable to physically contact with those around you and finding yourself stranded as the tide sweeps past.
This sense of uncertainty, isolation, and mysteries of life amidst our current backdrop, fuel the latest release by Steve von Till. The co-leader of post-metal legends Neurosis has a wide and diverse recording career away from his primary focus. His creativity and restless nature have seen him release a number of solo albums under his own name, his psychedelic Harvestman project, and Neurosis off-shot, Tribes of Neurot. Along with running his own record label and being a kindergarten teacher. A busy man indeed. It was being away from his Idaho home, and its rugged surroundings, that helped spark this latest album. Suffering from the aftermath of jetlag in Germany, he began to construct a number of sparse piano-led pieces. Once back in his own home studio, he began to lay down some electronic elements and mellotron. The addition of Aaron Korn on French horn and Brent Arnold on cello helped bring about the final product.
It was the advice of Randall Dunn who made the album what it is. The acclaimed producer of bands such as Wolves in the Throne Room, Boris, Sunn 0))), Akron/Family and many more put his finishing touches in a proper studio. He also convinced Von Till to provide vocals over it, rather than let it be an instrumental release. Von Till was uncertain as to how it would blend but the results speak for themselves. His voice provides the platform for the tonal directions the various songs venture through. Vocally, he possesses more of a gravelly and earthy nature, but it complements the sparse lyrics to a tee. Not perhaps something of standard beauty. Instead, a ragged charm exists within. It provides the music with a sense of honesty and authenticity. It also determines the mood and atmosphere and how the direction changes throughout. There is a sense of defiance on ‘The Old Straight Track’ when he states, “We have the sea/And we’ll always have the sky”. This is contrasted by “Dreams of Trees’, “Dragged from the ocean/Called from the sea/As if you were wise”. The album is attempting to deal with the struggles encountered when dislocated away from a sense of belonging and those things you find comforting. Finding ways to overcome these obstacles, whether they be physical or emotional.
Von Till has spoken of his love of the rural surroundings in his Idaho home. Being in touch with nature and the sense of being it provides him. He espouses this element here, as opposed to taking on aspects of republicanism or conservatism. ‘Indifferent Eyes’ shows the duality of someone being introduced to the joy of the wild as opposed to someone who has lost that wonder. “Reach for the infinite deep/Free of the insanity”. He later warns “The wilderness inside our minds is lost/Sheltered inside of the blind”. His voice has a yearning, cajoling feel to it as he urges the listener to open up themselves to the experience. Embracing the coming evening dusk and darkness to come is referenced in ‘Trail of the silent hours’. “Confusion carries us through the night/We will always stumble in the dark”. Darkness is an even present for many, “But don’t give in”. The connection with the spirit and natural world is further emphasised in ‘Shadows on the run’. “The soul is what is left/When the spirit dies/The past will not erase/An undying embrace”.
This would not work, of course, without the quality of music to back it up. Von Till has expressed his admiration in the past for electronic music such as the early industrial pioneers like Throbbing Gristle and modern composers like the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. It has been a key element of his various side projects to date and works well here. At stages, eerie, jagged pieces create a feeling of anxiety or uncertainty. At others, a warm pulse invites the listener into their world to sit and take a moment. It is a testament to Korn and Arnold that their playing does not detract or overpower the mood of the songs. The cello and French horn on display comes in exactly when it needs to and without the need to be showy or extravagant. Serving the music rather than the other way around. Dunn’s production work allows the delicate moments and periods of solitude to breathe without smothering them with unnecessary padding. Von Till continues to change and blend to the times and environment around him. A signature of the true artist.