In the 1995 Australian film Little Fish, one of the movie’s pivotal scenes featured a children’s choir delivering a spine tingling version of the Cold Chisel track Flame Trees. It was witnessing this moment when I realised what a great track this Oz rock staple actually is. But not only that, I could then also acknowledge that I didn’t feel quite the degree of loathing towards the pub-rock behemoth ‘Chisel’ as I previously thought I did.
So what do Cold Chisel and Harmony have in common, besides playing what could be (very) loosely defined as rock music? Well in the Closing of the Day, the opening statement of intent from the new Harmony record Carpetbombing, we’re greeted by the weather-beaten tones of respected Cold Chisel songwriter Don Walker, whose bleak spoken word intro, accompanied only by a haunted guitar motif, sets the scene perfectly for the sounds that follow…
Harmony are a six piece collective from Melbourne, with members moonlighting in various other respected non-mainstream acts such as The Nation Blue and in the case of bassist John Chappel as a founding member of Welsh rabble rousers McLusky. Carpetbombing is the bands second full length release, following on from their ‘bolt from the blue’ debut self titled effort of 2011.
Heavy gospel or gothic gospel are genres often bandied about when describing the sound of Harmony, and no doubt the band’s approach is very much defined by the contributions of three girl vocal trio Amanda Roff, Quinn Veldhuis and Maria Kastaniotis. It is their ever present, choir-like, gospel tinged harmonising that is very much the calling card of the band, adding a unique and light inducing slant to their dirge-like template of guitar, bass, drums and vocals. And within this unique framework front man and guitarist Tom Lyngcoln takes the role of downtrodden, howling preacher, delivering weighty sermons of anguish and redemption.
Picking out individual tracks to latch onto is somewhat of an exercise in fruitlessness, the album best imbibed as a collective whole. Moments of reflective stillness co-exist with outbursts of sound, with Tom Lyngcoln’s anguished vocals often sounding like they’re being delivered from the bottom of a pitch black well, vein bulging shouts from out of the abyss.
Creepy, echo-laden ambient sounds drift in and out, the raw, bleeding guitar tones are in turns lilting, brooding and implosive and the drumming of Alex Lyngcoln (wife of front man Tom) sounds live and organic in a way that Steve Albini in Audio Engineer guise would no doubt approve.
An oppressive air pervades these slowly unwinding songs, embellished with bursts of salvation via the gospel tinged crescendos of the aforementioned three girl choir. This isn’t an exercise in cartoon angst though, it’s the heaviness inherent in the dark heart of the human condition.
But it’s not all downtrodden doom and gloom, with the rousing gospel-soul interjections providing a beacon of light, delivering catharsis from the introspective, bruised blues template from which the band chisel their sound.
With Carpetbombing Harmony have forged a dense, somewhat uneasy but ultimately cleansing listening experience, best immersed in the lateness of the hour. Out now on Poison City Records.