A choral arrangement for the final reckoning of humankind.
If ever I needed a composer who knows how to score tense, foreboding music whilst being unusually melodic – Sarah Kirkland Snider would be right at the top of my list. For several albums, she has been writing some of the most creative alt-classical music that oozes atmosphere from every note. ‘Unremembered’ is one of my favourite non-classifiable albums of the last decade. This time though, Sarah returns for a choral focused album in a much more streamlined release. Its a wonderfully dark album that feels like a final bell toll.
It is really difficult to describe what makes this album so creepy and angelic at the same time. Each track on the album is centred around 14 voice choir called the Gallicantus. They have been recorded in a traditional church like manner with a slight wash of reverb. They sing Latin and poetry from Nathanial Bellows. The theme is to give voice to the animals endangered in this world who can’t speak and as you can imagine, they are frightened, scared and fleeing for their lives.
This balance of beauty of terror then drips through into the arrangements of music. The harp and piano often provide the lush and ethereal backdrop before wind and strings float in to give a mixture of pain, sadness and disorientation. Sarah Kirkland Snider is a master at making the strings or the choir just move up a note to make something feel uncomfortable and intense. This can be from bubbly furrows on ‘Alleluia’ or the brooding brass on ‘Credo’. The best example I can give is the bouncing rhythm the choir and strings provide in the delightful ‘Sanctus/Benedictus’. The track hits a bountiful joyous stride by midway through and then it slowly twists each instrument off into its own off-note. What was once a feeling of safety and joy now has an undertone of fragility and it is so cleverly done. By the time you hit the ten-minute closer ‘Angus Dei’ you understand this juxtaposition of beauty and terror and the track feels like it is ramping humanity up for a final confrontation. The way how the music stays ambiguous makes me wonder if Sarah Kirkland Snider thinks these endangered animals will be saved or if they will be, it will be too late for many.
‘Mass for the Endangered’ is not an easy listen but its a marvellous example of music artistry. The mixture of tones and the stunning vocal arrangements evoke all kinds of emotions in me as a listener. The album expresses so much about a story that has an unwritten ending and the way how it ends makes me feel like Sarah is trying to say – now it is over to you to finish it. A fascinating and challenging album that fans of dark classical, gothic and experimental orchestrations will adore.
Recommended track: Angus Dei
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