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Album Review: STEVE VON TILL No Wilderness Deep Enough

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Like many metal musicians, Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Steve Von Till has released a fair amount of softer and more atmospheric/organic material. Be it with his main band’s own offshoot, Tribes of Neurot, or his eclectic Harvestman project, Von Till crafts tender and tasteful meditations as effectively as he creates angst-ridden viciousness. In fact, his latest solo record, No Wilderness Deep Enough, is likely his most profound, cathartic, and gratifying record to date. Picking up where 2015’s slightly folkier A Life Unto Itself left off, the LP is a slow-burning and meticulously envisioned glimpse into a civilization whose symphonic plaintiveness and gravely realizations are as troubling as they are tranquil.

In the official press release, the record is perfectly described as “a hallucinatory landscape of sound that plumbs the depths of the natural world's mysteries and uncertainties” amidst “provid[ing] a voice of existential wisdom and experience to offer comfort and perspective in an era of uncharted territory.” Combining elements of “ambient, neo-classical, and gothic Americana,” it has much in common with the orchestral somberness of Gazpacho and the prolonged rustic epiphanies of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, thanks in part to collaborators Aaron Korn (French horn), Brent Arnold (cello), and engineer Randall Dunn (Earth, Marissa Nadler). Combine those gorgeous instrumental embroideries with astute poeticisms about “personal longings and loss . . . [and] mediations on humanity as a whole”—as Von Till describes—and you have an album that hits home in many ways (and at the perfect time, considering all of the horrors happening in the world these days).

Album Review: STEVE VON TILL No Wilderness Deep Enough

Steve Von Till (Photo: Bobby Cochran)

Really, No Wilderness Deep Enough is best experienced as a continuous stream of breathtaking introspection, so breaking it down into individual tracks kind of ruins the magic and mission. Still, it's worth noting how opener “Dreams of Trees” is comprised almost entirely of a few stretched out cello notes alongside Von Till’s gruffly dramatic ponderings; therefore, the fact that it remains completely arresting is a testament to the power of its simplicity and precision. Once its piano counterpoints and oscillating industrial percussion are added, it becomes even more devastatingly sublime. By and large, the remaining five observations follow a very similar path; while that could be seen as a detriment since it means that the LP isn’t very varied or surprising, it actually works to enhance the grand sense of unity and purpose.

Along the same lines, Von Till’s words—which he always utters with matured awareness and compassion— are commonly blunt and simple, yet deeply resonant and widespread. For instance, the marginally electronic “Indifferent Eyes” finds him reflecting, “The wilderness inside our minds is lost / To the sheltering side of the blind;" likewise, “Shadows of the Run” states, “If you want to save us from the house that is burning down / Lead us through the flame / Remember all our names.” Thus, his scriptures would be compelling enough if read in isolation (as if he were decreeing them at a poetry reading), so the ways in which the arrangements ebb and flow around each line makes them downright awe-inspiring.

Undoubtedly, some listeners will find No Wilderness Deep Enough to be a tad meandering and samey due to its core low energy ambiance. However, such criticisms are kind of missing the point, as Von Till isn’t trying to entertain or excite here. Rather, he’s trying to educate and caution his audience about the beauty and ugliness of their inner and outer selves, as well as their role within the larger context of mankind. When heard through that lens, it’s damn near impossible not to be wholly absorbed in—if not outright altered by— his combination of sophisticatedly minimalist scores and spiritually commanding annotations. That inherent exquisiteness, placed within the context of the most prevalent and widespread present-day hardships, makes it an even more essential journey.

Score: 9/10

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