With their new release Gentle Doom, the Israeli duo known as Cruel Wonders have concocted a provocative conceit: setting famous poems to what they refer to as “doom-laden neofolk for the post-metal age.” It’s an ambitious premise, but does it succeed?
Upon a first listen, the most striking thing about Cruel Wonders is Tamar Singer’s androgynous and urgent whine, which is an unexpectedly pleasing vocal style. This, combined with her acoustic guitar and bandmate Vlad Shusterman’s accompaniment on electric guitar, gives the album a compelling, melancholy quality.
It’s no small feat to create music to accompany some of the world’s most well-known and beloved poets. James Thomson, Edgar Allen Poe, Lord Byron, William Shakespeare, William Butler Yeats, Charles Baudelaire, and William Blake are all represented here, along with Russian poets like Nikolai Gumilev, Alexander Blok, and Anna Akhmatova. On paper this might seem to be an exercise in pretension, but it works well in practice.
There are some haunting, lovely melodies in these songs. In addition to the guitar and vocals, there are what appear to be samples, either recordings of the poems being read aloud or ambient noises, like the wind chimes at the end of “Walls Of Home.” There are no spaces between each track; the blending is seamless, which gives the album a feeling of forward momentum.
The culmination of the album is probably “Hug The Chain,” which takes lines from Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty” and “Could Love Forever.” There’s no good reason why a late nineteenth century Romantic poem should sound pleasing accompanied by modern guitar sounds, but it definitely does. It’s a wonder no one has thought of combining these two elements until now, and major kudos should be awarded to Singer and Shusterman for their ingenuity.
The biggest thing that prevents Gentle Doom from being a groundbreaking work isn’t the dichotomy between old and new; it’s the mix of the album itself. Because Singer’s voice occupies such an unusual register, it frequently competes with Shusterman’s electric guitar. The result is more cacophony than complementary. The songs on Gentle Doom truly shine when Shusterman holds back and lets Singer and her acoustic guitar occupy the forefront. Perhaps an outside producer or engineer could get a more agreeable result. Regardless, Gentle Doom is an intriguing listen and Cruel Wonders is a duo with big potential.
Gentle Doom was released on 10th March 2017 and is available on Bandcamp at https://cruelwonders.bandcamp.com/releases.