Following a two-year hiatus Salt Lake City’s SubRosa have resurfaced with the intact core lineup of Rebecca Vernon, Sarah Pendleton, and Kim Pack along with the addition of a new rhythm section consisting of bassist Christian Creek and Andy Patterson on Drums. 2011’s sublime ‘No Help for the Mighty Ones’ was a doomy, post-apocalyptic journey that was equal parts beauty and despair. For the band’s latest, ‘More Constant Than the Gods’, SubRosa have retained their otherworldly, atmospheric approach, though the soundscapes have a heightened nightmarish quality as if awaking from a dream only to realize what was tangible in sleep is disappointingly ungraspable in wakefulness. The balance and ultimate collapse between yearning and disenchantment provides a surreal tension for the duration of the band’s latest.
From the beginning, what has separated SubRosa from other acts is the band’s tasteful use of violin. The addition of a second violinist for their second full-length, ‘No Help for the Mighty Ones’, helped to elevate the band’s overall sound to soaring new heights that effortlessly shifted from majestic ebbs-and-flows to melancholic, dirge-like meditations that were simply unattained on the band’s initial outings ‘The Worm Has Turned’ demo and ‘Strega’. Together, Pendleton and Pack have helped to transform SubRosa into the hauntingly beautiful entity that it is today. With ‘More Constant Than the Gods’ the violin duo take on an even more atmospheric role by providing a darker, more claustrophobic backdrop for Rebecca Vernon’s voice and guitar to enact her shadowy, esoteric tales of death, doom, and decay which is best represented by the dizzying, phantasmagorical din of album highlight “Fat of the Ram”. This nightmarish journey heaves and swells around the unmistakable guitar tone and vocals of Vernon who manages to exude glimmers of light as well as casting impenetrable shadows—a duality that SubRosa has managed capture perfectly on their latest release.
The six tracks of ‘More Constant Than the Gods’ have been painstakingly composed and each one flows as a unique eddy amidst the tumultuous current of the album. “Cosey Mo”, perhaps the most straight-forward track of the release, is most representative of the sound attained on ‘No Help for the Mighty Ones’. Similar to “Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes” in both sound and structure, “Cosey Mo” is carried by the distinct, heavy riffs of Vernon with the violins serving a similar accenting role. Not only has SubRosa released a darker album, but they have pushed their boundaries into new and exciting territories. While the final track, “No Safe Harbor”, is the “softest” tune to be found on the album it is arguably the most interesting musically. Melancholic piano opens the track and is eventually joined by flute. Initially, what really elevates this track above being a mere diversion is the vocals and lyrics of Vernon who is eventually joined by Pack and Pendleton to stunning effect. As the track progresses the melancholia gives way to paranoia, torment, and defiant sacrifice with the inclusion of electric guitar, cello, tortured violins, and hammered dulcimer. What began as an ode of adoration, “For you I would give up mountains of gold/And possessions untold, health of body and of soul” turns woefully sour with the lines “A perfect mirror tells no lies/That's why I shattered you/The truest mirror in my life”. Amidst the collection of haunting tales, “No Safe Harbor” is perhaps the most persistent and indelible of the lot.
Whether it was the break following the demise of the band in 2011 or simply the logical trajectory following the release of ‘No Help for the Mighty Ones’ that is ultimately responsible for the darker, more expansive sound of the newly invigorated SubRosa is uncertain. Regardless of the reasoning, the band has crafted an ominous, heart-rending release that sticks with the listener long after the album has stopped playing. While ‘No Help for the Mighty Ones’ was initially more gratifying and straight-forward—a relative concept as far as SubRosa is concerned—‘More Constant Than the Gods’ is a worthy successor of unparalleled depth that makes this one of the year’s finest albums.
Words: Steve Miller