Here we have the follow up to one of my favourite debut albums of the last few years, the brilliant When Dreams Become Nightmares from Lethe, a collaborative project from Mane’s Tor-Helge Skei and Anna Murphy, Ex-Eluveitie, solo, Cellar Darling. Their first album paid tribute to the forward thinking style of female fronted metal bands such as Atrox, The Gathering, The Third and the Mortal, as well as the ever changing Ulver, experimenting by combining elements of gothic metal with psychedelia, trip-hop and industrial to create a trippy and colourful album with an atmosphere like Alice in Wonderland gone wrong. I was worried with all the projects Anna Murphy is involved with we may not get a follow up to one of her lesser known projects, however The First Corpse on the Moon is the sophomore effort, and while it’s slightly more structured and focused than the debut still provides scope for dark and esoteric atmospheres and experimentation from one of the most forward thinking projects around at present.
The production is just as warm and gorgeous as on the first album, with all the instruments audible and adding to the atmosphere on the album. Anna and Tor both have their metal roots, but it’s not predominantly a metal album by any stretch, with psychedelia, electronica, space ambient and general experimentation all combined into an album that defies specific genre conventions. The first track Night starts the album off well, beginning aptly with a dark sound, sheets of distorted noise blaring ominously, before clean guitar and piano come in softly along with Anna singing in her purposefully strained and higher pitched avant-garde sounding voice she uses for Lethe. Trip-hop style percussion and simple distorted chugged riffing comes along with sporadic male vocals from Tor in a track that’s fairly straight forward with a verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus style, but still features a lot of great textures and layering with its great production job.
As mentioned before the song-writing is more structured than the debut, so we don’t have quite so abstract tracks such as the electronica and sample based Transparent or the slow and avant-garde effects driven Ad-Librum. There’s still a lot of experimentation to be had on the album, it’s more just elements within the songs rather than the basis of the whole song itself. Down into the Sun starts off as a kind of progressive rock piece with spacey synths leading into trippy percussion, electronics and guitar with more clean male vocals and wordless vocalisations in the background from Anna. When the distorted guitar riff comes in and Anna takes the lead vocals, sounding soft and ethereal it sounds like a great trippy rock song with some electronic quirks but still quite straight-forward, until there’s rapping all of a sudden in the background of more vocalisations from Anna before the fast rapping moves into soulful clean vocals from the guest vocalist K-Rip and the track ends with a mix of electronica, metal and spacey psychedelia. It’s unexpected but brilliant, and the album keeps you guessing throughout with curveballs like this, while still writing memorable songs.
The off-beat percussion and melancholic guitar on Teaching Birds How to Fly along with the emotional vocals from Anna makes for a track that’s some strange midpoint between a jazzy ballad and heavy electronic/rock. The creepy vocals and lyrics on With You combine with ominous electronics in another ballad gone wrong, while the longest track on the album, The First Corpse on the Moon has some of Anna’s best vocals on a track with a thought-provoking title and a great spacey atmosphere to match and the soft piano led of Exorcism has Anna singing in a dreamy ethereal shoegazey style. The best track on the album is the desert-rock edged Wind To Fire, with it’s sleazy sounding distorted guitar riffs making for an electric atmosphere, compounded with powerful vocals and lyrics from Anna sounding her best across the whole album, belting out with force at the song’s most intense moments, sounding intimidating in spoken sections, and beautifully soulful in her softer moments. A raw, dark energy absolutely wrung forcefully from the neck of the guitar combined with these impressive vocals makes for a fantastic piece of music.
There’s still a dark and ominous feel throughout the whole album like with the debut, but Lethe have worked their experimental side into more accessible song-writing. It has less of an abstract and psychedelic Alice in Wonderland gone wrong vibe, but while it does miss a little of that innocent charm, The First Corpse on the moon instead has the feel of a more mature and focused effort, more understated but oozing with creativity and thought provoking dark spacey atmospheres. Unlike the debut there are less nods to the influences such as Ulver, The Third and the Mortal and they’ve found more of their own niche with this sophomore effort. Esoteric, beautiful and unlike anything else you’ll hear this year – the enigmatic Lethe followed up their fantastic debut more than successfully with another moody and colourful effort.