Very few contemporary bands or artists of any musical genre make albums meant to be listened to all the way through. The vast majority of recent American music is single-centric. It usually features a simple, predictable melody, rhythm and instrumentation. A full album by the average band consists of a few catchy songs and a whole lot of filler.
The cohesiveness of "Hymns of Mare Nostrum" as a complete record with themes and an instrumental story to tell is just one of many highlight-aspects of the debut album by Montgomery-area band Hail the Titans. There is no filler on this record. Every single song on Hymns fits, thematically and instrumentally. Then again, there are only eight tracks—it is not any longer than it needs to be—but at just under 44 minutes it is long enough for the listener to get suitably “into” the groove of the record before it ends. As far as thematic, conceptual albums of any stripe or caliber traditionally go, it’s on the shorter side—but concept albums as a genre are famous for being bloated, so this is not a bad thing.
"Hymns" is an instrumental record, which seemed daunting to review at first, this reviewer having had little experience listening to—not to mention reviewing—instrumental music. Expectations were uncertain. This reviewer is happy to note, however, that few records of comparable quality have been released in this country in 2011, let alone in Alabama. "Hymns of Mare Nostrum" is a true musical highlight, not just for Alabama’s scene, but for this kind of music in general. Native boys Wes Andrews, Trey Baldwin, Josh Carples, and Adam Davila have certainly created something to be proud of.
The lack of lyrical accompaniment makes "Hymns…" an even greater accomplishment when one discovers the album’s cohesive thematic nature and mood. How easily and effectively the songs move from one mood to another and back within each other, as if the record were an extended symphony! Most instrumental records that are meant to be played all the way through are made by bands who call their music genre “stoner rock” or “psychedelic rock.” But "Hymns of Mare Nostrum" has an appeal that goes far beyond simply getting high and putting on some record to listen to. "Hymns…" is practically a psychedelic experience of its own, with all kinds of thematic and emotional ups and downs.
In particular, "Hymns…" features great pairings of songs, back-to-back tracks that almost sound like two parts of a greater whole that as an album form a sort of mood-story. It has long been this reviewer’s opinion that getting a record off to a successful, smooth start and bringing it to a satisfying conclusion are the two hardest parts of thematically constructing a record. Concept albums are usually the most successful at this, but here Hymns stands out even among the standout genre.
The first two tracks, “The Physical Limitations of Nonlinear Waves in Motion” and “The Surface” work this way: the former is a quiet, ethereal, buzzing intro that merges seamlessly into the latter, shooting off like a rocket in a burst of guitars. The last two tracks on the record work just as well, and roughly reprise the mood and timing of the first two: the seventh and second-to-last track on the record, “The Owner’s Manual to the Universe, Chapter III: Celestial Mapping,” is a more fast-paced sort of slow-building synth track like the album’s opener but could also easily be off "Dark Side of the Moon." he album’s closer, “Practical Applications in the Metaphysical,” bursts into melodic noise much like “The Surface” did to open the record. But this time, in “Practical Applications,” with the record closing, a wailing, stirring theremin accompanies the guitars and bass as they bring the album to a climax.
Although "Hymns of Mare Nostrum" is full of great guitar and drum parts, it is arguably the keyboards and electronic sounds that make this record. Songs like the album’s centerpiece, “Wave Goodbye to the Shoreline; Hello Giant Squid” would not build nearly so well without the album’s recurring ethereal electronic sounds and rhythms. Most records with guitar and bass and drums feature that rock trio as a musical default, every song built around the same loud, brash instrumentation. By using a wealth of electronic music and synth influences and saving the distortion, bass, and rolling drums for climatic songs and moments in the record, the album’s big moments are even bigger and more satisfying. Quiet moments and a slow build can be much more satisfying than an hour of noise.
If you share an interest in this refreshing new Montgomery-area record, it is available for purchase for less than $8 at music.hailthetitans.com/album/hymns-of-mare-nostrum. The band will be performing live locally on September 30 at Prattville’s Blue Iguana, on October 14th at the Tipping Point in east Montgomery, the next day at Tuscaloosa’s Green Bar, the 21st at the Nick in Birmingham, followed by shows in Atlanta and Mississippi followed by a November 12th show at the Capital Oyster Bar in downtown Montgomery, celebrating the 1st anniversary of the opening of the Organic Hippie. More information can be found at http://www.hailthetitans.com.
About the author: Ian MacIsaac is a staff writer for the Capital City Free Press. He is a history major at Auburn University Montgomery in Montgomery, Alabama and former co-editor of the school newspaper, the AUMnibus.
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