In recent years it feels like the cello as an instrument has been shedding its skin somewhat and popping up in a variety of music genres or styles that you may not expect to find it, but yet it shines through. Artists like Aaron Martin and Clarice Jensen have been featured in this blog and come to mind when I think of Cellists expanding the sounds of the instrument. Jo Quail can be added to this growing group of musicians. Being active since 2010, Quail has collaborated with artists such as FM Einheit, Eraldo Bernocchi, touring with Caspian. She is both at home and adept at collaborating in the classical sphere through to electronica and doom metal styles.
“Since the release of her previous album “Five Incantations” in 2016, Internationally acclaimed composer and virtuoso cellist Jo Quail has been touring extensively across Europe performing alongside the likes of Boris, Amenra, Caspian, Myrkur and Winterfylleth. Festival performances this year include ArcTanGent, WGT, Dunk! and Tramiles Festival, and two separate concerts at the invitation of Robert Smith for his curation of the Southbank’s Meltdown Festival.
“Exsolve” has been a unique process in both writing and recording terms for Jo who states “What made the writing process so different for me was the sense that every single note was being sculpted, created, forged by hand somehow. It was not all struggle, but it was a clear process with a lot of very detailed attention to individual sounds; in some cases the sounds themselves built the pieces rather than a melodic structure requiring an extra heft of percussion. For example the tribal toms at the end of “Caulseen’s Wheel” were created and set down before the front end of the piece was written… but as with my other pieces, the whole work relates back and forwards, and is built from the same motif throughout.”
For this album Quail teams up with Chris Fielding (known for his work with metal bands like Conan, Electric Wizard and Witchsorrow), mastering by film composer James Griffiths and guest musicians Dan Capp (Winterfylleth), Nik Sampson (Devilment, Prolapse A.D) and Lucie Delhi.
“Forge – of Two Forms” sets the tone for the release and also opens up any sonic possibilities. Predominantly consisting of Quail’s cello, Capp’s guitar and crashes of percussion, the track opens the album with subtle drones and uneasy atmospherics before the cello comes into play. Screeching feedback careers across with bass drum beats laying down a beat that will be apparent for its need. The main cello part has a consistent almost chugging sound, but this acts as a base, much like the percussion, for the guitar and other cello to build up on. As the track progresses the intent of guitar and cello change from the dronal elements that have been so far dominant. The cello in particular start riffing ahead of the guitar joining it. The mood created is almost claustrophobic as the elements cloak the track with a variety of dark, almost industrial sounds (at one point Quail’s Neubauten connection becomes noticeable). At the seven minute mark is when the track starts to take off with the percussion becoming more intense as the cello and guitar battle each other. The guitar acts as more of a soaring lead, while the cello provides thick rhythmical support. After this epic section the music is steered into a cello dominated part which is more in line with Ambient/Drone meets Modern Classical rather than say Post Metal. It feels like a completely different piece as the solo cello explores this sonic territory, utilizing space, silence and minimalism to create a haunting second half. I can’t help but think the title is a direct reference to the two sides of the track and possibly Quail as an artist herself.
“Mandrel Cantus” straight off experimental loop percussion and thumbed cello open the piece which takes it in a more experimental approach than the opener. I get the feeling that a lot of the external sounds may be taken from the instrument itself and them put through some sort of looping device. Nik Sampson’s guitar adds a more downtuned element to the music that has become more rhythmic thanks to Quail’s exploration of her instrument. The music manages to encompass tribal elements, dronescapes, experimentalism, symphonic textures, electronics and lashings of metal, but yet it fails to be genre bound. I hear things that remind me of Muslimgauze, guitar that feels like progressive metal and for some reason I feel a 1980’s influence as well. This may both open up the music to a wider or narrower audience depending on your tastes.
“Caulseen’s Wheel” having been unaware of Quail’s music and having a preconceived idea of what the music might sound, I was expecting a track like the opening of this particular piece. The music highlights the mournful and melancholic qualities of the instrument. Quail layers different styles of cello to create a solo orchestral piece pairing long drone sections with shorter, faster parts that show the two emotions mentioned above. As the music flows it becomes increasingly denser and more lyrical as the cello lines snake around each other and intertwine to create a thick slice of sound. A brief flurry of noise that sounds like the cello being run through a series of distortion pedals and then thumped, sees Lucie Dehli’s operatic vocals break through the increasingly rhythmic pounding music. Delhi’s voice at times sounds angelic and others approaches Diamanda Galas territory, which suits its musical accompaniment. The final couple of minutes sees a musical maelstrom that when it finishes it requires the listener to have time to decompress.
If you are looking for a standard cello album, this won’t be the album for you. However, if pushing musical boundaries and extending the capacity of an instrument is up your alley, then this album may be for you. “Exsolve” is available on CD/Digital on November 2 with a vinyl edition planned for early 2019. You can buy it Here. Having just finished a tour with Japanese Symphonic Post Rock legends, Quail hits the road once more with the black metal priestess Myrkur. For dates and info visit Jo Quail.