Given its description as about a planet and a species on the brink of extinction, you should not enter Immanent Fire expecting bright sunny melodies and upbeat lyrics. However, in her exploration of ecological apocalypse, anxiety, addiction and depression, California-based White does seek to bring some light to the darkness in her revaluation of the feminine and the experience of life within a patriarchal structure. If you’ve not encountered her before and need a tag, then I guess Kate Bush/Tori Amos and Bat For Lashes are the most relevant reference points, the former particularly in terms of the complex, orchestral-inclined arrangements, the breathy, almost sensual vocals common to both, the cinematic sonic palette incorporating the sampled sound of birds, insects and thunder.
It opens in hushed, brooding mood with the muted drums and keyboard washes of ‘Surrender’ as she sings of being “out on the road hailing to survive/Held by something that never wanted me alive” before the almost military drum beat, brass and pulsing rhythm of ‘Drowned’ takes over, gradually building in intensity as she sings of the oppression of the feminine (“For many a year, this face of sullen tears/Look down, you left her here/In a room of sanguine mirrors”). Then, clanging percussion introduces the environmental apocalyptic foreboding (“you sit and watch her bleed/And you torched a hole in the sky”) of the near six-minute funeral march-paced ‘Infernal’ as the Earth breathes its last and “at the wake we’ll recall beauty’s face”.
However, while “Modern industrial life/Takes your soul in its fangs” and “we all speak from the cage…Consenting to be washed away”, the quietly pulsing ‘Washed Away’ with its billowing of strings and keyboard shimmers comes with a determination not to be lost: in the flood: “I left my print in the sand/Organic mark made/I got up and walked in the night/And I refused to be washed away”.
It’s a sensibility that carries over into the rumbling pastoral Bush-like ethereality of the slow and stately ‘Metamorphosis’ where, while she sings “I walk the streets alive, barely knowing my own name”, accompanied by choral harmonies, she concludes with the affirmation “You lived through, lived through, lived through”.
Images of blood, fire, poison and tears percolate the album and, in contrast to the previous glimmer of hope, ‘Dew’ seems to see the damage inflicted on the planet as terminal and, while “In holy fright as many try to save you”, the thorns of technology and humankind have “scratched your face/In blood and scar you cannot erase”, a sentiment reinforced with the ominously titled ‘Shroud’, its echoey repeated drum pattern, tolling bell and doom-laden storm of synths and keys underscoring how “Holy war came and gone/Now they say it won’t be long” as we drown in the tide unleashed.
Who’s to bless and who’s to blame is the question asked by the dark pizzicato strings-enshrouded ‘Entity’ (“who takes the throne and who the soil/Who do we love and who do we spoil…some have a helping hand/And others are left barren in the wind”, questioning any higher power with “show me how you wade in the dark”.
Immanent Fire ends in swelling form with the almost liturgical sweep of the piano-led ‘Light’ (“One bell to ring as you wanted, eternally/One bell to sing as you hunted, eternally… And they will chime forever”) and, finally, backed by swathes of strings, doom-soaked drums and resonant keyboard chords, comes ‘The Gates At The End’, “marked by the pens of forgotten women” the heavenly alto sung refrain “And I cannot brace for the end” more defiant than despairing.
Majestic and widescreen it its soundscape, simultaneously melancholic and light, Immanent Fire sweeps over you on first hearing, enticing you to return again and again to soak up the music and immerse yourself in both the gaping abyss and the rays of rebirth contained within.
Artist’s website: www.emilyjanewhite.net
‘Washed Away’ – official video: