Old Tower

Heads on Sticks 2020

What can one say about this year that isn’t stating the blindin’ obvious and centred in every end-of-year appraisal across every blog and publication out there? The COVID pandemic has dominated all spheres of life in such a profound way that even the cast-iron doctrines of unbridled capitalism screeched to a halt, the free-market fanatics themselves enforcing half the nation’s workforce to pause their labour extraction. After years of Brexit bludgeoning and its resulting social division, the Coronavirus was an oddly unifying experience, cutting through the dichotomies of Leavers and Remainers and inadvertently ushering a feeling of collective experience and responsibility, a shared duty to each other long felt dormant after decades of Thatcherite atomisation. Everyone’s lives have been struck with deep uncertainty, many stung by the painful losses of loved ones and near-unanimous despair at the political ineptitude causing further chaos.

Spending months in your own company, or trapped in problematic living environments, demonstrated just how vital a lifeline music is. The arts, long been neglected in the austerity wasteland and held with contempt from a grey and joyless, right-wing faction who abhor the empathy and imagination it fosters, was suddenly held up as the indispensable joy it always was, the deep, human need for creative expression and escapism breaking through the hollow priorities of a society dictated by unbridled capital. The sudden absence of live music and events wrought some urgent perspective on the preciousness of our creative spaces and independent venues, and did make one ask the question: had we taken it all for granted?

Late-stage capitalism rarely affords the time to stop and think, and the lockdown, so alien to our daily routines and established orthodoxies, unleashed a major space for deep contemplation. The cultural reckoning against racial injustice spearheaded by the Black Lives Matter movement inspiring direct action against authority on a scale unseen since the civil rights era, but to be vigilant against clumsily wading into ineffectual social media campaigns that solve nothing (Heads on Sticks was guilty of this). The grim stats on streaming revenues for artists in light of the Spotify Wrapped rush have raised much-needed awareness as to how we can responsibly consume music that the artists we love spent time and money on, and to keep an eye on the venues who missed out on Arts funding and staying afloat on Crowdfunders. The systemic failure that enabled Trump his ascendency, and an emboldened Far-Right in the U.K., cannot be considered put to bed now that Biden is the president-elect, to quote Ocasio-Cortez, “you’re not going back to brunch”.

When artists have been the soundtrack to such a tumultuous year, the relationship one has with their work takes on an even deeper significance. The songs collated are the hopelessly personal, utterly subjective. Not some hierarchal ‘best-of’ or exclusive document of heavy rotation, but simply the 25 tracks which rattled around The Head’s static ridden box. I hope you enjoy as much I did!

Here’s to a fortunate 2021, and thanks for the music!

Tom (a fan)

Check the Heads on Sticks 2020 list here!

Ysbrydion Castell Rhaglan

Deep within the centuries old foundations of Castell Rhaglan lies the spectral residue of battles fought and kings slain. It’s cold, stone ruins a grave for the sodden ghosts of old Wēalas… ⠀
Arcane energy has been conjured with ‘Ysbrydion Castell Rhaglan’, a desolate traverse through the echoing bowels and caverns of a fallen dominion.

Old Tower ‘The Last Eidolon’

The concept of the eidola has its roots in Greek mythology. Spirit entities which temporarily occupy mortal beings to influence and dictate their decision making for desired outcomes before their eternal rest in the underworld. Ambiguous both morally and by nature, legends tell of Helen of Troy being kept prisoner in Egypt while her eidolon mimic was at the centre of the Trojan War, according to the writings of Herodotus.

The arcane energy which lies neglected under the castle ruins and centuries-old sediment of haunted Europe is a source of fascination and inspiration for Netherlands mage Old Tower. A dark ambient project born from the quasi-orchestral pieces featured in black metal, the sole creative force behind Old Tower mysteriously known as ‘The Specter’ has been crafting a series of deeply evocative and eerie synth pieces utterly immersed in the spectral reverberations of empires fallen and battles past fought, both thematically and in texture. While the murky throb of dungeon-synth certainly courses throughout, Old Tower avoids the PC loops and MIDI Renaissance silliness that can befall his/her contemporaries but instead reaches for deeper, alluring, and richer sonic alchemy.

In contrast to the weathered monochrome of previous artwork, Old Tower’s third and latest L.P. glares with a velutinous blood red, a hint of the exotic traverse of mood and space within. Comprised of three chapters, The Last Eidolon tells a story of a kingdom lain to waste by misuse of black magic and the futile reaching for past glory. Faded memories and desolate introspection pervade the entire record, ‘The Specter’ utilising subtle shifts in tone and instrumentation to convey the haunted echoes of the former dominion.

The first chapter ‘Loremaster’ opens with a ritualistic hammer of a gong crashing through the cavernous expanse. Recurring throughout as a motif albeit in differing levels of reverb and dank, shadowy drones and Gothic vocal choirs percolate deep within the stone fortifications before a sharp interruption of unearthly organs and martial drumming, the ghosts of old warning you not to tread further. ‘Shadow Over Thy Kingdom’ has an industrial clangour in its bowels, the distant pomp of ceremonial might and the metallic resonance of the swordsmith striking together around a mid-section of celestial choral intonations like the conjuring of a once great power. Final chapter ‘The Fallen One’ is a more subdued affair, a meander around collapsed archways and decrepit stone of atmospheric strings and funereal advance, the king wearily resigning himself and his empire to the slow, certain erosion of time. The track is sodden with the hissing fall of rain, the inevitable reclamation of nature that awaits all kingdoms.

Instead of merely presenting an album which provides fantastical escapism, Old Tower instead delivers a record which invites you to reconnect with the fertile aura that inspired centuries of storytelling and lore. The Trojan War, King Arthur, Norse mythology, all legends that stir man’s yearning for meaning and purpose in the short, terrible passion of life. The Last Eidolon is an authentic and beguiling soundtrack to the phantom trauma of the sins of our fathers and the buried empires they once ruled.