Sundown by Maenad and the Ravers

1. Father Mercy
2. The Whore of Babylon
3. Highway Love
4. Blue Girl
5. What do you do that for?
6. Reign in Hell
7. Spotlight Psycho
8. Virgin Mary (Overtaken)
9. Gravesleeper
10. Send this Devil Away (Live)

Dark times call for dark music and Maenad and the Ravers deliver deliciously on their debut album Sundown. Formed in early 2017, the band takes its name from Greek mythology and the female followers of Dionysus, the god of wine, pleasure and festivity: the term “Maenad” translates to “raving ones”. On this premise alone, it’s clear that the listener is in for something special.

The band has gained a reputation for immersive and theatrical live shows, which fill venues with incense, flowers and droning guitar feedback. No attention to detail is spared during performances, and the same intricate care is applied to this recording.

Built on 80s post-punk influence, draped in darkwave and channelling a distinctly gothic pagan aesthetic, Maenad’s oeuvre will delight those who gravitate to the earthy folk sounds of Myrkur or Chelsea Wolfe, as well as the clanging, ethereal, electronic-tinged sounds of the Cocteau Twins or Dead Can Dance – with a touch of The Cure’s off-kilter, chorus-laden guitar thrown in.

Vocalist Cecilia Nox, who also performs with the dormant folk metal group Ancient Spirit, is the driving creative force behind the group, while guitarist Ming, aka “Evil Undead”, harnesses an almost supernatural array of frequencies with an array of effects. Drums come pre-programmed by bassist Liam roach, whose articulated rhythms form an ominous backbone to each of Maenad’s chilling recitations.

Openers Father Mercy and The Whore of Babylon are the most immediate listens, setting the scene with mesmerising earworm hooks and choruses, conjuring a potent gloom awash with Arabic-inspired melodies. Despite obvious throwback elements to the music, electronics stitch together the more dated components to provide an unpredictability to the tunes that continually shifts and surprises.

Highway Love blazes a furious trail down an open road at midnight with driving guitars, a sultry riot-grrrl refrain and a sludgy bass motif, while Blue Girl is as refreshing yet intoxicating as its presumed alcoholic namesake, combining almost slurred lyrics with reverb-heavy chords, becoming more complex and transporting tableau with Indian percussion techniques and and soft operatics.

Reign in Hell, Virgin Mary and What do you do that for? excel in deceptively somnolent compositions that strike like vipers with sudden haywire turns, unveiling the true power of Cecilia’s classically trained vocal capabilities.

Crowning the record is Gravesleeper, a 10-minute rumination opening with hypnotic keys and soft incantations. After four minutes, the heady psychedelic soup gives way to a heavy, rhythmic thrum topped with exultant chanting. However, at times, the production feels muffled and dulled, as if the full potential of the song laid hidden behind a forest of thorns.

Having a full-time drummer would bring greater warmth and body to performances, while an occasionally lo-fi production value lets down the more textured mixes. Maenad are a band to experience live, there’s no doubt, but listening to the crackle of their LP on a full moon with incense smoke curling gently into the air would be the next best thing. Atmospheric and enveloping, Sundown is one of the most compelling and bewitching debuts to have emerged from Hong Kong in recent memory.
– El Jay

This album can be listened to at Bandcamp, Spotify & Apple Music.

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