By Craig Haze
Constantinople is the debut album from Los Angeles trio Ides of Gemini. Featuring singer/bassist Sera Timms (of Black Math Horseman fame), noted metal and film journalist J.Bennett on guitar/backing vocals, and drummer Kelly Johnson, the band’s first release for label Neurot Recordings is a beguiling blend of the pensive and ethereal. Much like historical accounts of the city of Constantinople itself, this album is shrouded in mystique.
It’s fitting that Ides of Gemini should find a home on a forward-thinking record label like Neurot—founded as it was by members of Neurosis. Ides of Gemini harness that same transformative energy as Oakland’s burliest sons, similarly juxtaposing delicacy and potency, shadow and radiance. Although Ides of Gemini do not indulge in the walls of noise Neurosis frequently purvey—being more sonically aligned to the melancholic avant-doom of Sub Rosa—the band has that very same Neurosis-like ability to simultaneously convey strength and vulnerability.
Constantinople opens with a brief wash of reverb-heavy, glazed black metal on “The Vessel & the Stake”, immediately revealing the album’s desolate flavor. Bennett’s opening riff quickly reduces its velocity, and the fragments of the song are brought together as Johnson’s martial drumbeat and Timms’ exquisite lilt fashion a tune defined by an almost ritualistic temper.
Sera Timms’ vocals lift the lid on that well of inescapable despondency that resides within us all. Only a voice as intoxicating as hers could ever tempt you to open yourself up to your most apocalyptic fears. Whether weaving her entrancements through the phenomenal psychedelic rumble of “Resurrectionists”, or uttering susurrus lyrics on the chamber doom of “One to Oneness”, her captivating vocals provide a framework for the instrumentation, constructing an altar from which she can preach her plaintive sermons.
Although Timms’ vocals bind the album, there is also much to admire in the skillful work of Johnson and Bennett. Johnson’s drumming, restrained throughout the bulk of the album, adds significant, affecting weight. Much like the work of Earth’s Adrienne Davies, the sparsity of Johnson’s beats accentuates her presence. When her sticks hit the skins during the blackened churn of “Reaping Golden”, that percussive depth is felt in concrete terms. Credit for much of the album’s corporeal punch must also must go producer Chris Rakestraw, who also mixed and engineered Constantinople. Mastering duties were handled by James Plotkin, a man who knows his way around landscapes of panoramic doom via his work with Khanate.
Sparseness and minimalism play a large part in Constantinople‘s allure, and the space within the tracks leaves room for darkly spiritual reflection. Bennett’s visceral riffs, which are often tweaked out with distortion, bring poignant mass to the songs—adding flesh to their bare bones arrangements. “Slain in Spirit” is a perfect example of how his slowly grinding and gritty riffs coalesce with Timms’ soaring vocals (and Johnson’s truculent cadence) to transform the tune into a gigantic meditational stomp. While the glacially paced and elegant riffs of “Old Believer” and the shoegaze and ambient thrum of “One to Oneness” are marked by temperance over tempo, Bennett’s work ensures they are ‘heavy’ nonetheless.
The core dynamic of a trio in sync means you are swept away by waves of haunting doom, yet Constantinople never becomes crushing enough to overwhelm you. You may feel like a piece of emotional flotsam, washed back and forth, tantalizingly within reach of safe land. But there’s hope and room to breathe in the glimpses of arcane sentimentality of “Austrian Windows” and “Martyrium”—where wistful threads of a ’70s folk act like Pentangle exist as much as any stripped-back, Pentagram-inspired doom.
Constantinople is constructed of diaphanous threads, but its fragility should not be confused with frailty. Ides of Gemini perceptively balance subtlety with dexterity, appreciating that music with this much emotive potential requires poise and sagacity. Although this full-length is only the band’s debut, its members have clearly drawn deeply from their own histories, and not just in musical terms. Constantinople compels you to leave your heart unguarded. To do so is to be left unnervingly exposed. In life we seek recompense when allowing ourselves to be so emotionally bare, and there is solace to be found in the works of Ides of Gemini because the rewards are infinite.