For those who like their sounds hard, heavy, and progressive, Steve Von Till is a household name.
Many would claim Neurosis to be the pioneers of the progressive metal genre and, all told, it’s a difficult point to argue.
It’s Von Till’s body of work away from Neurosis that both surprises and pleases in equal measure.
Firstly, there’s his Harvestman project; a primary focus on ambience and experimental composition, slightly influenced by the latter half of the Neurosis discography.
Then there’s his solo project. Von Till himself along with his trusty guitar. He’s made several solid records, perhaps none better than 2015’s, A Life Unto Itself.
Five years on and Von Till not only releases his first published book of poetry and lyrics, Harvestman: 23 Untitled Poems and Collected Lyrics. In conjunction with this release, he also returns with his follow-up to A Life Unto Itself in No Wilderness Deep Enough.
His best solo record yet.
Where A Life Unto Itself was a record cloaked in desolation, Von Till has excavated even deeper with these narratives in something that can be placed in a similar stratosphere to the recent works of Nick Cave and Bad Seeds and Mount Eerie.
Von Till has put the guitar to one side in favour of an electronic aesthetic which has been the focal point of his Harvestman project.
Even so, he adopts a luscious minimalism here and with the help of producer and engineer supreme, Randall Dunn (Marissa Nadler, Sunn O))), Algiers et al), whom Von Till has previously worked with, additional light strings, pianos and French horns add a fundamental dimension to these songs, sprinkling over each track like ash from an iron-grey sky.
Von Till‘s trademark nicotine and whiskey ravaged burr completely compliments these songs. His voice, oozing with the pain akin to a weeping wound. A voice projecting a feeling that dark paths have been endured.
The gentle haunting orchestral swoop of Dream of Trees starts things off with Von Till‘s poetic drawls soaking into the listener’s pores.
“Still now your voices/let us rest/carve the ash like a man possessed/When the weather changes your corpse/Bare to the heavens/Exposed.”
This deeply engaging bone-raw poeticism runs seamlessly through the rest of No Wilderness Deep Enough.
The landscape of Von Till‘s native Idaho shines through, too, creating a sinister foggy imagery which forms a blinding nexus with these songs.
The Old Straight Track is a menacing lonely traipse, filled with spacious arrangements and naked emotion.
“Nowhere to go/Nothing to say/We’ve burned the way/We’ve learned the lay/The lay of the lines/You laid on the line.”
It’s the most jarring passage that Von Till offers us. His voice rides triumphantly alongside French horns and brooding vortex-like synths that add a paralysing depth to this song – one that simply brings a tear to the eye and if it doesn’t then you’re probably dead inside.
Indifferent plucks electronic sequences from Neurosis‘ The Eye of Every Storm, but it’s the piano and rich strings that form the song’s spine as Von Till sings, “Reach for the infinite deep/Wilderness inside our minds/Sheltering sight of the blind/Bleeding all over our lives” as themes of lighting fires to enable spirits to breathe life create an imagery of reaching a new dream-like world.
Then there’s the eerie requiem that is Trail the Silent Hours. Von Till uses dead shells of words to present something that reaches the deepest part of your mind. It’s the most poetic piece on the album.
The aptly titled Shadows on the Run follows and feels like a diseased lullaby designed for an distorted universe.
“If you want to save us from the house that is burning down/Lead us through the flame/Remember all our names.”
The sunken gloom of Von Till‘s words hint that unspeakable moments of trauma need to be acknowledged, endured, and owned in order to find some form of solace for the future.
Which leads us to the final track, the ambient glow of Wild Iron. An atmospheric piano dirge where Von Till provides us a flicker of light, unshackling the burden of hope.
“The firelight is burning low/The half moon sits behind us/Endless the days of unbroken plains/A ring of stars wild with iron/given ground back to the river/Trees gone bare of winter bones/Of the twelve are we the ether.“
With No Wilderness Deep Enough, Von Till connects the dots between frightening existentialism and a dream state by orchestrating rich textures that overshadow heavy silence and eventually annexed by his abstract poetry.
The overarching narrative to No Wilderness Deep Enough persuades us to emerge from a barbed net of destruction. It’s dark ambient imagery feels like walking into a new world and reconnecting with absent loved ones and for those who have suffered personal traumas throughout their life, a profound emotional correlation will be found.
Von Till has created an illusionary piece of art that aggravates raw wounds and stirs past pain as much as much as it provides hope for the future. He has never sounded so poetic. He has never sounded so bare. And ironic as it sounds, he’s never sounded so real.
No Wilderness Deep Enough is available now via Neurot Recordings
Feature Image by Bobby Cochrane