February 26, 2023

Fans of bands like A Swarm of the Sun, Year of No Light, We Lost the Sea and Mogwai will be dazzled by this new album. Ropes Inside a Hole is a Swedish/Italian post-metal collective featuring members of Swedish post-metal group Suffocate For Fuck Sake. Based in Bologna, Italy, they released their debut album Autumnalia nearly three years ago, and having survived a spilt with fellow experimental collectivists Postvorta, RIAH now return with a new line-up, a refreshed spirit – and a new album in the shape of A Man and his Nature.

The imposed quarantine that hindered everyone’s life was surely a peculiar period, but it also gave the band some new ideas, inspirations and feelings to compose this, their second album. The distance gave the band the opportunity to work and produce their songs in a more focused way, as well as it gave them the opportunity to collaborate with people from various locations.

As a result, the album hosts a myriad of contributions, Hernan Paulitti from Buenos Aires, Argentina on violin; the jazz master William Suvanne from Helsinki, Finland on saxophone; Francesco “Fresco” Cellini from Ravenna, Italy on cello; Mohammed Ashfarf also from Ravenna on keyboards and the incredible voice of Daniel Loefgren from Sweden’s Suffocate For Fuck Sake – with which the group is planning to maintain the collaboration on future releases.

This album was brought to life during the strange period of quarantine, with all that comes with it: isolation, doubt, nostalgia, fear and anger and the producer Riccardo Pasini managed to give to RIAH’s work the sound perfection that they needed. For the mastering, like on their previous efforts, Magnus Lindberg used his skill to bring brightness and definition to the album.

The album immediately reveals the changes in the band’s music, unveiling a more introspective sound, that incorporates gentle acoustic guitar, the warm sound of the cello and a tender voice that slowly engulfs listeners and create a sonic landscape replete with nostalgia and gloominess, before waves of colossal and monolithic guitars comes crashing in to provide opposite sentiments of anger and turmoil. The chilling vibes emanating from the keys blend perfectly with the warmth of the saxophone, so uncommon in the post-metal genre, that it gives the songs a mood that is really quite sinister, yet almost pastoral at the same time. And over it all, the gentle voice of Daniel Loefgren really underlines every musical nuance, it’s one of the many highlights of the album.

The songset features six tracks, none of which are short, so you do become immersed in each and every one. From the start of the opener Distance, right through to the final fading notes, you find yourself involved and absorbed by the air of poignancy, despair…but musical mental calmness. There is no joie de vivre in the six songs, but neither is it depressing, it’s more a gently reflective journey of seeking solace for the soul?

Distance is actually quite pastoral until it nears its conclusion, when some humungous riff-slabs hit you, in a style that is strongly reminiscent of the UK’s Dawnwalker. Those comparisons re-occur several times as you negotiate this album. Second track Others Are Gone, I Dont Care opens with characteristic sparse guitar work floating over a quite beefy chunk of percussion, then in comes the post-rock kerrang, Dawnwalker-style. It works well, returning again to a crisp, echoingly simple beat and melody that’s mesmeric…apart from another crescendo at the end.

Loss and Grief is slower, and compared to the first two tracks a bit ‘muddy’ in my humble opinion. An all-pervading air of poignancy envelops this one, again ending on a revved-up slab of sound. Feet In The Swamp, Gaze to the Sky follws, and perhaps this is the core track of the album, a nat’s under ten minutes in length. Happily the mix is best to its crisp best, enraptured by mellow melodic guitar work and featuring up-front tasty saxophone, this works wonderfully well! There’s some pretty heavy vibes contained within this track, it gets quite surreal or psychedelic at times, beefed up again by layers of chords in the central ‘movement’. An ambitious and successfully captivating composition!

Overwhelmed by contrast is almost a three-chord thrash! – a simpler, denser, urgent, fuzzed work-out. Good stuff.

Time to Sleep lives up to its title, a gently relaxing, perhaps optimistic look forward to a new tomorrow? It builds beautifully, again the sound-mix is spot on for the wide range of instruments, soft acoustic work mixing with the anticipated post-rock riff-slabs in the central ‘movement‘ – this word does capture the nature of RIAH, their compositional skills being transparently creative and engaging!

Overall, this came as a big surprise to me, it’s an album that sucks you in, providing a time of reflection and swirling melancholy as the listener immerses him/herself. A Man And His Nature sees RIAH walking into apparently new, uncharted territory but it won’t disappoint previous fans or anyone with an ear for quality ambient post-rock.