“So we can surmise that Ides of Gemini don’t go for the jugular. So what is their weapon of choice? For the first half at least, it’s sheer occult power.” – MacDara on Constantinople from Neurot Recordings’ Ides Of Gemini.
Okay, I’m sorry, but there’s no getting around it. The first track here sounds like a slowed-down version of ‘Sweet Dreams’ – and the Marilyn Manson version at that! It’s not the most auspicious of starts for Constantinople, the debut LP from Los Angeles-based ‘dream doom’ trio Ides of Gemini, and in all honesty it didn’t leave me predisposed to like the rest of it.
I mean, it’s hard enough to get excited about a genre typified as it is today by funereal atmosphere and glacial pacing. It’s music that reflects mood rather than influencing it, and if one just isn’t in the mood, well… There are of course some exceptions – classic Saint Vitus is almost immune from criticism, and I defy anyone not to be affected by the blood-curdling Khanate – but the bulk of doom’s practitioners, like their ‘true cvlt’ black metal brethren, stick rigidly to type, for better or for worse.
So we can surmise that Ides of Gemini don’t go for the jugular. So what is their weapon of choice? For the first half at least, it’s sheer occult power. Unfortunate Marilyn Manson referencing aside, ‘The Vessel & The Stake‘ sets out the band’s stall with a storm of blackened riffing courtesy of Decibel writer J Bennett and a haunting vocal delivery from Sera Timms (also of dark desert metallers Black Math Horseman), harmonised at key moments by singing drummer Kelly Johnston. Together they create a monochrome atmosphere of witchery and dark ritual that’s very arresting, at least at first. But when you’re hearing the same thing a few tracks in, that atmosphere tends to evaporate.
There’s a tonal consistency that’s admirable – it’s difficult to conceive an entire suite of songs that sounds like they should fit together – but it’s too consistent. Song pairs like ‘The Vessel & The Stake’ and ‘Starless Midnight‘ run one into the other as set pieces, but often sound so alike that neither leaves a lasting impression. The big descending riff of ‘Slain In Spirit‘ is even copped from the opening track – there’s only one song between them! – and more than anything makes me think that the band are lacking in ideas. The vocals, too, stick to a formula that becomes wearying well before the half-way mark. They should be the centrepiece, the element that marks out Ides of Gemini beyond all others, but when one dirge comes trundling after another, they lose much of their power.
The album’s better tracks, unsurprisingly, are those that attempt to depart from the overwhelming sameness, and they’re all on the second half. ‘Reaping Golden‘ shapeshifts from a pace-quickening bass-driven melody to martial doom to buzzing blackened death metal riffs over a stomping beat. ‘Austrian Windows‘, meanwhile, contains some beautiful chiming guitar lines from Bennett, as well as some of Timms’ most affecting vocals on the whole record, while Johnston’s drumming style finally shows some flair for rhythmic variation. ‘Martyrium‘ also shrugs off the need for volume to convey intensity, letting Timms’ and Johnston’s voices blanket a simple six-note plucked riff, with just a moment of frantic black metal buzzing in the middle to break the tension.
This run of invention ends as ‘Old Believer‘ begins, essentially retreading the riff from ‘Martyrium‘ before chugging along into what’s essentially a track-by-track reprise of the album’s first half. It certainly ties things up neatly, but it’s hardly remarkable, and only serves to accentuate the record’s weaker elements. Why the band chose to do that I have no idea, and I’m not sure they do either.
Constantinople shouldn’t be completely dismissed; there’s a pretty good EP in here somewhere. Perhaps Ides of Gemini should have stuck to the shorter format and not overstretched themselves till they have the right material.