I have heard a lot of artists talk about the idea of channeling negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, pain, and sorrow into their art. This process can often be cathartic and even healing for both artist and witness. Perhaps the process of facing these difficult topics and feelings via the medium of art allows us to learn to quantify, understand, and deal with these issues more effectively as and when we encounter them in the “real world”. Regardless, many artists continue to explore darker themes in their work.
The Devil’s Trade is an artist who is familiar with darker themes and with the concept of transmuting suffering and loss into something beautiful. Dávid Makó, the sole member of The Devil’s Trade, does indeed trade in dark and unsettling themes. The Call of the Iron Peak is Makó’s third album as The Devil’s Trade, and it transcends labels such as “dark folk” or “gothic country.” It is terrifyingly bleak and it is also unexpectedly massive-sounding. Makó’s mournful voice is often overlaid several times, and his guitar sound is often adorned with effects which give the effect of a string section or bank of synthesizers. There is still a cutting Americana-infused guitar tone which dominates most of the songs and sits on top of the synthy wash. Some songs feature a stark, folky banjo. Makó’s authoritative and tormented voice wails and moans its soulful outpouring throughout.
The songs themselves are very strong. The lyrics recount tales of loss, death, suffering, fear, and loneliness. The songs are full of powerful and memorable hooks. The musical arrangements, although sparse in terms of actual instrumentation, make elegant use of effects and dynamics to rise and fall behind the vocals, providing a real power and weight to aid the flow of each song. Highlights include the anthemic “No Arrival,” “Dreams from the Rot” with its funereal chorus, and the dense and brooding album opener “The Iron Peak.” There is also a cover of a Hungarian folk song, “Három Árva.” This story of orphans trying to talk to their dead mother is arranged as a lush and mysterious gothic dreamscape.
For all the pain and mourning, there remains the hint of something more hopeful. The first and final songs, “The Iron Peak” and “ The Call of the Iron Peak” — different arrangements of the same theme — feature the lines, “When I wake up at the Iron Peak / Only then I’ll find my peace.” This desire to overcome adversity and reach a state of contentment is also alluded to on three short meditative instrumental interludes titled “III”, “IIIIIIIIIIII” and “IIIIII” respectively. Makó states that the numbered titles of these interludes refer to “a breathing technique to reach the perfect rhythm and help regeneration and rehabilitation”.
Perhaps in some way the idea of “regeneration and rehabilitation” can apply to the whole album. Perhaps writing and listening to songs about painful experiences allows these feelings to be exorcised so that there is space for peace to return. Either way, The Call of the Iron Peak is the sort of record that not only commands attention, but also demands emotional energy. If you are prepared to submit to the journey of The Call of the Iron Peak, during which The Devil’s Trade will illuminate some of the darker landscapes of the soul, then you will benefit from what is a deep, intense and very rewarding album.
The Call of the Iron Peak will be released on 28th August 2020 via Season of Mist. Preorder it here.
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Review copy of The Call of the Iron Peak courtesy of Season of Mist. All opinions are our own. Featured photo borrowed from Facebook.