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REVIEW: ‘Passage of Gaia’ by Arctic Sleep

Walking along the ‘Passage of Gaia’ with progressive behemoths Arctic Sleep

CALM supporter James Nock speaks to Keith D about instrumental manipulations, planetary inspirations and a lasting core friendship…

Mother Earth isn’t happy. She’s now manifest through the colossal sound artistry of Arctic Sleep, projecting raging gales of sound through the creative souls of multi-instrumentalist Keith D and guitarist, Mike Gussis.

The duo, who hail from Milwaukee and Chicago, have developed a sound that is drawn from grass roots progressive heavy rock and metal, including its many sub genres of ‘Shoe Gaze’, ‘Space Rock’ and ‘Doom’.

It seems evident throughout Arctic Sleep’s musical journey that the planet’s natural beauty is close to the hearts of these two conscientious musicians. Keith and Mike’s music flows with instrumental beauty, entwined in the roots of metallic and doom aggression. The music writes a narrative that screams warnings that our complacent abuse of the environment is setting the cogs in motion for Mother Nature’s apocalyptic demise.

“You’ll find themes of environmental conservation throughout, since that is the issue that is most important to me. Some songs are pessimistic like that and reflect the sorrow in nature and how humans treat it. Other tracks are a tribute to Earth’s beauty and magic”, explains Keith.

‘The influence of our natural environment affects all our creative output in some way or another whether it’s intentional and overt, or inadvertent and ambiguous”.

The pair’s drive does not disappoint. They are not afraid to put their money where their mouths are and push the boundaries of Prog’s forward thinking and flexible laws. 2013’s ‘Realms’ EP is a sure-fire example of Arctic Sleep‘s boundary pushing. Taking a brief side step from the band’s previous heavier outings, ‘Realms’ flirts with the genres of Abstract Ambiance, Drone and Space Psychedelia.

Mike Gussis & Keith D

‘Passage of Gaia’, produced by Joel Wanasek, realigns the band’s roots, continuing on from 2012’s ‘Arbours’ and, its predecessor, 2010’s ‘Earth to Earth’. ‘Passage of Gaia’, as with the band’s past efforts, is bolstered by the powerful alternative guitar sound reminiscent of Kim Thayil, Adam Jones, Sel Balamir and Mike Vennart. The listener can also pick out instrumental hints of ‘Opeth’, ‘Porcupine Tree’ and ‘Cave In’.

The fantastic Emily Jancetic adds vocal harmony and beauty to the mix but there is no complacency in the calm comfort that meanders throughout ‘Passage of Gaia’. Aggressive audio eruptions disturb our contentment. Varying flavour bombs of sound tease our pleasure receptors to feverish and pleasantly intolerable levels, hooking in the listener. The album is built of a ferocity that is deeply rooted in the friends’ passion for music and their writing prowess.

“Arctic Sleep is a huge part of my life. I work so hard for it and it’s the one thing that makes me feel like my existence has any meaning. The music is very personal and close to my heart. I’m very, very passionate about it. Maybe, at times, too much so”.

This passion is evident. Instrumental arrangements chant and chime, sooth and jolt, complimented as always by Keith’s baritone vocal style, Mike’s guitar manipulations and Emily’s ghostly presence. Keith also combines sophisticated classical contrasting with primordial, almost pagan, anger in his writing. Each of Arctic Sleep‘s records aims to develop a natural progression from one release to the next but retain their identity tightly watermarked into the sound.

Keith D

“With “Passage of Gaia,” we wanted to expand our horizons and pull off some things that were new to us. More up-tempo songs were the biggest change, as most of our previous material has been decidedly slow. I also love heavy metal so I wanted that influence to come through more in the recording. Mike and I also allowed the songs to take more twists and turns during the writing. Even the cover art was a departure from our usual themes”.

Gone is the photographic imagery that proudly encompassed the jewel cases and sleeves of Arctic Sleep’s discography. The gifted change came from Artist Jennifer Weiler’s ethereal painting that seems to portray a delicate balance between the fragile peace of Gaia’s beauty and her destructive will.

“When I saw Jennifer Weiler’s art, I was floored”, Keith explained. “I spent a lot of time admiring it. I knew it would be perfect, because I wanted something that looked epic and fantastic. I gave her an idea of what I wanted the cover to be like and what she came up with is one of the coolest things I’ve seen”.

Arctic Sleep Passage Of Gaia cover art by Jennifer Weiler

Progression is feverish in the Arctic Sleep camp and locks the two musicians in a forward flowing course to create new music to share with their established audience and those yet to be hooked in.

“I am going to continue to work with Mike. That is inevitable. He is probably my closest & oldest friend, we have been through thick & thin together. His role in Arctic Sleep is unquestionable. It always ends up boiling back down to the two of us. So, just like on “Passage Of Gaia,” our next album will be created as a two-piece. We’ve got some irons in the fire as far as new material goes, and we’re talking about getting back to the drawing board for the next chapter in our discography. We love the music and love the connection we have with Arctic Sleep fans and that will never die”.

It goes without saying that all bands worth their salt value their audience massively and Arctic Sleep are humble in the appreciation they receive. As music fans, Keith and Mike wanted to entertain and enthral the listener through their musical narratives and landscapes.

“My only hope would be that the album stimulates the listeners’ imagination, triggers endorphin release, and ultimately provides comfort in times of strife or companionship in times of loneliness. When people tell me the music helped them in some way, to me that is the ultimate reward for making music”.

All imagery care of Arctic Sleep.

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