The Black Heart Procession - The Spell (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Black Heart Procession

The Spell (2006)

Touch & Go

Over the course of five albums, The Black Heart Procession have settled into a very specific niche.

That niche is responsible for some of the most somber and desolate songs recorded by any band around today, songs that in their minimalist approach, really reach beneath the veneer that a lot of bands put up. The emotion displayed on every single song is striking in its bare honesty, with Pall Jenkins' deep delivery coming from an even deeper and darker place.

And while TBHP has never been a band to advocate drastic change, they're equally un-content with settling into a rut. This could easily be the reasoning behind the switch to a bit more of a rock approach. There's still plenty of delicate piano keystrokes, string works, and light, methodical drumming, but a few of these songs include a sound almost completely absent on previous endeavors - electric guitar. Now, before anybody gets up in arms about the band changing their style, please know that they did not. Simply opting for more depth with this go-round, the band still has a firm grip on great songwriting.

The Spell, as much as any other BHP album, epitomizes longing. The low and unique baritone of Jenkins sets the mood, and the every so carefully placed together arrangements set such a mood that listening and not being dragged into the pits of despair Jenkins describes is almost impossible. And before anyone misconstrues that as me saying the lyrics are cheesy, know that it couldn't be further from the truth. "The Letter" tells the forlorn tale of a man traversing both the world and his own subconscious to find a long lost friendship: "And I know it's not easy, things can be so rough, as we are lost in the waves / And in the letter that I wrote, were the words I never spoke, this is why I can't come home." Those words, set to the tune of some extremely light instrumentation and remarkably perfect cello work encapsulate all that make this band special. Their ability to get so much emotion from so little means does not fail to impress song after song.

As I did mention earlier, The Black Heart Procession did try their hand at a few "rock" songs this time around, and to be honest, they work. They work for one reason. The same elements that make the other songs successful are still prevalent, just in a slightly altered state. "Not Just Words" bounces along on the waves of some understated piano playing and brisk but mellow guitar work. The piano and cello remain, no matter the tempo, integral to the sound and emotion conveyed on The Spell.

This band represents the dark side of human emotion. The hopeless, the desolate, the longing, all in such a beautiful and understated fashion. Even with a few songs picking up the pace a little bit, they didn't lose their bearings. The same general elements are still in place, and just as well presented as ever. The cello haunts, the vocals stir, and the lyrics question. They question emotion at its very core, and explore in depth the effect music can really have. This isn't the band's finest work, this isn't the band at their most desperate, but it is the band at their most comfortable, and whether that turns for the good or the bad, we won't know until we're again graced by an album full of songs that cut to the core.