Raising The Fires is Bristol band H&WC’s long-awaited debut full-length record, the entirely logical successor to a tantalising string of EPs and associated singles which have appeared at roughly six-month intervals over the past three years as the band has built up a healthy following with several high-profile festival appearances and support slots. But this album proves they’re already a major act in their own right.
Fittingly, Raising The Fires is a good old-fashioned concept album, relating the story (inspired, we’re told, by Scottish folklore) of a white witch who, wrongly burned at the stake, then casts a spell, ending the world as we know it and conjuring all the mythological creatures back to roam the earth. To realise the tale, H&WC bring music of a distinctive presence and character, such that they’re able to bring it all off without a hint of pretentiousness. The magical quality of the storytelling is brought out in Heg’s arresting, drama-filled singing, naturally conceived and cushioned within a vivid, richly scored musical landscape of piano, violin, double bass and accordion, augmented at times by stirring percussion gestures (although, it must be said, the various choral/vocal contributions of other group members and hangers-on are no less accomplished).
This is epic, visionary writing, set to music that matches brilliantly in both scope and scale. We’re talking the classical-prog end of the folk spectrum here, with a blend of telling intimacy and unashamed grandiosity that gives unavoidable resonances of Kate Bush (without the histrionics) amidst the Gothic-romanticism, offset with overtones of chamber-folk and Schubertian ornamentation and strikingly well recorded with a fulsome sense of presence. The dramatic momentum and progression of the central concept is maintained through clever pacing of action portraits and pensive moments, where (without resorting to intrusive narrative or lengthy instrumental solos) the listener is considerately afforded sufficient time to appreciate each successive panel within the gallery, to assimilate and savour its essence and ponder on its allegorical implications.
The story begins at the end, so to speak, with the dark incantation and ominous prophecy of Hide! The Storm Is Coming, where “The sky’s an opera, eruptions building into song, Mountains and orchestra crescendo us along”, and we learn to praise the storm in a jubilant gypsy rondo (and Bohemian rhapsody?). The White Witch herself sings as she raises the storm, in sympathetic music that enables us to understand her rage. Myths become reality, as the maiden sits spinning in the tower and the Giant’s heavy tread stalks the land to its pounding “fee, fi, fo, fum” mantra, in contrast to the cheeky a cappella diddling refrains heard walking past Fairy Hill (shades of Lady Maisery here, perhaps?). Unearthly forces are invoked, and the souls of starlings swoop in euphoric murmuration before the witch pauses to reflect, lamenting on the dwindling power of her spell and her spirit transcends the shackles of her fury, finding otherworldly peace in the body of a bird.
Heg’s highly accomplished “theatre for the mind and ears” is supplemented by a package that’s similarly bewitching, containing exquisite lino prints by Karen Dickinson and booklet containing lyrics and supporting text.
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