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Stone Breath - The Silver Skein Unwound

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Artist: Stone Breath

Album: The Silver Skein Unwound

Label: Camera Obscura

Review date: May. 18, 2004

“Good folk music is inherently demonic.” Dusted scribe Dan Ruccia authored this dark declaration during his review of the latest offering by flowery/frightening Philadelphia folk trio, Espers. It’s a canny claim – if a mite monochromatic – but one certainly supported by the archly acoustic illuminations of like-mindedly pastoral Pennsylvanians, Stone Breath. However, unlike Espers’ floating world of subdued, effervescent menace, Stone Breath wear hand-hewn runes of eerie animism and anti-Christ affiliations on their twig-torn cloak sleeves.

The band birthed back in ’95, but today’s Stone Breath draws its lifeblood from the (un)holy trinity of Timothy Renner, Prywdwyn, and Sarada. Of course, whatever lineup reconfigurations the group’s undergone seem to signify little, as The Silver Skein Unwound unfurls the same sort of cryptic, pre–or post–pagan banner which waves within earlier LPs (Long Prayers?) like Lanterna Lucis Viriditatis and A Silver Thread to Weave the Seasons. Renner runs the unconventional convent, intoning his stark, severe incantations with monastic rigor while also plucking at a host of occult instruments ranging from the bouzouki to the headless-horsefiddle to the ektara. Prywdwyn plays the harmonium, flute, and viola, and whistles like a forlorn farmwife when occasion demands, and often sings high, lonesome, bereft-nun accompaniment with Sarada – who further pitches in with some subtle, sporadic guitar textures. Yet, despite all the stringed esoterica, the troupe arranges this gypsy wagon-worth of wares into rather sparse parts and parcels, lacing frailly dancing banjo lines with thin, whispering woodwinds into the sort of stern, empty minstrels Current 93 might hypothetically favor after black mass lets out.

Curiously, Stone Breath are dogged by the “acid-folk” tag, which couldn’t be more of a misnomer, as the spirits they evoke emanate from a far older, colder age than that of lysergic acid diethylamide labs. For Renner and crew, the crushing gloom of the death-heavy Dark Ages is still seriously relevant, even today, amidst our office building-dotted skylines and highway-veined countryside. Lyrically, they proffer the wisdom that, antiquated or otherwise, no intensity can surmount or even compete with the vision of a figure vanishing into green trees, the perfect harmony of circling birds, or the simple sound of earth covering earth. Truly, nothing is psychedelic in Stone Breath’s mentality save the inevitable mind-expansion incurred by an awareness of mortality. But, needless to say, it doesn’t take dropping acid to learn that life ends. The silver skein will indeed one day be unwound. The reaper’s season will arrive. Just pray the journey there is as focused, intricate, and honest as the one set forth by Stone Breath.

By Britt Brown

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