Somewhere far away from dry land and humanity lies an ethereal world, beyond our reach, where Isis and Massive Attack combine with Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode to make music that is, by turns, breathtakingly wondrous and savage and wistful and ferocious – possibly to reflect the unseen landscape that provides the view in that distant land. Escaping from such an earthly paradise are naïve, the French act whose genre-twisting album ‘Illuminatis’ throws up new sounds and new variations on old themes in a manner that is often fascinating and always interesting.
Opening track ‘transoceanic’ gives you everything you need to enter the world of naïve. A track that offers gentle electronic pulses and stunning vocal harmonies, the guitars, when they arrive, are as gritty and powerful as anything you’ll find in the band’s more traditionally metallic brethren. The well of inspiration that naïve drink from is deep and wide and the song moves through a variety of moods and shades over its lengthy, nine-minute run time. Not afraid to experiment with synthesised textures, imagine a band taking Isis’ ‘Oceanic’ remix project as a starting point, throwing in the melodic sensibilities of Filter and then developing the atmosphere of Massive Attack’s ground breaking ‘mezzanine’ album, and you have the approximate sound of naïve as far as it is possible to define it. Of course it would be too easy for that to provide the template for the album and ‘belly’ offers up a guitar riff that would not sound out of place on a Cave In album before those electronic elements kick back in and the vocals turn to Radiohead for their inspiration. It sounds disparate… and maybe it should be… except that naïve play with such precision and intelligence that the elements seamlessly blend even when the rational part of your brain is busy informing you that they shouldn’t. The electronic elements, meanwhile, add depth and texture to the compositions and play a vital role in developing the atmosphere of the songs and the twisted NIN turn that belly takes highlights just how important that role is.
Not a band to do things by halves ‘focus’ is another lengthy song, indeed all the songs here are above seven minutes in length, although you’d never guess it just from listening as the music is so adventurous that you never tire of a given track, and it emphasises that dark massive Attack influence, the somnambulant beats operating behind a gentle ambient backing track and half-sung, half whispered vocals. It’s trip-hop with a razor’s edge, the sting of the guitars always lurking just beneath the surface in a manner reminiscent of deeply undervalued Bristol band Sunna (not to be confused with Sunn 0))) ) who operated within similar musical pastures. The album’s epic centrepiece is indisputably ‘Luna Militis’ which clocks in at thirteen minutes. Similarly opening on a trip-hop note that utilises drum and atmospheric loops, when the band comes in its with carefully restrained guitar and piano leading the way bringing to mind ‘protection’ crossed with Jeff Buckley. It’s also quite beautiful by the way and, of course, when the guitars do come crashing in it is with a violence that is not unlike being caught in the full force of a tornado. As the track progresses, introducing some stunningly brutal riffs alongside the stuttering electronics, it’s impossible to halt the adrenalin flow that will flood your body – it’s a revitalising, refreshingly different sounding piece of work of which the band should be extremely proud (and the rest of us somewhat envious that one group of individuals are able to come up with such monstrously addictive, adventurous slabs of sound).
Having collapsed into a reverie thanks to the haunting wind down of ‘luna Militis’, it is up to ‘Circles’ to draw the listener out of their imposed slumber with its echoing electronics and steady build up leading to a blistering guitar-driven track that takes some two minutes to arrive and then heads off in the direction of Filter covering the cooper temple clause. ‘The ropes’ arrives in a haze of low noise, the drum lines once again providing the gentle, steady back to a mixture of vocal harmonies and soft, semi-whispered raps that sound like the result of Faith no more covering ‘100th Window’ by massive attack. It’s soft, dreamy, tense and claustrophobic and concludes with an epic mix of ambient vocalisations and furious guitar lines. Final track ‘Illuminatis’ ties all these things together and slams into its role as concluding song with real vigour and vitality, the guitars as metallic as you can find on the album, the syncopated riffs tearing across a drum performance that sees the crash cymbal receiving some serious abuse. Again the song mutates and meanders as it progresses and, again, this is a great thing, the band allowing themselves the freedom to explore without becoming painfully overindulgent – few bands offer themselves such freedom, and even fewer know what to do with it when they get it – but naïve are clearly very talented individuals who have much to offer the music world.
Naïve have managed to craft an album that is satisfyingly, refreshingly different to anything else out there. If there is a caveat it is that although the band employ heavy guitars, those seeking an album to simply turn on and rock out to will be disappointed. This is a cerebral, thoughtful record which ebbs and flows across its lengthy run-time, with the band exploring a variety of genres with an inquisitiveness that is as bold as it is unique. If you are searching for a quick fix of heavy rock, seek elsewhere, but if you are prepared to invest time and effort in a stunning piece of music that is best heard as one album then ‘Illuminatis’ is an album you must track down.
You can view the trailer for this amazing record below: