And as the band that effectively relaunched my career as a music journalist in the early days of their own career – my review of Her Name is Calla’s ‘Condor and River’ 12” marked my Whisperin’ and Hollerin’ debut back in the autumn of 2008 – finally call it a day, I’m faced with writing an obituary of sorts.
It does feel like they’ve been bidding farewell for some time now, not least of all with last year’s round of ‘farewell’ shows, but now seems like an appropriate time to properly assess their fifteen-year career – perhaps not so much a career, as a journey, and one I’ve been on with them for substantial portions, having first encountered them on tour with iLiKETRAiNS and then having seen them live countless times since, even spending a day with them in the rehearsal room in Leicester and firing questions at the members of the band for the A Wave of Endorphins documentary recoded to commemorate the band’s tenth anniversary.
Because it’s Her Name is Calla, they’re not afraid to go large, expansive and epic, and the album opens in suitably grand style as ‘Swan’ crashes in with all the density and desperation, a thick, sludge of guitars and droning bass pinned to a thumping plod of a beat. It’s one of the heaviest things they’ve done in their entire career, but the desperation of Morris’ vocal and the dolorous weight of the instrumentation which at times inches closer to the dark folk-infused post-metal grind of Neurosis than any of the references commonly associated with Her Name is Calla, while the sonorous brass of their earlier works rings out bold but bleak.
Single cut ‘The Dead Rift’ follows, taut and punchy, the thunderous drums draped with mournful strings before the full-on rock-out that again is unlike anything else in their catalogue. It isn’t that that they haven’t rocked out before: debut ‘The Heritage’ was brimming with explosive crescendos, and ‘Maw’ stands out as one of their most blistering cuts, but ‘The Dead Rift’ takes a different angle again.
‘A Modern Vesper’ locks into a dense, dance groove, and yes, there are hints of Muse in there, but this is way better, less overblown, overproduced and bombastic, and way more emotionally sincere. It’s ironic that after a decade and a half, HNIC should finally produce a song – and lob it onto an album without any fanfare- that could have been a radio breakthrough given the right exposure.
12 years after its release as a standalone 7”, personal favourite ‘A Moment of Clarity’, which was a short-lived feature of those early live sets, finally makes an album and digital appearance. It’s been rerecored for the album: the guitars chime differently, the drums (previously laid down by short-lived sticksman Andrew Coles, who was soon replaced by Adam Wiekert, and who has a very different style of playing) and the vocals are clearer, rendering the lyrics more readily decipherable. But none of the original spirit is lost, the lugubrious brass still surging to a dirgy climax and Tom Morris wrings every last drop of existential anguish from his vocal delivery to replicate the original intensity but with better quality sound. It’s certainly a high point.
‘A Rush of Blood’ manifests as an epic swell of organ, and instrumental that stands as an interlude before the introspective acoustic ‘Frontier’, which is characteristic of their later work and is one of those tracks that sits between Morris’ solo work and the band releases, differentiated primarily by the additional layers of instrumentation.
If the final third of the album threatens to taper into hushed acoustic reflections, the seven-and-a-half-minute piano-led ‘Vanguard’ puts paid to that as it takes a turn for the dramatic around its mid-point as Morris’ voice soars skyward, a note of desperation in his intonation amidst a wash of reverb as the strings drift off-key and off-colour. It’s the first in a sequence of long songs that could almost comprise an album in their own right.
Featuring a (sampled?) spoken-word narrative, ‘Deer Trapping’ presents a surprise twist with electronic beats with synth washes surging over them. It’s a bold move, but with heavy atmospherics, the short piece has the post-rock shoegaze colours of early worriedaboutsatan that doesn’t move it completely beyond the band’s territory. ‘To The Other’, too, builds to something substantial, drawing in elements of prog and harking back to the towering monumentality of their earlier works in the best possible way, and the epic, slow-burning climax-orientated behemoths keep on coming with ‘Robert and Gerda’, the band’s most anthemic, stadium-friendly composition of their entire career. There’s even a sense that if they could whittle down a three-minute radio edit out of the eight-and-a-half minute beast, they could have a hit on their hands. That isn’t to say they’ve sold out, but is an indication of just how honed and crafted ‘Animal Choir’ is. Its scope and quality are equally impressive, and it’s the work of a band determined to sign off with a truly definitive statement that encapsulates everything they’ve striven for over the duration of their career.
It isn’t until the final song, the short acoustic ‘This Patterned Room’ that they fully embrace the quiet, inward-facing melancholia, laced with a haunting twinge of anguish that Her Name is Calla create a sense of closure, as if eulogistically weaving an incantation and casting sods of earth into the pit. It’s a sad and fond farewell, but one which gives us pause to reflect on the band’s achievements. It seems they’ve survived this long and produced the body of music they have against the odds – and that’s perhaps because, in the climate of the last decade, and fraught with personal and financial difficulties, they have. For that alone, respect is due. But more than this, they’ve forged their own niche, and while their position has remained strictly niche, it’s always the bands who burned brightly and mattered deeply to a devoted few who endure the longest and are the most fondly remembered.
Underappreciated in their own time, I get the distinct impression that their reputation is likely to grow in the coming years as recollections of landmark shows for better or worse) and future fans encounter their recordings, the hand-crafted limited editions runs of many will be even harder to find than now. For those of us here, now: they’re our band, a band to be proud of, and a band who should be proud of themselves. They will be missed.